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Arow Collective // PART I

Arow Collective. "In the Forest: An Afro-Futurist Piece." Sir Jove performance. January 2012. (Image courtesy of Justin Barbin.)

When you receive noise complaints from your neighbors and subsequent eviction threats over the phone from an angry landlord who lives in the suburbs but Googled your address and came across DIY flyers of public shows you’re hosting in your three-story loft that’s populated by four times as many tenants as is legally allowed… you know you’re doing something right. (Disclaimer: bias in favor of fellow troublemakers may [have] occur[ed].) Nestled in the heart of Pilsen, Arow Collective represents all that is Good about Chicago’s underground art scene.

I had the pleasure of attending—rather, experiencing—Wake Up, a night that consisted of spoken word, music performances, and an open mic; and In the Forest: An Afro-Futurist Piece with performances by Sir Jove and by Dos Santos Band. At both events, rollicking dance parties ensued. The kids at Arow are passionate and ambitious, the atmosphere warm and welcoming. (Granted, my first impression of the place entailed catching up with a friend while sitting at a chess table and sipping red wine out of a mug—a mug—so it wasn’t exactly difficult to feel at ease, but still.) Due to the aforementioned threats, Arow won’t continue using its space as a venue for future shows. Although this could be seen as a setback, simply look to the namesake for a silver lining; it’s fitting that the collective is signified by an arrow. After all, what is an artist without the ability to travel, to adapt, to change?

What follows is my interview with musician, artist, coffee aficionado, and collective founder Carina Gibson, a.k.a. carinainka. After freaking out over the discovery of multiple mutual friends and the completely random ways in which we met them (e.g. via crashing a house party—clearly the best and only way to attend any party), we discussed art, music, Chicago ‘hoods, and the fearlessness that often comes with being an entrepreneur.

Check back next week for PART II, in which I interview collective members Gianni Onassis and Ian Mitchell Wallace for Arow’s next show, which will be on Friday, February 17, at Clothes Optional.


Arow Collective. "In the Forest: An Afro-Futurist Piece." Dos Santos Band performance. January 2012. (Image courtesy of Justin Barbin.)

Jenny Lam: When did you start Arow Collective?

Carina Gibson: I moved into that place in July, August, so technically that’s when it started. I don’t know anything about galleries, I don’t know anything specifically about art, and I never studied any of it. I just know that I like to do everything—mostly music—but I paint, I write… I do it all, and I appreciate it all, but I don’t think I’m specifically good at really anything in general. Maybe music—that’s definitely my passion—but I feel like I have the sense of… not to say what’s good, because so many things are good. It’s all about taste, really, but in general out of my friends I feel like I have a lot of talented people that I know.

I felt like there had to be some way to bring everyone together. It’s not like an actual gallery gallery. We’re not actually selling anything, but it’s some way to bring everyone together and showcase our stuff for free and just have a great time. Because I know so many talented people, the only thing I could think of was to create a gallery/collective. For me, it’s always jump in head first; I moved to Chicago with a suitcase and a one-way ticket. I just jump into things without knowing anything because you learn on the way.

JL: That’s awesome. Where were you living before Chicago?

CG: I’m from Finland and North Carolina. I’ve lived on and off my whole life, like half year [in Finland], half year [in North Carolina], and then I moved [to Finland] for a little while and worked there, and then I moved back to the States to North Carolina, and at that point I was like, “I need to go somewhere. I’ll pick something,” and I picked Chicago.

Arow Collective. "In the Forest: An Afro-Futurist Piece." Sir Jove performance. January 2012. (Image courtesy of Justin Barbin.)

JL: Good choice.

CG: I know! I was like, “This is my last stop before leaving the US forever,” [laughter] and I was like, “I’ll stay there for at least a year,” but I really, really like it.

JL: I love the scene you’ve created at Arow. The energy at the last two shows was incredible.

CG: Yeah, there’s good energy. I had the idea to do something like [Arow], but one of my good friends Justin… I consider him the co-founder in a sense. […] He used to do a lot of graffiti and we’d always draw together, and we were thinking about tag names, and he came up with the idea for an arrow, and I thought of it with one R, and we kind of used that. What’s really interesting is that this really shows our energies combined. Before he even met me—there’s a painting that’s been hanging up at the space for a while since we opened it up—he had done this drawing, and in it, it says “collective” inside an arrow, and that was before he knew me and we had any of these ideas, so I saw that later after we formed the name and everything. It’s just like bringing all different kinds of people in, and it’s not a concrete thing. It’s a name to an idea, I guess.

