All posts filed under: Community

Locating Your Practice in ‘Todros Geller: Strange Worlds’ with Curator Susan Weininger

Todros Geller, (1889-1949), was a Jewish-American artist born in Ukraine, immigrating to Canada and later Chicago in 1906, where he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. He became a prominent artist during his time, having a hand in many organizations in Chicago and working with such artists as Charles White. The exhibition Todros Geller: Strange Worlds showcases the diverse work—in style, subject matter, and medium—that Geller created throughout his lifetime; and is hosted at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning, an organization that began as the College of Jewish studies, where Todros Geller taught for many years. Many of the objects from the exhibition come from the institute’s extensive collection of Jewish art and historic, ritual objects, a collection that Todros Geller began. Co-curator of the exhibition Dr. Susan Weininger explains Geller’s interest in Jewish art, “One of the things that [Geller] pursued his whole life was the idea of a Jewish art museum. He knew that there was a history of Jewish art [and] he traveled to study that history.” Dr. Weininger and …

An Interview with Hananne Hanafi of YolloCalli Arts Reach

Tucked away on the second floor of the Boys & Girls Club on 28th & Ridgeway in Little Village is  Yollocalli Arts Reach, a dynamic program that has been providing free visual, digital and media arts programming to young aspiring creators since 1997. In 2012, Yollocalli made Little Village home, and has a second studio location through a partnership with the Chicago Park District at Barrett Park in Pilsen that serves as an artist in residency space and provides free workshops. I caught up with Programs Coordinator Hananne Hanafi in YolloCalli’s vibrant space to learn more about the ways she and her colleagues are empowering creative youth in Little Village to express themselves through art.   Anjali Misra: How did you all end up in this particular space and this particular community? Hananne Hanafi: The National Museum [of Mexican Art] started the program and originally the space was located in Pilsen, and it was on the corner, it’s where the Giordano’s is now at 18th and Blue Island. So it was there for years and …

Little Village Through A Looking Glass: An Interview with Media Instructor Mario Contreras

As part of Chicago’s Envisioning Justice project to address community concerns around criminal justice through arts education, Open Center for the Arts in Little Village worked with teaching artists to bring specialized courses focused on immigration, incarceration, and political organizing to their students. Filmmaker and media instructor Jesús Mario Contreras was one such educator, teaching a series of filmmaking classes to youth and young adults from the neighborhood. He shared with me about his particular teaching philosophies of art as cultural communication, youth allyship, and the importance of self-reflection. Anjali Misra: How did you become involved with Open Center? Mario Contreras: Pepe Vargas from The Chicago Latino Film Festival recommended a friend of mine for  the job of instructor. Arlen Parsa, director of The Way to Andina, thought I’d enjoy the opportunity. AM: Can you describe your work with Open Center? What was day-to-day teaching like, and what were some highlights (best personal moments with students, staff, community members, etc.)? MC: I was one of many instructors that Open Center students worked with over the …

Black Birth Matters at #LetUsBreathe Collective

The #LetUsBreathe Collective is an alliance of artists and activists who come together, organizing through a creative lens to imagine a world without prisons and police. The Collective operates the Breathing Room, a Black-led liberation headquarters for arts, organizing, and healing on Chicago’s South Side. May each of our beginnings be honored, as they did not begin without deep struggle. Keeping community is keeping us together. It’s unity. The #LetUsBreathe Collective’s partnership with Black Birth Matters represented a cross of a cultural exchange of knowledge, Black economic wealth, and education about the experiences of Black women in preparing for, experiencing, and learning about life before and after birth. Black Birth Matters is a “cultural campaign to uplift the life-giving power of Black women and people with wombs,” says Kristiana Rae Colón, the creator of Black Sex Matters and a poet, playwright, and abolitionist. With her comrade and partner, creative Malik Alim, she welcomed their new vessel of life, Baby Alim Colón, into the world at the inaugural Black Birth Matters community event. Focusing on Black birthwork, doula, and …

