All posts filed under: Featured

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 …

“Natural Wonder” at the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria

This review is part of our Sixty Regional project which partners with artists, writers, and artist-run spaces to highlight art happening throughout the Midwest and Illinois. Written by Jessica Bingham, artist, curator, and co-founder of Project 1612, this review examines “Natural Wonder”, a two-person exhibition by Bethany Carlson Coffin and Stephanie Sailer at the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria, Illinois. Distance, whether out of necessity or inability to be close, is the common thread within the works in the exhibition Natural Wonder currently at the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria, IL. As the elevator doors opened to reveal the exhibition, I felt instantly calm, yet curious. Curious about the strange forms living on the pristine white pedestals and lost within the intricate paintings and drawings that graced the walls of the gallery. The pieces spark a sense of wonder and yearning for answers about experiences we cannot possibly understand or completely fathom; they compliment each other—they are quiet, contemplative, and coexisting. The exhibition pairs together the delicate drawings and monochromatic paintings of Bethany Carlson Coffin and the supple mixed media sculptures of …

Art + Love: On Collaboration, Practice, Space and Relationships

In 2012, Sixty writer Zachary Johnson challenged “the image of the lone artist toiling away in their studio” with Art + Love, a series of interviews that asked artists and their partners to share how they make art, love, and partnership work. Every couple years we continue to revisit the conversation with a new group of artists, writers, designers, educators, and curators whose love for one another helps to fuel their life and work within and outside of the studio, exhibition space, stage, or page. This year we’re hearing from interdisciplinary artists Ayanah Moor and Jamila Raegan, Houston-based artists Lovie Olivia and Preetika Rajgariah, artists Will Bishop and Grace Needlman, curator Jennifer Sova and musician Tiana Jimenez-Srisook, artist Andrés Lemus-Spont and writer Marya Spont-Lemus, and designer Dan Sullivan and artist Edra Soto.   

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 …

Intimate Justice: Cameron Clayborn

“Intimate Justice” looks at the intersection of art and sex and how these actions intertwine to serve as a form of resistance, activism, and dialogue in the Chicago community. For this installment, we talked to Cameron Clayborn in his Bridgeport live-work studio space about popcorn ceilings, inner dialogue, and letting your freak flag fly.  This interview has been edited for length and clarity.  S. Nicole Lane: Are you from Chicago? If not, how did you end up here? Cameron Clayborn: I’m from Memphis. I was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and then my parents moved me to Memphis. SNL: Cool. And do you live in Bridgeport? CC: Yeah. So this is a live-work space. Everyone who has a space here works here, except for one person. But she’s awesome. So she lives around the corner. SNL: And what did you study at SAIC? CC: I studied sculpture and sometimes sound. I never took a performance class except for one time, which was about the practicalities of being a performance artist. I don’t know, it just never felt …

You Can Fly Higher: An Interview with Chicago-based Street Artist Sentrock

Sentrock is the moniker of Chicago-based street artist Joseph Perez, who moved to the city from Phoenix, Arizona in 2012. Since then, Chicagoans have likely seen his signature murals of brown children in red bird masks adorning the walls of buildings all over the North, West, and South Sides. With public art now on display in multiple U.S. cities, Sentrock has still shown the most love for Chicago. His mural across the street from YolloCalli Arts Reach in Little Village in particular has become an important and inspiring fixture that the community members and the young artists who work at YolloCalli have come to admire. Sentrock may not create art to be inherently political, but that doesn’t mean his murals don’t deliver messages. Most of his public pieces contain slogans like “You Can Fly Higher,” “Stay Woke,” and “We Learned To Fly Without Wings” alongside the images of masked young people with black hair and brown skin. In Little Village, a largely Latinx immigrant neighborhood, residents get to see these hopeful messages paired with physical …

Free Write Arts & Literacy: Poems to Photos

As part of the Envisioning Justice Initiative, Sixty paired writers and photographers with each of Illinois Humanities’ selected community hubs: organizations working within communities around issues of incarceration and justice. One of those organizations is Free Write Arts & Literacy. Going on 19 years, Free Write has provided arts and literacy education to thousands of youth detained in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, as well as providing employment and creative opportunities on the outside. A cornerstone of Free Write’s pedagogy is using poetry and personal narratives as a vehicle for both literacy and self-empowerment. In a society and system that is quick to apply ready-made ideas informed by race, class, and condition, on their lives and fates, Free Write encourages their students to “own their narratives” through telling their own stories. Below, you will find two poems written by Free Write students last year, prompted by Aracelis Girmay’s “Elegy in Gold.” Taking a cue from the New York Times series pairing photographs inspired by poetry, photographer Chelsea Ross created a series of images in response to the poems. The …

