All posts filed under: Community

The Art of Styling: A Peek into Gilda’s

Between the hum of Anita Baker and the rustle of clothes hangers and metal is the personality of Gilda Norris. It’s snowing as I walk across the street from my apartment to Gilda’s shop on 55th street in Hyde Park. It’s a garden floor space—take a few steps down and you’re in a sea of clothing. It’s small and intimate, making it hard to not brush past fabrics, sequins, and buttons. In the summer months you can count on spotting Gilda standing on the steps of her shop. Leaning against her railing, she always looks effortlessly cool. Her stance itself is an advertisement to pop into the shop. But today we are on the other side of the beaches and drips of sweat of summer. We are shuddered indoors and grasping for any hint of Vitamin D. I quickly hustle inside of Gilda’s, a solace from the wetness of Chicago, the cocoon of clothing creating a sense of comfort and nostalgia.  This interview has been edited for length and clarity.  Gilda Norris: I was born and …

From the South Side to the South and Back: An Interview with Nichole Carter of Bright Star

Creating the right recipe of offerings for the families in your community isn’t an easy task, but that’s what Bright Star Community Outreach works to do everyday in Bronzeville. Providing everything from family service and parent education to workforce development, trauma counseling, and advocacy opportunities, Bright Star takes a holistic approach to their work and wraps their arms all the way around those who walk through their doors for support or service.  A born-and-raised Chicagoan, Bright Star’s Nichole Carter moved to Knoxville, Tennessee as a teenager, then, after acceptance into Spelman she moved to Atlanta. After graduation she spent time working in property management, specifically in mixed-income housing. Eventually, what she learned during her studies and work in the South would make its way to the South Side of Chicago through a position as the Director of Community Strategy and Development at Bright Star.   As the person at the helm of Bright Star’s community programs, she was the one who took a leadership role when Bright Star became one of seven community hubs for Envisioning Justice, a program initiated by Illinois Humanities …

Piece of Mind: The Growth of a Supportive and Nurturing Arts Community

When I first moved to the Midwest and began settling into my new home in Peoria, I was immediately captured by the growing art community. Being a part of academia for so long, I had not yet lived somewhere with an arts community that developed outside of a university or college. I attended my first First Friday in Peoria, a local event with gallery crawls, studio visits, and openings, meeting so many people pursuing their passion in this city. The variety of artists at various points in their career, doing so many different things, truly astounded me. There were local artisans creating wares and goods for the community, artists making a living off of their work by selling at fairs and local businesses, academics making their work and passing their knowledge on to their pupils, artists maintaining a studio practice and taking advantage of all of the space and resources in the community, and those who were new, attending their first events and figuring out their voice in the art-ecosystem. The variety of people working in such …

How La Villita Envisions Justice: A Reporter’s Reflections

Since I began covering the Envisioning Justice initiative in Little Village in Spring 2018, something that Open Center for the Arts Founder and Executive Director J. Omar Magana told me has stayed with me. He said that he sees the Chicago neighborhood – where, in 2004, he opened his community art center – as a world-class village. It took me almost a year of meeting and speaking with artists and activists who live and work in La Villita, to understand what he meant. As part of the cohort of journalists documenting the ways Chicagoans have harnessed art to address criminal justice issues in their communities, I’ve had the extraordinary privilege to learn from the people at the intersections of this work. Little Villagers specifically represent a unique approach to community organizing – one that embraces interracial solidarity, and cross-issue advocacy. Holding power brokers accountable feels particularly salient in Little Village. The creeping threat of gentrification is still somewhat distant here, unlike the neighboring area of Pilsen, where brand new luxury apartments share blocks with single …

Featured image: Fawzia Mirza. In this medium-close-up shot, Fawzia looks directly and confidently at the camera, smiling with pursed lips and pointing at the viewer with both hands. Fawzia wears a long-sleeved denim shirt with a blue-on-blue, camouflage-like print and the top few snaps unsnapped. The cuffs of her shirt-sleeves are folded back, and she wears several bracelets and rings made of silver or wood. Photo by Bradley Murray, cropped to fit. Courtesy of the artist.

Beyond the Page: Fawzia Mirza

“Beyond the Page” digs into the process and practice of writers and artists who work at the intersection of literary arts and other fields. For this installment, I interviewed Fawzia Mirza — actor, writer, producer, and “artivist” — about the relationship between her writing and performance, her creations’ many forms and media platforms, the role of comedy and collaboration in her work, and how she hopes her work impacts others. Our conversation took place remotely, with Fawzia responding via audio recording to a set of emailed questions. Find Fawzia on Twitter and Instagram @thefawz. “The Red Line” premieres on Sunday, April 28, on CBS. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.   Marya Spont-Lemus: I first became aware of your work several years ago, when you emceed TEDx Windy City, at which two of my students were speaking. I thought you were such a charming, energetic, bold, incisive yet kind and generous host, and it was so lovely to officially meet you a few years ago and to discover that you’re just as smart …

