Archive for April, 2009

Journalist Criticizes Bitumen Mining

April 30th, 2009 No comments

The BP project in East Chicago has many ramifications not only for the health of local residents who live under the plumb of BP, but also upstream political cultures who trade on the investment of BP. The political elite are very much aware of the increase risk factors and the data that reveals local residents losing additional personal wealth due to this project. In a era that has become ever more sensitive to increased risk factors due to environmental pollution, the thought of increasing toxic releases will suppress even further the future assessed values of properties in this very poor community, leaving East Chicagoans in even weaker position to compete in the future economy.

In addition to the loss of health and personal wealth the residents of East Chicago, who pay the highest property taxes in the state, are expected to provide $165,000,000 in charity to BP for a tax abatement. The construction phase of the project has already begun, but for some reason East Chicago and whiting businesses and restaurants are not seeing new business from construction workers. It appears BP is staging workers in Lancing Illinois and frequenting their businesses and restaurants.

I am discussed in local environmentalist who speak on behalf of such projects because of job creation. What do they know about economic development. 40% of East Chicago’s Adult population are considered functionally illiterate, with less than 2%  obtaining a collage degree required for one of the ~70 jobs at BP. I think my circle of friends skew this.

Nikiforuk called it comparable to “mountaintop” coal mining in the Appalachian region. Moreover, the industry has made ripples in America’s energy policy, he said. Canada’s tar sands have been touted as a sustainable alternative to oil fields in Saudi Arabia. Canada has become the No. 1 oil source for the U.S., a trend that likely will continue, he said.

“You’re trading bloody oil for dirty oil,” he said. “Which is like shifting your mortgage from Countrywide to Bear Stearns and hoping it’ll solve your problems.”

The expansion of refinery capacity at BP brings with it questions about future air quality and emissions, Nikiforuk said. So far, BP has not adopted the stringent standards in place at refineries in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. Journalist criticizes bitumen mining.

What I am Looking at: Paul Lloyd Sargent

April 29th, 2009 No comments

[ …recycledcaronrecordings ]

at Version>09 opening reception.

Paul Lloyd Sargent’s installation comments on the waterway management policies and practices by the Army Corps of Engineers, the St. Lawrence Seaway Corporation, and other institutions regulating major American rivers. His engagement in this body of water parallels my interest in the Indiana harbor Shipping Canal (IHSC), which feeds into the Great Lakes – not only because of my particular involvement with the IHSC, but also because of the role of the artist and designer in this larger dialogue of the built environment.



This is a time when Artists and designers are exercising strengths in dialogues they were traditionally excluded from – such as in making decisions and designing the built environment. I touched on this topic when I asked about the Artist’s role in urban visualization in my post [ Drawing the Lines ]. Another aspect of the Artist’s role has been to bring into and from (reconfigure and re-equip) our visual culture what was either not seen or only seen peripherally at the margins. Much of this work is coming under a research designation of “Experimental Geography.”

We are at a moment of major change in how we address and prioritize voices in the decision making and design process when it comes to the built environment. We are beginning to see the authority traditionally given over to Architects folded under the the authority of “Landscape Urbanists” (often referred to as Landscape Architects, but I already think this is an arcane title). In this shift in roles we are opening up all sorts of new visual disciplines to re-orientate ourselves toward space and re-organize it in a re-development framework. You can see some of these changes in Urban Lab’s H2O project: [ Growing Water ], Valcent Product’s the [ vertical farming ], and William McDonough & Michael Braungart’s seminal book “Cradle to Cradle / Remaking the Way we Make Things.” Luckily there are so many examples springing up daily.

What Happened to Obama’s Office of Urban Policy?

April 28th, 2009 No comments

Matt Yglesias points me to the Root

I am also concerned:

In November 2008, less than one week after winning the votes of city dwellers by a margin of 28 points, President-elect Barack Obama announced he would reward them by creating the first-ever “White House Office of Urban Policy.” Like other new aspects of Obama’s executive branch, appointing a city czar was intended to fast-track communications among city governments, federal agencies and the White House. With great fanfare, Obama dispatched his friend and fellow Chicagoan Valerie Jarrett to tell America that he was making good on his campaign pledge to “stop seeing cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution.”

The Root: What Happened to Obama’s Office of Urban Policy?

Categories: National, Urbanism

Urbanphile Essays

April 26th, 2009 1 comment

I would like to direct readers to series of lengthy posts by Aaron M. Renn at Urbanphile. I am curious how well his thoughts hold up from a marginalized point-of-view. 

Chicago: A Declaration of Independence

Chicago: Reconnecting the Hinterland
Part 1A – Metropolitan Connections
Part 1B – High Speed Rail
Part 2A – Onshore Outsourcing
Part 2B – On Innovation

No more Art(ner) at the Trib?