JL: Is it also a collective in the sense that it’s a bunch of people living together in one space?

CG: Right now, yeah, there are eight people living there, so it’s a home, and the space is amazing, but our landlord found out…

JL: Yeah I saw that! What happened?

CG: We’re not supposed to have more than two people in there! Gianni and Ian have a lot of art they want to show, so they have this idea to have a show up at Clothes Optional, so that’s February 17. So I’m going to help with that and get that started. We’re just going to jump from place to place until we move out and find some place we’ll be able to use as a venue again.

Arow Collective. "In the Forest: An Afro-Futurist Piece." Sir Jove performance. January 2012. (Image courtesy of Justin Barbin.)

JL: How did you bring these people to the collective? Were they people you already knew?

CG: Yeah they’re Justin’s friends, whoever needed a home and happened to move into our house really. There’s nothing specific; it’s just people we know who needed to live somewhere. [laughter]

JL: What’s your take on the Pilsen art scene and the Chicago art scene in general?

CG: That’s a good question. As far as Pilsen goes, I’m new there and I like it. Of course it’s very segregated in the art scene, because you’ve got Halsted with Podmajersky buildings and a very “gentrified” kind of art scene there, and then you’ve got the traditional Mexican murals and little galleries and such, so it’s really divided. Basically, for 2nd Fridays, it’s Podmajersky advertising his buildings. [laughter] But they’re fun!

JL: What neighborhood were you living in before?

CG: I jumped around. When I first moved here, I lived in Uptown, and then I lived in Wrigleyville, which was stupid.

JL: Ugh.

CG: I know. I wanted to move to Pilsen because I really liked it, and my favorite areas of Chicago are Rogers Park and Pilsen.

JL: I love Rogers Park.

CG: Yeah! Nobody I know likes it because they say it’s so far, but I’m not a huge partier or drinker or anything. I like natural beauty, so the lake up there is beautiful and it’s calm and quiet, and I think Pilsen is really pretty. The neighborhood is calm.

JL: Plus, Rogers Park is really ethnically diverse.

CG: Exactly! And I like being along the lake.

Arow Collective. "In the Forest: An Afro-Futurist Piece." Sir Jove performance. January 2012. (Image courtesy of Justin Barbin.)

JL: Do you make an effort to integrate your music with your visual art?

CG: I’m working on that, actually! This year, my goal is to start doing a lot more live shows and actually form a band. I use my art to make album art or whatever I’m working on, and when I do perform I want it to be very visual because people like to be stimulated nowadays, like you can’t just play. That’s how I feel; people are so overstimulated and nothing is surprising anymore, so you have to keep the audience’s attention. So it’s not just about the music anymore, as much as I would want it to be, and for some people who are really into music that’s all right, but for most people, if you want to have a show, you need to have more elements to it. So [I’ll be] incorporating art or some visual kind of stimulation.

JL: What kind of visual art do you do?

CG: Sometimes I paint, sometimes I write, and sometimes I draw. I’m actually working on making a huge life-size tiger out of metal and paper-maché and fabric, so you can sit on it, and that’s my next project. I just like to do everything. I like to make wooden things and jewelry, anything I can get my hands on. [laughter] I’ve always been like that, just always fidgeting and building. I love building things; I can’t wait to build my own house.

JL: I’d love to see that! What do you envision for Arow in the future?

CG: Because an arrow represents movement, we’re always changing. There’s always something going on. We’re always going in a direction, so it’s never a stagnant kind of thing. So whether that’s physical location, whether that’s people, whether that’s ideas, whether that’s anything, we’re always moving. So our spot right there doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be there forever, and moving from there doesn’t mean that it’s done, and even if all the people in my house split up, that’s fine. There are so many people [that] it’s weird to define it. Everybody in my household makes it up; we have roommate meetings and everybody in it is an equal share or weight, so however many people are in it they’re all building it on their own, so it’s really based on how many people are in it and are contributing. That’s what I want it to be, to start this idea and put it out there. It just took off, and I’m watching and people are doing way more now than I’m doing, which is great, because it’s morphing on its own. […] I feel kind of like the mother of the idea, but if you have a child, it’s going to grow and have its own life. [laughter]

Arow Collective. Gallery opening. November 2011. (Image courtesy of Carina Gibson.)

JL: I know that Arow’s going to go places.

CG: Yeah, because if you put this idea of a collective in all these different minds, then that’s like the… what’s that theory that if you know one person, you trace it back to, like, eight people or something and that means you know everybody in the world?

