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Pay It Forward>>The CG Project


Pay It Forward is a collaborative, experimental fundraiser devised by Autotelic {Studios} and Sixty Inches From Center. We are experimenting with the idea of paying it forward to other arts organizations who work to support artists and a thriving arts community in Chicago. Our Pay It Forward Series will highlight one of the eight projects that we have chosen to be part of our fundraiser each week, leading up to our Pay It Forward Fundraising Party + Housewarming on November 23rd, 7 PM at Autotelic’s new location, 1856 N. Richmond.

This week, we interviewed Mario Contreras and Diana Gabriel at the CG Project. The husband-wife duo founded the project in 2011, inspired by the grassroots reaction to budget cuts to arts funding from the likes of Scott Walker and other politicians. Ranging from documentary films to large scale light projects, their work includes deeply personal pieces, powerful political statements, and abstract and hypnotizing installations. Given the volume and diversity of their works, it’s almost difficult to believe that there are only two people behind the project. We at Sixty have been working with the CG Project since Spring of this year, and they have proven invaluable both for the content they’ve generated and the programming they’ve contributed to.

Sixty Inches From Center: How did you guys start?

The CG Project: We started with the realization that traditional routes to success in the creative economy were crumbling around us. Frustrated by an over-saturated media environment and under-funded pool of resources for artists, we decided to build our own grassroots network of artists, filmmakers and supporters that we call La Buena Espalda. The name comes from a Colombian expression for someone at the front of a very long line. They’re said to have a Buena Espalda, or “Nice Back”—nice enough for people to line up to see.

As suburban artists, we understand the challenges that people face on Friday nights, when all the fun art stuff is at your disposal after a two-hour drive. Fighting traffic and searching for parking poison the gallery experience for many of us. In turn, suburban art shows struggle to maintain consistent audiences because we’re isolated from each other and the larger Chicago community. Our solution to the challenge of this moment is to unite people around something other than geography. We cultivate audiences by sharing content that they value enough to spend their time on and lend their voices to. Given the realities we each face in our daily lives, that’s a huge leap for someone to take. That’s why we do our best to reward those that make the pilgrimage with unique art experiences.

Mario Contreras and Diana Gabriel visit A Sunday Afternoon at La Grande Jatte. (Image courtesy of the artist).

SIFC: What’s your mission?

CG: We’re a creative platform for artists and audiences to increase accessibility and appreciation for Art. We aim to bridge gaps between niche audiences seeking curated content and artists seeking sincere patrons to appreciate their work. Our means of achieving this is by elevating artwork that we appreciate though blogging, photography and curation. We also produce short documentaries to give others the opportunity to witness the openings and events that they couldn’t see live.

We value art for the thought, craft and perseverance that it demands above everything else. We appreciate artists that aren’t afraid to let their art overtake their lives and still find ways to function in our world while creating work that challenges the audience. We love audiences that understand the courage that it takes to put yourself on display for the world to critique and will reciprocate that courage by paying attention, allowing our ideas to mingle with yours and more importantly, to taking the brave step of spreading the word about good work when you see it.

SIFC: What makes your project unique?

CG: Our position between Chicago’s contemporary art and documentary film communities offers a variety of opportunities to bring people together around themes that matter to us as artists, educators and human beings. Our role is that of curious audience members, socially conscious artists and sincere cultural curators. We each had different motivations for working on The CG Project but realized that the intersections of our lives and work are fertile ground for the creativity and generosity we’ll need to survive as artists.

Contreras is a filmmaker and photographer with a passion for non-fiction and social commentary. Gabriel is an artist and curator with a soft spot for artisans and an inclination toward all linear things, patterns, and simultaneity. Our views differ widely on questions of what makes a body of work interesting or what we find aesthetically pleasing, but we agree that the creative pursuit is a positive life choice and that art has the potential to teach us each something about ourselves through the point of view of another.

SIFC: What is the one thing that you want people to know about your organization?

CG: We offer documentary photo and video services as well as contemporary art and short film curation.

The CG Project’s mascot, Osito, surveys one of Mario and Diana’s temporary installations. (Image courtesy of the artist)

SIFC: What are your goals? What’s coming up?

CG: Mario’s personal goal is to raise starting funds for a film called My Father’s Knee. It’s a feature length documentary that uses Mario’s relationship to his father to examine issues of education, citizenship and privilege in the United States. The project was selected for the inaugural class of Diverse Voices in Docs, a professional development program by Kartemquin Films for filmmakers of color.

Diana’s goal is to establish herself as a Chicago artist and for her work to be exhibited across state lines and in other countries. She has an upcoming solo show at Waubonsee Community College and she’s participating in an alumni show at Illinois State University.

Our overarching goal is to spread Chicago’s creative ecosystem into the suburbs toward audiences that are curious about contemporary art and independent film but feel isolated or intimidated by the larger Chicago art scene. We do this by elevating the work hardworking artists throughout the Chicagoland area because we believe a rising tide lifts all boats.

SIFC: How does the concept of paying it forward apply to what you do and your relationship to the Chicago arts community?

CG: Reciprocity is at the core of what we do at the CG project. Our first collaborations, with People Made Visible in West Chicago, taught us the value of investing in the community and giving artists opportunities to share their work. We believe in expanding our network by collaborating and sharing our platform. Instead of paying for web traffic or spamming people, we believe that artists will share our blog if we write about their work and audiences will read it if we connect it to subjects that already interest them.

SIFC: Why did you agree to be part of this fundraiser with Sixty and Autotelic?

CG: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African proverb

We’re big fans of crowdfunding and even bigger fans of collaboration. We also love being guinea pigs for experiments that build community and grow the local creative ecosystems. Aside from those idealistic reasons, we want the exposure that comes from being boosted onto the shoulders of Sixty and Autotelic. We’re proud to associate ourselves with two emerging entities that have taken control of their own future. We’re even prouder that the feeling is mutual.

To find out more about the CG Project, visit To donate to the Sixty & Autotelic {Studios} Pay It Forward fundraiser, visit CLICK HERE.


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