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The Fulton Street Collective: An Interview with Director Joe LaNasa, PART II

Local musicians of 2011, time to embellish your résumés and secure somewhat stable day jobs—you actually have it worse than your 90s predecessors. What follows is the second half of my conversation with Joe LaNasa, Director of the Fulton Street Collective. We discussed Chicago’s music scene, street poetry, and what’s in store for the artist community. Read PART I here.

The Fulton Street Collective’s Spring Open House is Saturday, May 21, from 5pm–1am. The weekly Figure Drawing and Painting sessions are held every Wednesday from 6–9pm.

Figure Drawing and Painting at the Fulton Street Collective. April 2011. (Image courtesy of Jenny Lam.)

JL: We discussed the changing landscape of Chicago’s visual arts scene. From your perspective as a musician playing in local clubs since the 90s, how has Chicago’s music scene changed since then?

JLN: I think in some ways it’s a little tougher. I’m a songwriter; my thrill that I get is by writing the songs and then performing them, and, if anything, it seems harder. We’re subject to the same problems and issues that the music industry has in general, that it used to be done a certain way and now nobody knows how it’s going to be done. There’s more indie stuff, and in a way there’s more opportunity, but the opportunity is actually a little bit more difficult to achieve. In terms of Chicago and a performing artist, if anything, I think it’s a little harder to get, to find, or to develop a career or practice in music these days. It seems like there’s less live venues, especially for original music. There still are some, and new ones open up, and there are still some really good ones, but it’s just changing a lot; it’s always changing.

It seems like Chicago goes in waves. Chicago had a big peak maybe ten years ago or so. We used to be known just for blues, and then that became real touristy, and it’s still beautiful and it’s still there, but that became just a tourist thing. And then Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair became famous and that was what, ten, fifteen years ago, and it seems like we’re waiting for some kind of revival, where Chicago will be known for music again.

Life painting by Mary Blake Donoghue. (Image courtesy of Mary Blake Donoghue.)

It seems like right now it’s not so well known for it, although the popular music has changed too. Right now it’s not singer-songwriter; it’s not as popular as it used to be a long time ago, but a lot of creative things are. People who are mixing in different ways that have never been done before and creating music not in the traditional way are more popular now, and some parts of it will always be there, and—don’t get me wrong—there are still places that someone like I can bring a good set of original music to still, but it’s a little difficult sometimes; there are not that many. Around here, where is there to actually play? What’s the place over on Western? It’ll hit me in a minute. Of course there’s Double Door, but they have more touring bands coming through there.

JL: The Subterranean is also a prominent venue in that area.

JLN: Subterranean is good still, but, again, more touring bands. Venues for just local music are a little bit harder to find, and they’re usually just as good or bad as they ever were. But there are a bunch of them still.

JL: What live music venues have you frequented as a musician?

JLN: My home base is pretty much FitzGerald’s, which is in Berwyn. They have always been an original music type of place, and they’ve been very supportive of me, and when I have been really busy with my music, they’ve always been a great venue for me. They’ve always let me do CD releases there, and I’ve been able to bring out enough of an audience to make it a worthwhile show there, and that’s probably one of the larger venues; it can probably hold 200-300 people or so, max.

But otherwise I’ve played any little sleazy bar that’ll let me play there, places that are not even there anymore, even Phyllis’ in Wicker Park. It seems like everybody starts out there, [laughter] and that place has had its ups and downs throughout the years.

I myself haven’t done coffee shops, but a lot of people I know do stuff like that, more of the folky things. I kind of write the songs in a more acoustic way but then always turn them into rock in some way, with a full band of one kind or other; that’s more fun for me. So I need to play in places that’ll support that.

Life painting by Mary Blake Donoghue. (Image courtesy of Mary Blake Donoghue.)

JL: How long have you been living and working in Chicago?

JLN: I’m from Chicago [and have lived here] all my life. I lived for a short time in Long Beach, California, but most of my life I’ve been here. I’d been working my day job as a management consultant in the information technology, and I travelled all over the country all the time. But I love Chicago; Chicago’s my choice of places to live. For a while I lived out in the suburbs, and I couldn’t wait to move back into the city.

JL: How does the city influence your creativity? Is this what inspires you?

JLN: I think it does quite a bit. I’m a songwriter who’s basically a poet; [I] set poetry to music, and you can tell the difference between a street poet and other kinds of poets. The city’s more conducive to hip hop and rap and good jazz, and anything experimental in any way seems like it comes from the city. Nature influences a lot of people too, but it just seems like with the city you’re creating to a different beat, like you’re creating to a pulse of the city, and this city, and this area, you can just feel the pulse, especially on a weekend night, or the middle of the night. It’s just everything; it’s the trains going by, it’s the people riding by on their bikes, it’s the music that you hear that people are playing in a warehouse somewhere… it’s just a different set of influences. It’s just a different set of sensory perceptions.

