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I AM Logan Square: An Interview with Cara Dehnert Huffman

Cara Dehnert Huffman has a vision: to “promote and increase awareness of the arts while enhancing cultural development in Chicago’s vibrant Logan Square neighborhood.”  Appointed Executive Director of I Am Logan Square at the beginning of December 2010, Cara has transformed the non-profit arts organization into a reflection of the community it supports – a thriving commitment to local artists on the verge of greatness.

I Am Logan SquareA copyright lawyer with a degree in journalism and a masters in visual arts management, Cara’s significant professional experience, including the Illinois Arts Council and Lawyers for the Creative Arts, a non-profit that provides pro-bono legal services to artists who otherwise couldn’t afford an attorney, has well-prepared her for the position with I Am Logan Square.  Although her commitments are many – she still does some philanthropic consulting for Lawyers for the Creative Arts and teaches a class on legal aspects in the arts at Columbia College, her graduate alma mater – she states, “ I Am Logan Square definitely gets the lion’s share of my time.  It is my full-time job and, especially right now with everything we have going on in planning the [Milwaukee Avenue Arts] Festival and expanding into gallery openings, plus, I’m still so new there is a rather large learning curve there, well, that definitely gets the bulk of my time.”  With a big grin she adds,“ Luckily, I’ve found out that I don’t need too much sleep!”

To find out more about the growing presence of I Am Logan Square, (which stands for Independent Artists & Merchants of Logan Square), within the neighborhood’s vigorous artistic community, I sat down with Cara.

 

Andrea Sparr-Jaswa:  You’ve talked a little about your interest in the arts and how you found your niche; I am curious to know more about how the passion evolved. Were you, or are you, an artist in your own right?  What is it about the arts that drew you in?

Cara Dehnert Huffman:  I am not an artist, unfortunately.  But I come from a family of artists.  My mother is a visual artist, my father was a music professor (now retired), my little brother is a musician, a grandmother is a writer, grandfather is an architect, aunts and uncles and so on.  Yet, somehow, actual artistic talent skipped me.  So I use the skills I do have to support those that can create … I have always been surrounded by and immersed in the arts.  So, my passion never developed—rather, it’s just always been a major part of my life and I could not image living any other way.

ASJ:  When was I Am Logan Square first conceived?

CDH:  It started up initially about a year ago just prior to planning the [2010 Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival].  At that point it was board-run.  They did have a PR firm who did a lot of the festival planning and a lot of the executive director-type duties, but I was the first actual employee that they hired.

ASJ:  How did you become involved with I Am Logan Square?

CDH:  I was actually approached.  I was aware of the organization and I’ve been involved in the arts and in the neighborhood for quite a while – I’ve lived here for four years.  But, I knew the president of the board, Carolina Jayaram, the executive director of the Chicago Artists Coalition, and we had been put in touch professionally because of our similar backgrounds and interests—she is also a lawyer who wanted to run an arts non-profit rather than practice law per se.  Then, when I Am Logan Square decided they were at a point that they were able to hire an executive director, she brought me in to meet the rest of the board, they interviewed me and it worked out.

ASJ:  Since you took over as Executive Director, what changes have you tried to make?  What is your vision for the future?

CDH:  I Am Logan Square was originally conceived more like a chamber of commerce and, you know, Logan Square already has a Chamber of Commerce and we have a Chamber of Arts.  So, when I took over, I took it in more of an arts organization direction, focused on promoting and supporting the arts, because I felt like that’s really what Logan Square needed more than another chamber—with board approval, of course.  That’s one major change.

I changed the mission statement to ‘support and promote the arts and cultural development in Logan Square’ and, then, I really expanded it.  Up until that point, since there wasn’t an executive director and there wasn’t a staff, I Am Logan Square put on the festival but, other than that, they didn’t do a lot else.  So, along with presenting the festival this year, we’re doing monthly gallery openings where we showcase local artists and we’re trying to expand beyond just the festival.  We’re doing a couple of upcoming events in connection with the Chicago Artists Coalition in the neighborhood.  They do studio tours of working artists, so that’s in the planning stage.  Eventually, we want to grow to the point [where] we can even be a small grant-making body for artists – five hundred; a thousand dollar small grants for operating expenses, for supplies.  And, we’re doing a lot more promotion of, not only just our own events and what we’re doing, but also of all the artists and art events that go on in the neighborhood as well.  We’ve done a lot in that last three months!

ASJ:  I Am Logan Square recently had its inaugural gallery exhibition, Word to the Mother.  How were the artists chosen and what are your plans for shows in the future?

