You might think most museum employees dream of curating blockbuster exhibitions, conserving priceless works of art, or running the place. But I’ve always had my sights set on another target: Artie the Lion, the official Art Institute mascot. I don’t know exactly what it is about him—perhaps the pie-shaped nose?—but from the first time we met three years ago, I was instantly endeared to this colorful, flower-faced, fuzzy lion.
So, when we got word that the bronze Edward Kemeys lions on Michigan Avenue were going to sport Bears apparel for the upcoming NFC championship game this Sunday, and that we needed an Artie appearance on short notice, I jumped at the prospect of getting to fill his foamy, slipper-like shoes.
Being a mascot is way harder than you might think! First of all, you can’t talk. I mean you can, but you can’t break the illusion. No answering questions, no side commentary, and no laughing (although plenty of silent laughing went on behind the mask). Then there’s the physical challenge… I’m only 5’3" and Artie’s usually played by mascot professionals over 5’7”, so there was some extra leg fabric drooping by my feet. And of course there was my general unfamiliarity with the suit. As you’ll notice in the photo above, even walking out of our offices proved difficult: I needed someone to carry my tail. Finally, my moment in the spotlight! When you’re in a mascot costume, you’re entertaining 100% of the time. Thankfully, I took my cues from veteran mascot Staley the Bear, who’s a real pro! We danced, played Rock, Paper, Scissors, imitated famous works of art, and really hammed it up for the cameras.
All in all, it was certainly the best way to start my Friday morning. And while I hear I might have been the first female to ever inhabit Artie, I’ll be happy to see one of our two regulars return for the next event where he’s needed.