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Year One: An Interview with ACRE Co-Founder Emily Green, Pt. 2

In case you haven’t heard,  ACRE (Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions) has been lighting a fire in Chicago with their weekly exhibitions of resident artists in various spaces around the city.  As a kick off to a series of interviews that Sixty Inches From Center is doing with resident artists, I had a conversation with Co-Founder Emily Green. In part one of our conversation, we discussed what led to the creation of ACRE, what is offered to resident artists and her own creative practice. (Read part one, Finding A Peace of LandHERE)    In part two of our conversation, Green discusses the obstacles and learning experiences that came with starting a new residency in a new place, how ACRE functions as an incubator for a tight artist community, and what we can look forward to in year two of the organization.

Small studio cabin exterior. August 2010. (Image Courtesy of Emily Green)

Tempestt Hazel: Did you have any surprises during the first sessions of the ACRE Residency?

Emily Green: We definitely had a lot of surprises when we first got out there, just from never having done it at this new location and really having to feel it out. We had a series of bizarre events that all happened right at once. Just really bizarre things. Like we had a swarm of bees take over a building for a day and then mysteriously leave. There was a bunch of flooding in the area which shut down the road to where we were and trapped us temporarily [laughs]. There was a crazy storm that completely destroyed this large tent that we were building.

There was an incident where a local drove into a power line that fell into the driveway of one of the buildings we were staying in. We didn’t have telephones so one of our staff members had to get on a bike and ride to the nearest phone. It feels so long ago now, I can’t even remember what else happened, but all of this crazy stuff happened in the course of a week, right at the beginning!

TH: So then, what do you do when that happens?

EG: We dealt with it. We took it in stride. One of the last things that happened was we found one of the farm cats dead, and after all of this stuff happened and me being a cat lover, I was like, “I can’t take it anymore!” But somehow it settled down and worked itself out. I think it made us stronger in a way. We thought, “We dealt with all of that stuff in the beginning, it’s just smooth sailing from here!”

Tug of War with Industry of the Ordinary. August 2010. (Image Courtesy of Emily Green)

TH: Who were some of the visiting artists during the sessions?

EG: Last summer we had Jennifer Montgomery, Kelly Kaczynski, Anthony Elms, and Industry of the Ordinary come out. Industry of the Ordinary actually did an awesome project with us. They, more than most of the other visiting artists, really engaged the group in a project. They staged a big tug-o-war. [laughs]

TH: Of course they did!

EG: So, it was pretty fun and I think we’re going to have them back again because that’s really sort of the model of what we’re looking for–not necessarily just a straight up lecture but something more engaging with the community out there. Who else… Terry Evans, Nicolas Lampert from Just Seeds who is based in Milwaukee. Irena Knezevic, Salem [Collo-Julin] from Temporary ServicesDaniel Sauter, Bill Friedman, Doug Ischar, Noelle Mason

TH: That’s a great mix.

EG: Yeah, we’ve been really lucky to have some amazing people interested in what we are doing.

TH: I’m really interested in artist networks. Historically, coming from the art historian perspective, I’ve seen how movements were developed through artists who hang out with each other and explore similar ideas. Can you talk a bit about how ACRE works in that way and why you chose this specific approach? There is an emphasis on building this network–why is that important, especially to Chicago artists?

EG: The emphasis on a network really came out of our own experiences- during my own experience at the [School of the] Art Institute I didn’t make a lot of friends so at times I felt really lonely and isolated, especially after graduating. When we started Harold it became so apparent that others were feeling the same way and when we brought this group of artists together who didn’t all know each other at first, we understood that making those connections was important. We really consider artists to be a resource for each other and have seen so many instances where even just having a conversation can lead to something– maybe not something concrete or right away, but those interactions can linger or lead somewhere, whether it is a collaborative project or the sharing of skills or just relationships– having someone to talk to about work and ideas.

So, I think we always thought of what we were doing as creating…this network that could develop naturally and [the artists] can intertwine their networks with each others’. And it seems especially useful or successful in Chicago, where that mentality of working together is already pretty prevalent.

Hyeon Kim (roxaboxen). 2010. (Image Courtesy of Emily Green)

TH: The other spaces that you’re having shows in besides ACRE Projects (1913 W. 17th Street), how did you select those spaces? How do they work into what you both are trying to accomplish?