JL: Yeah, the six degrees of separation.

CG: Yeah that’s what it is. So it’s almost like that, like if you tell one, then poof! It’s like a ton of little arrows that go out! […] I didn’t make it to the last show because I was in Mexico, but I heard great things. That’s one of the reasons my landlord called me, though, because it went on until…

JL: Because it was amazing.

CG: [laughter] I heard. I’ve seen Jove perform a lot. He’s fantastic. That’s the kind of energy that’s really, I don’t know, constructive? My whole beginning idea was that I wanted to have a coffee shop feel, like we’re selling tea and coffee; we’re not selling PBRs and trying to get people trashed.

JL: How did you find that space?

CG: I actually was walking by it in the summer. I had this idea in my mind. I was looking for a good space, and I was walking around Pilsen, and I walk by, and I remember looking at that place several times being like, “That’s a cool place.” So one day I just walked by and the door was open, and I was like, “Ohhh yeah!” So I walked in and they were doing construction and I was like, “Excuse me, whose is this? What’s happening? I want to live here!” And they gave me the number and I called the landlord—seriously, like, five times—and was like, “I don’t care who you’ve talked to; I want this space.” [laughter] And now he hates me but that’s OK!

JL: That’s a detail. A minor detail.

CG: A minor detail! This is true.

Arow Collective. Gallery opening. November 2011. (Image courtesy of Carina Gibson.)

JL: Are you still going to live there even though it won’t be a public venue anymore?

CG: Oh yeah, and I think that’s the beauty of it. That’s the whole idea of Arow, like adapting, like, “Oh, we can’t do it here? That’s OK! We’re going to go over here!” Somebody in our group will want to have a specific idea of a show, like Ian and Gianni had this specific idea, so they’re seeking out the kind of space they want, and of course we’re all going to come together and work on it together. And then my roommate Justin really wants to have a video show, so [he’s] seeking a space where he can show video footage, and we’re all in on it and helping him with that. And I want to have something with more music, with more acoustic performances, so I’ll look for something for that and everyone will come in and help me with that.

JL: Who are the artists in the collective?

CG: I live with Nick. He plays music; he used to be in a band called Why So White, and now he’s working on more music, recording stuff. Jove: You saw Sir Jove’s show; he’s working on music. Justin: He does video and I call him the co-founder. Then there’s our friend Charlie, and he plays music with Nick. Jess is Justin’s girlfriend and she moved in and she’s a fantastic artist; she does painting and theater. My recent best friend from North Carolina just moved in. Gianni’s part of it all, Ian’s part of it all, and whoever happens to bring their art in is part of it. Anybody who wants to contribute and wants to be an active member is a part of it.

Arow Collective. Gallery opening. November 2011. (Image courtesy of Carina Gibson.)

JL: So anyone could just walk in and say, “I want to—”

CG: “—help!” Let’s do it!

On a side note, I have side projects that stem from [Arow], you could say, and I’m working on a record label called LimeDime Records. I’m not producing anybody, I’m not charging anything, I’m not getting any money. That’s what I think most of this is; there’s no money involved—we’re just doing things. So the basic idea [of LimeDime Records] is the same idea [as Arow collective]; I know a ton of musicians and I want to somehow bring them together in this cohesive way. So instead of being like, “Oh, check out this artist, check out this artist, check out this artist,” I can be like, “Check out this record label, and I assure you everybody on it is talented,” and I can be the spokesperson. I like starting things on my own. I have entrepreneurship in my blood. [laughter] So Jove I want to put on there, my friends from around the country… Nowadays everybody is making their own music, and it’s do it your own.

JL: Is there a specific genre of music?

CG: Right now it’s just anything. Like the collective, I always jump right in, so I just start with this big broad idea. A lot of people aren’t like that and they’ll like to make specific and make this set plan before they put anything in action, and I think that both those ways have wonderful things about them. I can’t work like that though. I need to jump in headfirst because the only way I learn is by making mistakes, so as far as the record label, I have no idea. I’ll probably develop a cohesive sound, but at the moment I have to put it out there in order to know what I want.

JL: I can’t reiterate enough how much I love that you’re doing this. It’s pretty fearless.

CG: [laughter] I don’t know what to be fearful of, like you just do it. You can’t really fail. I mean, I can, but it’s not really failing because I tried, you know?


PART II coming next week.

For more information about Arow Collective, visit

Jenny Lam blogs at Artists on the Lam. Her Twitter handle is @TheJennyLam.

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