Sonic Space: Interview with Michael Junokas

This is an excerpt from Sight Specific’s interview with sound artist Michael Junokas. Presented through Sixty Regional. In partnership with pt.fwd, a new series of contemporary music and sonic arts performances featuring new work by local and regional artists in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, Sight Specific will be publishing conversations between the featured artists and pt.fwd director Eddie Breitweiser. Michael Junokas will be performing on Saturday, February 9, 2019 at 8pm at the McLean County Arts Center. All pt.fwd performances are free and open to the public. Follow pt.fwd on Facebook and Instagram for more information, including upcoming performance dates. Eddie: For the pt.fwd performance in February, we wanted to have a conversation with you so that we could get more familiar with your work. Today we wanted to talk about three different areas: history, region, and fun. So first, historically speaking, can you place the work you’re going to be performing for us? We ask that because part of the charge that we put on our pt.fwd performers is for them to bring something new that they haven’t …

Review: Reclaiming the Crown, The Footwork King’s Battle with Money Bail

It was spring 2016 and Devoureaux Wolf was on the rise. Also known as “King Detro, Chicago’s footwork king,” Wolf’s dancing career was taking off: he’d won numerous dance competitions, hosted a dance show on Wala Cam TV, and had just started his own program, Dance N Out, that aimed to steer youth on the West Side off the street and onto the dance floor. He never expected getting a ride home from a friend’s brother would radically alter his life’s course. But that’s exactly what happened. The car was pulled over and Wolf was quickly dragged out by Chicago police officers, who then arrested him and charged him with assaulting them. Though the driver had the foresight to film the encounter to disprove the police’s account, simply being charged landed Wolf in Cook County Jail with a $3,000 bond that he could not afford. Over the next three and a half months, Wolf would nearly lose his apartment, his hosting job, and his connection to his community. On top of that, Wolf’s uncle passed …

Free Write Arts & Literacy, and the Work of Justice Within (and Without) the Walls of Juvenile Justice

This project asked us to envision justice. It offered the arts as a lens. As I first began to wrap my mind around the Envisioning Justice initiative (“Bringing Chicago together to examine and reimagine the criminal justice system through a creative lens”), I entered a rabbit hole of unanswerable and annoyingly abstract questions, like, what is art? (Beauty? Truth? Life? Fantasy?) And, what is art for? (Self-expression? Transcendence? Joy? Education? Justice?) Can it really be for justice? And then, of course, what is justice? How does something as wishy-washy and abstract as art bear on something as heavy and real as incarceration? In the two articles I published previously for the Envisioning Justice writing residency, I included responses to the prompt, “How do you envision justice?” from two artists who have been working within Illinois jails and prisons for years. Both responses were not cynical, but rather the opposite; they were tired of the question. It’s the work, not the envisioning of the work, that needs to get done, they seemed to say. Here’s Sarah …

Teaching Classes Inside, Building Knowledge Outside: An Interview with Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project

The Illinois Department of Corrections is made up of 28 prisons that hold nearly 44,000 people. While the number of inmates has steadily increased since 2000, Illinois prisons followed a national trend in increasing sentence terms due to mandatory minimums and truth-in-sentencing laws. Alongside the trend towards longer sentencing, the 1994 Crime Bill Act eliminated low-income incarcerated people’s access to Pell Grants for higher education, dramatically decreasing the amount of educational programming in prisons. Amid instability and overcrowding, incarcerated people make art, get married, have children, and live entire lives that the outside world hears little about. Artist and instructor Sarah Ross taught Art History classes at Danville Correctional Center through a remaining community college program, where she met incarcerated artists, did critiques and put together shows for the outside. When she was asked to teach at Stateville Maximum Security Prison in 2011, that experience informed the values she brought in to her classes. Ross reached out to her networks to invite more people on as instructors to offer incarcerated people a range of educators and …

In Conversation with Artist Jireh L. Drake

Even if you haven’t met Jireh L. Drake (they/them) before, you may have heard their voice bouncing off the walls of a CTA platform–laughing, chanting or freestyling. Always enfolded within the city’s cacophonous soundscape. Always amongst people. Their spirit and energy can be felt even before they are seen. Jireh is a Black trans artist, curator, organizer and non-binary baddie who uses mixed media to explore the interdependency of social structures, salient identities, and history. Through drawing, they illustrate the sensations of movement and texture that overlap to visually evoke the interconnectedness of power, race, people, ideas, and cultural-historical movements. In their work, everyday life, Black queer existence, and experiences are unearthed and unpacked. They are a founding 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 struggles, resistance, liberation, and survival within and for marginalized communities and movements.” Their work, it seems, is a reaction to a feeling, a moment, or a conversation. Because of this, it always feels …

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 …