EG: Initially we approached these galleries out of need because we had so many artists and with only fifty-two weeks in the year so we just couldn’t show them all at our space. So, we had the idea to partner up with other galleries and ask them to choose 3-5 artists from our roster of residents that they would be interested in showing. Then we asked them to basically do what we’re doing and give them at least one week in their space. Partnering up with these galleries, though, has proven to be a great way to further extend the network that begins with the residency. So, now these artists are working with galleries they otherwise might not, who have a following that might otherwise not see their work. Plus it’s been such a great experience for us to work with the other galleries.

The galleries we chose to work with pretty much just came out of our connections and the people we’ve been working with. Alternative spaces that would go for something like this. We’re working with Johalla Projects and Caitlin Arnold who is our assistant director (along with Ciara Ruffino) and also works very closely with Johalla. The Hills, we know those guys really well and we’ve been working with them for a long time. That’s kind of how it worked for most of the galleries. With Mess Hall, Aay Preston-Myint is involved with Mess Hall and he was also our screen printing instructor. Aay is also involved with No Coast which recently partnered with Roxaboxen and lead us to having some shows there.

We’re working with the Happy Collaborationists–we’re having our first show with them this Saturday [January 29th], and they actually approached us. They knew us through a friend that came out as a resident. They were interested in what we were doing and wanted to get involved and so we thought that would be a good way to do it. A similar thing happened with The Plaines Project. They’d been doing a lot of music programming lately but wanted to move back into art programming and heard about our program through a friend.

Kelly Kaczynski runs a program called the Unnamed Future Space, which is kind of like a residency. Basically what she wants to do is provide artists with resources that she has and has developed over the years–as in fabrication skills and connections with galleries and museums among other things. She actually ended up choosing three residents–one is a duo collective from San Francisco called Nightmare City and one is a Chicago artist, Riley Henderson and she’s offered them a residency. So, whatever they want to do–if they ultimately just want to do a solo show like we offer everyone else, she’ll make that happen but she also wants to offer up her other resources. So that’s a special thing. She wanted to get involved somehow so we decided to do it that way.

Elisa Harkins & Thorne Brandt (roxaboxen) Exhibition at ACRE Projects in Chicago. 2010. (Image Courtesy of Emily Green)

TH: It’s nice that you give that freedom where however things manifest is how it’s going to be done. That’s nice but it’s got to be intimidating for some of these artists to have the type of freedom that they don’t often have whether they’re in school, out of school or during their career, period. Do you find that you get those calls when it’s down to the wire with someone saying, “I don’t know what to do!”?

EG: A few people have declined their solo shows because they just didn’t feel like they were ready to do it, which is a little disappointing but we don’t want to put too much pressure on anyone. In terms of the solo shows and what we’re doing at the gallery, we’ve been pretty clear with the artists in letting them know that we’re not going to be able to help everybody so closely. We have instated a system where each artist passes the key to the gallery on to the next artist and I put a lot of work into putting forms together so they know what’s going on and when they get into the gallery they can read the FAQ and know where everything is. But we do tell them, “If you want our help, just reach out to us.”

TH: What are some of the successes? What are you the most proud of?

EG: I’m pretty proud of the gallery program, working out the schedule, getting the gallery together. It was a pretty meager storefront when we started with it. We got a few gracious volunteers to help us build it and turn it into a nice space. Just the idea of having a show every week is really daunting. I’m pretty happy that we were able to pull it off and transition into a fairly smoothly operating system. We have an intern now that takes care of all the press releases and that is working out great. It’s just kind of on automatic now.

Emily and Nick in the gallery. 2010. (Image Courtesy of Emily Green)

TH: What I find really interesting about ACRE is that it has that solo exhibition element to it–because it’s really important. It’s a great experience for the artists outside of the residency–which is a great experience itself, but to have this opportunity too just makes it a more amazing experience. Why was it important for you to add this element?

EG: The idea of doing exhibitions came out of Harold. We would do group shows every year with our residents. Since we’re based in Chicago, we’re excited about what’s coming out of Chicago–and we were doing this thing, at the time, in Ohio, we really wanted to think about how we could tie it back into what we were doing in Chicago. You know, we were bringing mostly Chicago artists out anyway so it made sense to work with them on something in the city.

But when we began ACRE we were thinking about how to work in that element and we started talking about what a group show really does for an emerging artist? What are the artists getting out of these group shows, you know? It seemed like the idea of having a solo show would be more beneficial in terms of the experience of editing work, putting a show together, installing it themselves, and of course adding to their resumes and things like that. Just going through the process because for a lot of the artists we work with this is probably their first solo show, and it’s an important step to go through that process. Rather than just adding one piece to a group show, which most of them are already doing anyway.