Chicago Archives + Artists Project: Artist Profile on Aay Preston-Myint

The Chicago Archives + Artists Project (CA+AP) is an initiative that highlights Chicago archives and special collections that give space to voices on the margins of history. Led by Chicago-based writers and artists, the project explores archives across the city via online features, a series of public programs and new commissioned artwork by Chicago artists. For 2018, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation has funded a series of pilot projects pairing three artists with three archives around the city: Media Burn + Ivan LOZANO, the Leather Archives & Museum + Aay Preston-Myint, and the Newberry Library’s Chicago Protest Collection + H. Melt. This series of articles profiles these featured archives and artists over the course of their collaboration, exploring the vital role of the archive in preserving and interpreting the stories of our city as well as the ways in which they can be a resource for creatives in the community.  In the Leather Archives exhibition, Aay Preston-Myint exhibited their work Dirt/Work, which illustrates the archival process of leather culture. The artist writes, “Archives are one of many …

Community Art for Art’s Sake: A Conversation with Open Center for the Arts in Little Village

At Open Center for the Arts in Little Village, the focus is not on enacting social justice buzzwords like “youth diversion,” “community intervention,” or “artivism.” Instead, Open Center staff are working hard to build capacity for positive change in their neighborhood by modeling progressive values for the young people they mentor and serve. Earlier this year, I spoke with four of Open Center’s instructors and art practitioners and one student intern to learn about how each of them is envisioning justice in Little Village as well as how they view their own roles as artists within the ecosystem of direct service youth development and community organizing. Folks at the table included Executive Director J. Omar Magana, Envisioning Justice Hub Director Gabriela Juarez, Theater Instructor Luis Crespo, Film & Video Instructor Essau Menendez, and Theater Assistant & Student Jose Blanco This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Anjali Misra: Luis – as Theater Director, what do you oversee? Luis Crespo: I oversee the youth program and that’s working with the young people to use …

Books & Breakfast at The Breathing Room

The #LetUsBreathe Collective is an alliance of artists and activists who come together, organizing through a creative lens to imagine a world without prisons and police. The Collective operates the Breathing Room, a Black-led liberation headquarters for arts, organizing, and healing on Chicago’s South Side. Like music, food crosses all boundaries. It connects the physical and the soul, and it honors our past and our present. It is essential for survival. At The Breathing Room with the #LetUsBreathe Collective, Cherisse Jackson and I have begun a collaboration in bringing a Books & Breakfast program to the space twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7 to 9 a.m.. The program honors the Black Radical Tradition and The Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast for School Children Program, which began in 1969 after The National School Lunch Program provided reduced-price, but not free, lunches for poor children, and the National School Breakfast Program was limited to few schools. In order to address the need in the community, the Panthers initiated the Free Breakfast Program at St. …

The Vessels that Marva Made: An Interview with Members of Sapphire & Crystals

“I am a strong woman; my strength as a Black woman pays homage to what I call the Sapphire Spirit. A woman who is sassy, jazzy, spiritual, brainy, the healer–she is Mother Earth in its grand splendor. I salute this spirit in all Black women everywhere. The recognition of my own Sapphire Spirit provided me with the knowledge I needed to speak. My name is Marva and I speak through my art, my voice extends all the way back to the first known human being who was a Black woman. Going forth, through my ancestors, I am creating new symbols and new directions, moving from my own individual voice to that of the collective voice. I now join with sixteen other African American Women Artists and form the Sapphire & Crystals group. As a collective we step forward to the world.” –Marva Lee Pitchford-Jolly In 1986 artists Marva Lee Pitchford-Jolly and Felicia Grant Preston started meeting in Pitchford-Jolly’s home to discuss how to continue supporting women artists after the group Mud Peoples Black Women’s Resource …