JL: What exactly is a street poet?

JLN: To me, it’s a person whose poetry is influenced by the issues that people who live in the city have. A lot of times those issues are crime or their hardships, and a lot of these things are common to everyone, but there are certain things that are specific. Sometimes it’s violence. Sometimes it’s—again, common to all—heartbreak in some way or another. I think it’s influenced by where you live and your lifestyle, and my lifestyle is this city. If I talk about a love affair or a relationship or something like that, it’s framed in the context of a city environment, and all the pros and cons, everything that that means, all the threats, all the opportunities that are presented within an urban environment. When I say “street poetry,” specifically there are the issues that a person who lives in the city has to deal with.

JL: What are some goals you have for both yourself and the Fulton Street Collective?

JLN: My goals for the Fulton Street Collective are to be what the original mission was, which is to cultivate the artists and the art community in Chicago. I think that it’s beautiful that the city kind of recognizes the value of creative people and the role that art and creativity plays in a culture, and that’s what makes this a perfect time and place for somebody like me. I think it’s a perfect time for all of us—people like you and all the other art centers around like the Zhou B—because we’re appreciated to some degree even by the Man, [laughter] by the powers that be, so they’re recognizing.

The Fulton Street Collective, gallery space detail. April 2011. (Image courtesy of Jenny Lam.)

I don’t know if it’s unique to Daley or anything, but he’s the one who’s been here all this time, and I think that somewhere along the line they realized that, for a city to be a world class city, they had to consider the culture, and that art and creative people were necessary. In other words, I think that some light in his head went off a long time ago—maybe his wife influenced him or whatever—but I know he traveled to Europe a lot, and I think he realized that he wanted to make Chicago a world class city, and he had to cultivate the arts and culture in general. It wasn’t all about nice buildings; it was about developing the culture, and developing the arts subculture.

So what do I want to do? I want to expand the membership, I want to expand the whole concept of the Fulton Street Collective, and I want it to be all-inclusive; I don’t want it to be competitive with the other art organizations. I want to be a part of their organization, and I want them to be a part of mine.

And in that way, we can do our contribution to the universe, which is to provide that necessary balance to everyone’s lives, which is, whether they realize it or not yet—some people do and some people don’t—I believe that this creative component is necessary to your balance as a human being as part of this universe.

So I think that I have an opportunity to develop an organization and become part of the rest of the community in almost the same way as when I’m standing on stage and I’m singing a song and I’m trying to connect with everyone in the audience. I’m trying to share an experience with them; I’m trying to have them share their experiences with me; I’m trying to make this connection—this universal type of connection—and provide that energetic component of their life that might not otherwise be there. So my goal is to do exactly the same thing with the Fulton Street Collective as it is when I’m on stage and really in a beautiful moment of connection with the audience, ultimately. Does that all make sense?

The Fulton Street Collective, gallery space detail. April 2011. (Image courtesy of Jenny Lam.)

JL: That’s actually a perfect analogy.

JLN: Yeah, it’s exactly that. I really firmly believe in this idea that art and creativity is a necessary part of the balance of my life and the life of us as beings in the universe. Without speaking in too abstract or spiritualistic a term, that’s just the way I believe, and I believe that I have an opportunity to really make a difference, and that’s what I intend to do. [laughter] Thank you for asking. I’m glad to be able to share that, because it’s important to me.

JL: Thank you for sharing. What are some upcoming events at the Fulton Street Collective that our readers can go and see?

JLN: The coolest one that I’m most excited about at the moment is May 21st, because that’s when we’re doing our Spring Open House. We’ve always done really well with those, but this year should be especially good because we adapted our new business strategy and everything. All the artists open up their studios all night, so you can come in and see the inside of their studios and see their works there, but we’re also going to have a show up in the gallery and exhibit space, and we’re going to have live entertainment too. When you first walk in, you’ll see a schedule up, and we’re going to be open early for art lovers who want to come in and check things out in more of a quiet way, but then at 7 or 8—I’m not sure exactly when yet—it’ll be more where there’ll be live entertainment every hour, and there’s going to be a dance troupe that’s going to do a show, musicians… a bunch of different things, so it’ll be a lively event, so that’s what I’m most excited about.

There are a couple of school ones coming up too. I think SAIC is having two different shows come up within the next couple months, and I’m really excited about the Figure Drawing on Wednesdays, and I’m excited about the art education classes, which are brand new, so I’m hoping that those get kicked off and get to be successful, because there are a bunch of different classes that we are offering. I have to see how well it’s going and if people are signing up or not yet, [laughter] but hopefully it will and we’ll stick with it until it does, because I think it’ll be a big contribution to the overall effort.


To learn more about the Fulton Street Collective, visit

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

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1 Response to " The Fulton Street Collective: An Interview with Director Joe LaNasa, PART II "

  1. […] This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Read PART II here. […]

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