Rebecca Mir Exhibition at ACRE Projects in Chicago. 2010. (Image Courtesy of Emily Green)

TH: I completely agree.

EG: It has also been an important part of keeping that community created at the residency alive because every week it’s a lot of residents coming to the shows. We find that it’s important that these artists are finding out about each other and we don’t want that to just end with the residency.

TH: Isn’t there the option to do a solo show or collaborate with someone?

EG: Yes. We basically tell them, “Each of you are given a week in the gallery and you can do whatever you want. So if you want to combine weeks with some people and have a longer running show we’re open to that. Or if there’s a performance or an event or something aside from the traditional exhibition, we encourage that too.” We really try to encourage a lot of experimentation.

The last two shows that we had were really different for the artists. The work they were presenting was very new stuff. The last show was Drew Griffith who is a painter. For the show that he did [on January 23rd] there were no paintings, it was all sculpture and installation. So, this was an opportunity for him to make and try something new. Before that was Bryan Lear and Alex Chitty. Brian is kind of a straight up photographer and all the work that he had in the [January 16th] show was collage. And it was Alex’s first time to even try and make a sculpture. She put that work in [ACRE Projects space] and it was fantastic. It worked so well. It was good to see that happening. It’s a short enough time, when it really comes down to it it’s a one or two day show. It’s low pressure in that it’s not like this major retrospective of their work, you know. This is their time to experiment and do something they probably wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do.

Ben and Paul in the woodshop. August 2010. (Image Courtesy of Emily Green)

TH: I like that type of experimentation. That’s the type of work that I find the most interesting–when artists go off of the path that they know and that we know them for. It’s nice that they are allowed the room to experiment.

EG: We’ve been lucky to see that a lot throughout the residencies that we’ve done. I think it’s just the fact of bringing all of these people together and having them naturally get interested in what each other are doing. As in, “Maybe so-and-so can teach me a little bit about woodworking and I can try something I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”

TH: What are the plans for the future?

EG: Outside of the residency we are going to be doing NEXT [The Invitational Exhibition of Emerging Art] this year. We are working to secure a booth there.

TH: What will you be doing at the booth?

EG: The booth is going to be a sort of exhibition of artists. We’re setting up right now our process of selecting who’s going to be in the booth because obviously we have over seventy artists and we are not going to be able to afford an extravagant booth. As part of our website we have a Flatfile section, where each artist has a page to put up new work or things that they’re working on–anything they want really. We’re using that as a guide. We asked them to update their flatfiles. And from there we’re going to determine ten or so artists.

We’ve also been invited to do an alternative fair that is happening before NEXT, so that will be another opportunity for our residents.

Also, we are working with Rodan, the bar in Wicker Park. Rodan been a part of the art scene in Chicago, especially in Wicker Park, for a long time. The owner of the bar she was feeling that there had been a kind of lull recently in the Wicker Park art scene and she’s really trying to engage again. So, she contacted us and wants to work with us. We’re going to do one or two events at Rodan. The money raised at those events are going to go towards scholarships to come to the residency. So, we will actually be able to bring some people who may not be able to afford to come because at this point we do need to charge a fee just to cover our own costs. So, we’re excited to be able to have that option.

John Bellows, Elspeth, Billy performing. August 2010. (Image Courtesy of Emily Green)

And we’re also continuing to look into ways to provide new opportunities for artists and in Chicago. For example, the A+D Gallery [at Columbia College Chicago] asked us to propose an alternative exhibition for the summer so we selected a group of our residents and asked them to put together a proposal.

In terms of the residency, we are beginning to look at the ways in which it could be different this year. I think for the most part the basic idea is going to stay the same. We’ll probably have the same amount of people out there, and the visiting artist program and possibly a visiting band program. We had a visiting band series last year where we invited some Chicago bands to come by while on tour–that was pretty cool. We have the recording studio so we are thinking of more ways that musicians and bands can get involved.

Some of the feedback we got from last year was the desire for more hands-on workshops. We had a lot of artist lectures and things like that. We did have a few workshops and that was what people were the most excited about. So, we’re going to try and do more of that next year.

TH: So all-in-all if you could sum up your first year, which isn’t over yet, in three words, what would they be?

EG: Well, it’s been pretty overwhelming, for sure. But it’s been absolutely invigorating and validating…and I feel really positive overall.

Find out more about ACRE and the dozens of ACRE Exhibitions happening between now and June at www.acreresidency.org.

You can view the work of each 2010 ACRE Residency artist in their Flatfiles at www.acreresidency.org/flatfile.

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