Risk/Play/Reap at Jan Brandt Gallery

This is an excerpt from Sight Specific’s review of  “Risk Play Reap”,  a collaborative exhibition by Allison Carr, Danell Dvorak, Monica Estabrook, and Amy Wolfe, which was installed at Jan Brandt Gallery in Bloomington, IL. Presented through Sixty Regional. Art making is usually thought of as a solitary activity, but what happens when that usually solitaire activity is opened up to the direct input of others? This show, consisting of the collaborations of four artists offers some experiential insight into that question. A statement accompanying the show in part explains the collaboration process: “Each artist began a piece, then passed it to another for further development. Additions, alterations, and reconfigurations continued, until the group agreed a piece was completed, whether through lengthy, multiple cycles, or two to three passes.” First of all, I noticed that when viewing the entirety of the show, the exchange of approaches within each piece had resulted in a variety of finished works that, at the same time, had a consistency of formal solutions. Layering, transparency, textural surfaces, juxtaposing of imagery, and often a sculptural …

Featured image: Maggie Robinson and Allison Sokolowski performing in “I Am” at the Chicago Danztheatre Auditorium, as part of the Body Passages culminating event. Maggie balances with one foot, knee, and hand on the floor, as Allison stands on Maggie’s lower back. The performers hold each other’s left hands and look at each other. Both are barefoot and wear white t-shirts and jeans. Behind them is a well-lit stage, with a string of colorful paper suspended across it. Still from a video by John Borowski.

Body Passages: Culminating Collaborations

This is the fourth and final article in a series about Body Passages, a partnership between Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble and The Chicago Poetry Center (the first, second, and third pieces can be found here). These articles provide brief looks into a 10-month, interdisciplinary creative process between Body Passages poets and dancers, documenting and reflecting on aspects of that process as it happens. Launched in 2017, Body Passages is an artist residency and performance series curated and produced by Sara Maslanka (Artistic Director of Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble) and Natasha Mijares (Reading Series Curator of The Chicago Poetry Center; Natasha also writes for Sixty). Trigger warning: The performance “Blood Memory,” discussed below, contains references to sexual assault, including in childhood. During a culminating event featuring groups’ final performances, the Body Passages artists offered the audience sugar cereal, sparkling cider, and glowsticks; invited us to dance with them and record ourselves reading their poetic curations; and asked us to travel back in time with them to New Year’s Eve 1998. Especially appropriate given Body Passages’ collaborative focus and …

‘The Artist as a Catalyst of Social Change?’ Part 3: Leah Gipson

As many contemporary artists, arts organizations, and other cultural laborers continue a decades-long trajectory of re-orienting their practices more deliberately towards and within the social world, forms and approaches have morphed through a collective re-imagining of the production, dissemination, and sociopolitical potential of art. These modes have sought to broaden access and participation in the arts, transform relationships between people, forge practices rooted just as much in ethics as in aesthetics, and other similar gestures toward aligning art with notions of social justice and reform. And yet amidst this grappling, a number of unresolved riddles remain regarding art’s place in daily life: What and who is art’s “community,” and what do we mean by “community”? What is art’s relationship to democracy? Can increased access to the arts also advance civic participation more broadly? What is the role of the artist in society? Can art and artists be catalysts for social change — and should they? Such issues and questions reverberate through the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum’s current exhibition Participatory Arts: Crafting Social Change, which explores …

Encircling Community with Circles & Ciphers: An Interview with Steve Serikaku

Within Circles & Ciphers‘ programming, Community Peace Circle is a long established institution in both the neighborhood of Rogers Park and the city of Chicago. This space represents my earliest interaction with the organization and provided me with a foundational understanding of circle facilitation. Circles & Ciphers presently offers four types of circles on a weekly or biweekly basis to accommodate a range of different social and gender identities: Young Men’s, Women of Color, Freestyle, and Community. Community Peace Circle offers a flexible format which caters to the broadest range of identities and ages allowing these groups to interact and share space with one another. In order to further understand the types of people who give shape and meaning to the Community Peace Circle, I wanted to interview attendees to see what drew them into the space and what keeps them returning. This interview was conducted with Steve Serikaku, a local resident of Edgewater who is also involved with several social justice efforts that align with his Unitarian Universalist faith doctrine. Mike Strode: How are you …