"Word to the Mother" openingCDH:  Well, at this point, they were artists from the neighborhood that I had met right when I started this position. We’re trying to do more collaborative shows rather than solo shows since, [with the festival at the end of July], we won’t have shows in July or August.  We have four [artists exhibited] now – [Lauren Feece, Chris Tavares Silva, Robert Stevenson and Lindsey Meyers].  So, since we’re only probably doing ten a year, we’re trying to do collaborative shows so that we can show as many artists as we can.  We haven’t done an official call for artists yet because the space that we’re in is temporary.  It’s owned by Mark Fishman, the same person who owns the Logan Theatre, and he’s demo-ing it, making it into more of a quasi-art house.  It’s actually going to be really cool but, as of now, we’re just taking it month by month.  Artists in the neighborhood are submitting proposals and are welcome to submit proposals and then, once we have a permanent gallery space, we’ll do an official call for artists.  But, as of now, it’s really who is coming to us to do this.

ASJ:  What do you feel is the role of Logan Square in the context of the Chicago arts scene as a whole?

CDH:  I would say that Logan Square, and also Pilsen, are definitely the forerunners in emerging art.  There are neighborhoods like River North that have very established galleries that have been there for quite a while, that are very “high rent.”  That’s not Logan Square.  But, I don’t think that’s what Logan Square wants to be either.  We’re a little more avant-garde.  There is definitely a spirit of collaboration here, with all genres of art working hand in hand.  You can see just in the level of volunteer participation that the festival is getting.  The people that live here are very invested in the arts and very invested in the neighborhood.

You’re familiar with last year’s Art Loop Open?  Of all of the artists that were accepted into that juried show, Logan Square had, by far, the most who were accepted.  I think that’s pretty indicative of the talent that we have living here.

ASJ:  What, then, will be I Am Logan Square’s particular role in promoting the Logan Square art scene?

CDH:  This is something that I’m very excited about!  Our idea is to kind of be an umbrella organization, a point of contact for all the arts, be it arts organizations, businesses that have an investment in the arts, or all of the local artists that live here.  One thing that I’ve heard (from people outside of those highly involved in the arts) is, “Oh, Logan Square seems so arty but there is nothing ever going on.”  Well, that’s not true.  There’s stuff going on all of the time!  It’s just that up until this point, there hasn’t been one central location to communicate that.  And that’s what I Am Logan Square really hopes to be; really get the word out about how much cool stuff we already have and have had going on here.

ASJ:  Besides the gallery shows, will I Am Logan Square be primarily an online presence or do you plan on hosting meetings, lectures, etc as well?

Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival community meetingCDH:  I would say all of the above.  Our website (which will be launched very soon) will have a calendar of events and a directory and we’ve already started helping to present other art shows and workshops.  We will certainly at least assist with (if not put on our own) lectures in conjunction with other arts organizations in the neighborhood, so it’s forming good partnerships with everyone involved here.  (I know we want to do a legal one – how artists can protect their copyrights.)  Four of us [Logan Square arts organizations] just did the Creative Chicago Expo at the Cultural Center and set up our booths in what the Expo called the “Logan Square Island.”  I think that’s a prime example of how the organizations and the people here are invested in working together and really making it a cohesive group.

ASJ:  It’s a really exciting time to be in Logan Square!

CDH:  It is.  I love my job!

And how can you participate…

CDH:  We’re always looking for volunteers; we’re looking for interns and support, especially with the festival.  We really need volunteers to help to put this on.  The Art Festival website is up and IAmLoganSquare.com is coming very soon.  Until then, visit our blog, ‘friend’ us or ‘like’ us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, you know, just get involved, be a part of it.  It really is an exciting time.

 

After last Thursday’s enormously successful benefit, Art. Swap.Meet., for the 2011 Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival organized in conjunction with this month’s gallery exhibition, April Showers, I Am Logan Square will present the next fundraising opportunity, hosted by Cole’s bar, May 22.  For more information, visit I Am Logan Square,  MilwaukeeAvenueArtsFestival.org or contact the Art Coordinating Committee at ArtForMAAF@gmail.com.  The I Am Logan Square gallery is open to the public by appointment  Tuesday though Saturday with the current exhibition running through the end of the month.

 

I Am Logan Square is a local, non-profit organization that promotes and increases awareness of the arts while enhancing cultural development in Chicago’s vibrant Logan Square neighborhood.

 

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3 Responses to " I AM Logan Square: An Interview with Cara Dehnert Huffman "

  1. Gene Dehnert says:

    Good interview! Neat granddaughter!
    Very interesting approach to the arts in city living.

  2. Char Dehnert says:

    What fun to receive this interview with Cara! I could read it with all her inflections and just wanted to give her a hug. We are going to have to “come and see.” Such an exciting way to bring all your (varied) educational interests into full swing, Miss Cara. (Great picture, too.)

  3. [...] featured Cara last February highlighting the inception of I AM Logan Square. Since then, Cara has been rigorously working on [...]

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