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 …

Stories of Migration & Transformation: An Interview with OCAD’s Reyna Wences

Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) describes themselves “an undocumented-led group that organizes against deportations, detention, criminalization, and incarceration of Black, brown, and immigrant communities in Chicago and surrounding areas. Through grassroots organizing, legal and policy work, direct action and civil disobedience, and cross-movement building, we aim to defend our communities, challenge the institutions that target and dehumanize us, and build collective power. We fight alongside families and individuals challenging these systems to create an environment for our communities to thrive, work, and organize with happiness and without fear.” OCAD was born in 2013 as a natural evolution from the founders’ early days leading what was then known as Immigrant Youth Justice League. I spoke with one of those founders, community organizer Reyna Wences, about her decade-long fight to transform policy and protect immigrants in Chicago. We also talked about the role of art in OCAD campaigns. Everything from banner drops to protest signs to public murals have played a role in building the immigrant rights movement in Little Village and beyond. Reyna talked about that …

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 …

Nurturing Community: Interview with George Wilson of BBF Family Services

Since last year, BBF Family Services has functioned as the community focal point, or hub, for the Envisioning Justice initiative in the neighborhood of North Lawndale.  In the fall, I spoke separately to Rufus Williams, BBF President and CEO, and Dominique Steward, Envisioning Justice Hub Director for North Lawndale, about programming at BBF and its role in the initiative, which seeks to bring awareness to the impact of incarceration in communities across Chicago. Williams and Steward both recommended I talk to George Wilson, a Youth Mentor at BBF, for a rich, ground-level perspective on the direct services BBF provides to North Lawndale youth. Wilson and I met at BBF after I finished an early shift at UCAN, another social service agency in North Lawndale. In the social service industry, Wilson and I are peers, each direct-service providers to youth. But UCAN is a residential treatment center (among other things), where youth from all over (and, in fact, some from North Lawndale) are assigned to live by the state. Wilson, on the other hand, works with youth from the community, in the …

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 …

Faces of Hyde Park with Brian Carroll

I must have stumbled upon Brian’s work when I first moved to Chicago — roughly five years ago — where I found my home in Hyde Park. It’s been years and I’m still here, still walking down 55th, taking a left, passing The Cove and finding a sunny spot at Promontory Point. After five years I have come to know familiar faces, people who I’ve never spoken to but I’ve seen every morning. When I stopped into Open Produce, the local grocery store, this summer, a regular customer stopped me and said, “I didn’t see you at the lake this morning. I brought Bridget, but we must have missed you.” Bridget, his dog, is always swimming over to me during my morning dips. We usually talk for a few moments when I exit the water, but it’s nothing monumental. But there he is, every morning, and there I am, too, like clockwork waiting to see each other on our morning swim. Since following him on social media years ago, I’ll scroll through my feed and I’ll stop, and smile, as …

Arial view of Stateville Correctional Center.

Smiling Behind the Sun: An Interview with Danny Franklin

Libyans sometimes refer to being arrested and taken away without warning as being “taken behind the sun.” This interview series celebrates—through conversations with formerly-incarcerated artists and their allies—the ways in which an artistic, creative life can transmute the impact and redefine the legacy of an experience within the prison-industrial complex. Danny Franklin is an actor and producer of the one-act play “A Day at Stateville.” The play was written collectively by a creative writing class of incarcerated students at Stateville Correctional Center, working under the guidance of attorney and Stateville volunteer Jim Chapman. It utilizes Augusto Boal’s applied theatrical approach to drama in an attempt to foment revolutionary change and is performed on the outside by men who were once confined at Stateville themselves. To date, more than 150 productions have taken place in churches, schools, and community organizations throughout Illinois. In 1997, after serving 12 years at Stateville, Danny Franklin came home to Chicago and founded Reaching Back Ministry. He’s been working with and on behalf of formerly incarcerated citizens ever since, helping to …

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 …

A Tender Offering: The Sculpture of Patricia Whalen Keck

Foreign yet familiar. The sculptures of Patricia Whalen Keck stand still yet so full of emotion.  Their bronze forms, vulnerable and gentle, greet the viewer as they approach them. Keck’s work has a soft, soothing presence; tapping into something within all of us. Informed by the need to protect and give voice, traits common to all people, Keck’s work takes on a certain sentimentality, a quiet kindness, that embraces the viewer. She taps into the history of humanity, ideas and emotions universal. Keck considers herself a figurative artist. There is a acute attention to detail in her rendering of her forms that stems from her time spent with them. Time is a huge component of Keck’s work. The time spent creating each piece, the length of the lost wax casting process, gives Keck the time to pour herself into the work. She has said she has made work for the time spent on it. This can be felt by the viewer when interacting with the work. The time and emotion spent on the piece is …

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 …

Intimate Justice: Hyegyeong Choi

“Intimate Justice” looks at the intersection of art and sex and how these actions intertwine to serve as a form of resistance, activism, and dialogue in the Chicago community. For this installment, we talked to Hyegyeong Choi in the summer over the phone about friends with benefits, violence in sex, and to formality in painting.  This interview has been edited for length and clarity.  S. Nicole Lane: You’re new to New York, but can you maybe talk about the city and the community there and if it differs any way from what you experienced? Hyegyeong Choi: Sure. I had such a strong community in Chicago from grad school at SAIC in Chicago. It was like a family environment. I know or see a lot of people whenever I go to openings. When I moved to New York, I only knew a few people here. My best friend, Seth Stolbun, who is also my collector said “It’s the same thing. You will know everyone since it’s a small world like you had in Chicago.” I had a …

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 …