‘The Artist as a Catalyst of Social Change?’ Part 2: Regin Igloria and North Branch Projects

As many contemporary artists, arts organizations, and other cultural laborers continue a decades-long trajectory of reorienting their practices more deliberately towards and within the social world, forms and approaches have morphed through a collective re-imagining of the production, dissemination, and sociopolitical potential of art. These modes have sought to broaden access and participation in the arts, transform relationships between people, forge practices rooted in ethics as much as in aesthetics, and other similar gestures toward aligning art with notions of social justice and reform. Yet amidst this grappling, a number of unresolved riddles remain regarding art’s place in daily life: who is art’s “community,” and what exactly do we mean by “community”? What is art’s relationship to democracy? Can increased access to the arts also advance civic participation more broadly? What is the role of the artist in society? Can art and artists be catalysts for social change — and should they? Such issues and questions reverberate through the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum’s current exhibition Participatory Arts: Crafting Social Change, which explores the influence that …

‘The Artist as a Catalyst of Social Change?’ Part 1: Nicole Marroquin

As many contemporary artists, arts organizations, and other cultural laborers continue a decades-long trajectory of reorienting their practices more deliberately towards and within the social world, forms and approaches have morphed through a collective re-imagining of the production, dissemination, and sociopolitical potential of art. These modes have sought to broaden access and participation in the arts, transform relationships between people, forge practices rooted in ethics as much as in aesthetics, and other similar gestures toward aligning art with notions of social justice and reform. Yet amidst this grappling, a number of unresolved riddles remain regarding art’s place in daily life: who is art’s “community,” and what exactly do we mean by “community”? What is art’s relationship to democracy? Can increased access to the arts also advance civic participation more broadly? What is the role of the artist in society? Can art and artists be catalysts for social change — and should they? Such issues and questions reverberate through the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum’s current exhibition Participatory Arts: Crafting Social Change, which explores the influence that Addams …

A Win for Humanity: Interview with Dominique Steward of BBF Family Services

Dominique Steward and I met at the first of several open houses to be held at BBF Family Services this year as part of the Envisioning Justice initiative. Entitled “Powerful Platforms: a Community’s Call to Action,” the open house was designed to bring awareness to the concerns central to Envisioning Justice, which invites Chicagoans from around the city to address the impact of incarceration in their communities. (I also met BBF Family Services President and CEO Rufus Williams at the open house, which included a roundtable discussion on police-community relations.) Steward moved from a longtime career at the College of DuPage to BBF Family Services in North Lawndale three years ago. After starting in development for the organization, she is currently the Envisioning Justice North Lawndale Hub Director.  I recently sat down with Steward on a quiet Saturday morning at BBF to discuss her vision for subsequent Envisioning Justice programming. I work for UCAN, another social service agency in North Lawndale, so I was particularly curious about her previous work on the agency’s development side, and …

November Art Picks

Our Art Picks are created in collaboration with The Visualist, Chicago’s leading visual arts calendar, and cross-promoted through Windy City Times, one of the longest locally-published LGBTQ weeklies with a national reach. This is a growing list, so check back often for new additions. Throughout 2018 we will be highlighting exhibitions and events that are part of Art Design Chicago , a year-long celebration of the unique and vital role Chicago plays as America’s crossroads of art and design, creativity and commerce, organized by the Terra Foundation for American Art. As part of an editorial partnership with Illinois Humanities, Sixty will also be highlighting events that are part of Envisioning Justice , a 19-month project that looks into how Chicagoans and Chicago artists respond to the the impact of incarceration in local communities and how the arts and humanities are used to devise strategies for lessening this impact. November Art Picks Thurs, Nov 1, 11am Art Against the Flow Summit  Ace Hotel Chicago: 311 N Morgan St, Chicago, IL 60607 Free Thurs, Nov 1, 2-4pm Chicago New Media Symposium  Gallery 400: 400 S Peoria St, Chicago, IL 60607 Free Thurs, …

Riding Interstellar Waves: A Performance Essay on Afro-Futurism and Time Travel from D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem

This essay exists as a record, a performance document and collaged concept map linking threads in an interstellar web charting the content of my lectures and presentations culled from over 25 years of study, teaching, sculpting, and performing, each coded element an entry point like portals to the vast arkestry of Afrofuturist future visioning. Highlights include references to performance ritual as the High Priestess of the Intergalactic Federation, Special Envoy to Mars, for the September 27, 2018 Decolonizing Mars/Becoming Interplanetary symposium convened by NASA/Blumberg Chair of Astrobiology Lucianne Walkowicz at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, and content from performance-lecture-poetics for “Afro-Futurism and Time Travel” at the University of Chicago’s Gray Center for Art and Inquiry and from The Ramm Riff featuring Black Light Primal Nun ‘A’ at Red Bull Arts NY for No Guts, No Galaxy slide show series as part of programming for the exhibition Rammellzee: Racing for Thunder. This is an experimental collage, ideas and poetics intertwined, a performance-lecture-poetic in multiple stanzas, a Time Travel Riff from the outposts of Afro-Futurist vision …

Abolitionist Sarah-Ji Uses Photography To Reimagine Community Liberation

Sarah-Ji (she/her) is a movement photographer and abolitionist who documents freedom struggles in Chicago. She is also an active member of For the People Artists Collective, a squad of Black and artists of color who also organize and create work that “uplifts and projects struggle, resistance, liberation, and survival within and for marginalized communities and movements.” For nearly a decade she has created a visual archive of liberation struggles for Black, Brown, Indigenous, queer, trans, and intersex lives. She documents and sheds light on the everyday people of Chicago who show up and actively resist systemic, hyper-local and social oppression. Thus, her camera becomes a tool of liberation and a pathway toward envisioning a world without police and prisons, where struggle does not take precedence over love, justice, and community. Her photography illustrates the power of sustaining strong relationships as organizing artists while committing to the heavy lift of resistance and social activism. This interview was shortened for length and clarity.  Ireashia: Tell me a little about how you came to photography and what drew …

Fever Dream: Allison Lacher at Monaco

I’m wearing my winter coat the day I visit Allison Lacher’s exhibition Full Sun (the sun being nowhere in sight), but just a week ago, the high reached 90 degrees in St. Louis. Without the undeterred peddling of all things pumpkin by every coffee shop in town, one could be forgiven for forgetting that it is, in fact, October. The brick facade of the gallery has been painted a dark gray, giving nothing away except that this corner of the city has been carved out for The Contemporary. But from within the neutral frame of Monaco, a warm glow is emanating. From the street, the interior space is inviting, with a peachy orange coat of paint and floors speckled with iridescent floral cutouts (over the course of a month, Lacher’s work has indeed served as an escape from both the cold and the heat). However, once inside, the comfort of room temperature begins to give way to a sense of hollow domesticity. Hung throughout the space are window panes, stretched over with bars of ribbon, …

Aprils Fools and Their Universe: Damon Williams, Jr. and #LetUsBreathe Collective

Damon Williams, Jr. (he/him) is a poet, organizer, one half of brother-sister duo April Fools, co-director of the #LetUsBreatheCollective, and overall unique being. I first heard of his work through mutual comrades, through his and Daniel Kisslinger’s podcast Airgo, and through his rhymes, which embrace self-healing and accountability, and expel self-love and love of your neighbors. MG: Can you introduce yourself for me tell me a little about yourself? DW: I am Damon Williams, Jr. I am 25 years old, and I am a facilitator, teaching artist, organizer, and media and culture maker on the SouthSide of Chicago. MG: What does Chicago mean to you and how do you feel it’s energy affects people? DW: Chicago is home and Chicagoans are hometown people. It is a city that is landlocked, where we live upon this land taken from indigenous native people. It being in the “middle” of the country; being the “Second City,” named after it was rebuilt and thrived once again after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; it is not second to New …

On Incarceration, Quilting and Building Community at Homan Square

August of this year, Nichols Tower Artist-in-Residence Rachel Wallis held her first quilting circle where she invited participants to sew thoughts, plans, and dreams that female inmates at the Cook County prison have for their children. In different stages of incarceration, some of these women are awaiting a trial, some are being processed. These women are mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters who were separated from their family as a result of imprisonment. On her website, artist Rachel Wallis describes herself as “an activist who uses art in organizing work, and an artist who engages in issues of racial and social justice.” As an extension of her art practice, Wallis approached the Cook County women’s facility with a series of quilting workshops to engage the inmates; the first of which took place in summer of 2018. Scheduled on a Saturday afternoon, Wallis began the three-hour workshop by inviting participants to sit in a circle. Before she entrusted the participants with the sewing, Wallis, along with facilitators Jamilah Bowden, a professional counselor at H’Art of Hope, and Audrey …

Body Passages: Lani T. Montreal and Maxine Patronik on Developing “Blood Memory”

This is the third article in an ongoing series about Body Passages, a partnership between Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble and The Chicago Poetry Center (the first and second are online). This series gives brief looks into a 10-month, interdisciplinary creative process between Body Passages poets and dancers, documenting and reflecting on aspects of that process as it happens. In September, I spoke with writer Lani T. Montreal and dancer/choreographer Maxine Patronik about their collaborative process; their resulting piece, “Blood Memory,” about trauma and bodily memory; and their thoughts about artists’ responsibility when presenting work with sensitive themes. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Lani and Maxine’s final creation – along with those by other Body Passages groups – were performed at a culminating event at the Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble Auditorium on October 12 and 13. Marya Spont-Lemus: It was so cool to get to observe you today at work on “Blood Memory,” your piece-in-progress for Body Passages. So thank you! Before we get into discussing that collaborative piece and your process, I’d love …

Featured image: Ryan Keesling leans over the shoulder of Walter, a Free Write Sound and Vision technician, as they both look at audio mixer that sits on a table in front of them. They are outside, under a blue tent, where Sound and Vision is mixing sound for the FEAST festival that took place September 8. Photo by Chelsea Ross

Just Narratives: A Conversation with Ryan Keesling of Free Write Arts and Literacy

“The ‘envisioning justice’ conversation is like – I don’t know, I think people try too hard to think about what it will look like.” Ryan Keesling had just pulled out his phone and was pointing at a photo on Free Write Art and Literacy’s Instagram page as he spoke. It was a flyer for YAS! Fest, the youth art showcase that took place in Millennium Park in September. On the flyer was an image of two DJs who had performed at the festival, Walter and Cortez, a.k.a. DJ 1Solo and DJ Tez. Keesling continued, “That’s not to say that people shouldn’t imagine. But, for me, I have to – I can imagine it, but also when I imagine it I don’t necessarily feel it. But when I see their faces and when I work with our students, both inside and outside, and I see them growing and I see them becoming aware of their abilities, and I see them being able to take control of their lives and I see them being happy and getting …

City Visions: Urban Space, Daily Life, and the Camera

Treated with fumes and mercury vapor, the silver-polished metal plate is exposed to the light of a sunny Parisian day and reveals a latent image on its mirror-like surface: the curve of a cobblestone street leads the eye down rows of various-sized structures, toward a far-off vanishing point in the cityscape. Legible in the foreground, out in front of what appears to be a residential building, we see two figures miniaturized within the sweeping panorama. Captured by Louis Daguerre, inventor of the eponymous daguerreotype technique, this 1838 photograph, titled Boulevard du Temple, is believed to be the first picture ever created of city space and daily urban life. With its elevated perspective looking down and across this vista, Daguerre’s photo situates the viewer as an observer who is simultaneously in the city but also looking at it from some remove, as if through a window. The wide angle and sense of distance allow the viewer to consider the scene aesthetically: the contrast and quality of light, the atmosphere, the architectural forms. At the same time, …