April 25th, 2009 No comments

No more Art(ner) at the Trib? | Time Out Chicago.

This morning’s unfortunate announcement of layoffs at the Tribune dealt an especially hard blow to local art criticism. Veteran Tribune art critic Alan Artner was handed the pink slip. 

Categories: General Arts

East Chicago’s Industrial Past

April 24th, 2009 No comments

Categories: East Chicago

What I am Looking at: Paul Charles Pallaro

April 23rd, 2009 No comments

Paul and I went to graduate school together in the early 1990s at Indiana University. “A Mark In The Sand” is documentary by Flynn Donovan about the art of Paul Charles Pallaro. Flynn Donovan does a fantastic job capturing Paul and his work. 

A Mark in the Sand (part I)


(part II)

Earth Day: Three Decades Since the Clean Water Act

April 22nd, 2009 No comments

It has been three decades since the enactment of the Clean Water Act and not a single project has been initiated to clean this country’s most polluted waterway – The Indiana Harbor Shipping Canal (IHSC).

The IHSC is the only body of water to fail all measurable beneficial uses. This human made waterway even impairs the industry that is both dependent on it and responsible for its condition. Yet, industry is not alone East Chicago carries some of the responsibility with its combine sewer overflow system. East Chicago is the single greatest violator of its NPDES permit in the State. Do to politics they haven’t been pursued. The same politics that recently approved BP’s water permit, despite the fact that it was in clear violation of the Clear Water Act. Today, it is not only about the pipe sticking into the waterway, but also surface runoff. Surface runoff is probably an even greater threat.

Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) likes to refer to data that indicates that non-point source pollution attributed to transportation is an even greater threat to the environment. This is true if you are measuring pollution levels from the concern of middle-class communities in the southern part of the Lake County or you decide to aggregate the data county wide. This does not do justice to those who live under the plumb of industry.

We can have discussions about whether it is save to drink water from the Chesapeake Bay – But we do know that it is NOT SAFE TO HAVE ANY CONTACT WITH THE WATER IN THE INDIANA HARBOR SHIPPING CANAL.

Perhaps the reason we can have a public discussion about the Chesapeake Bay is because it affects a large middle-class demographic. The IHSC does not. East Chicago is about 56% Hispanic and 38% Black with a medium income < $26,000. Is this an environmental justice issue – Yes. What is right ought to be enough to correct this, but economics of scale is in effect and I concede it needs to be. So why should middle-class midwesterns be concerned?

Because, if you draw any benefit from Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes it effects you. Because the IHSA flows into the world’s greatest fresh water resource – Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. Because more than 6 million people in the Chicago Metropolitan region draw their drinking water from Lake Michigan (more than the entire population of Indiana which governs the releases). Because every time a barge goes into and out of the channel it scraps the bottom and resuspends contaminated sediments into the water column. Because $500,000,000 (half billion) of your tax dollars are going into maintaining this waterway as a navigation channel and $0 are going into maintaining it for environmental reasons. Because tens of millions of your tax dollars are being diverted into the pockets of a corrupt local political regime [ posted, here, here and here ]. It used to be, when it came to contamination “if you touch it you own it,” but under the Bush administration the constraints of commerce over-road environmental concerns.

Because of this.

The products produced in East Chicago factories are shipped across the country. The safety regime protecting consumers are far more stringent and protective than the environmental guidelines protecting residents from the by-products of these products. The IHSC and East Chicago is host to the Largest integrated Steel Mill in the country – Arcelor/Mittal, and the second largest oil refinery in the country – BP. Arcelor/Mittal supplies materials for appliances and vehicles. BP supplies gas to the more than 6 million residents who populate the Chicago Region.

Most of the photos above were taken in the late 1960s during an environmental campaign that eventually resulted in establishing the USEPA and the Clean Water Act. The only difference between then and now is the attenuation of time, where dilution became the solution. I don’t mean to disparage time, it is important. But:

  1. we haven’t been proactive to severely stem discharges, and
  2. we haven’t cleaned this body of water, and
  3. we haven’t set up a sustaining environmental regime to ensure it will remain clean well into the future.

In the end, after 30 years of the Clean Water Act the problem persists, and still no clean-up project has ever been initiated.

Frontline: Poisoned Waters

Categories: The Water I Drink

We Need a Kruschev Moment:

April 22nd, 2009 No comments

There are those who think America is on the verge of a Gorbachev moment of peaceful change or revolution. If we remember correctly Gorbachev came decades after Kruschev exposed the horrific and hidden crimes of the Stalinist era. Now, America can not in any way be compared to the Stalin era, but there are systematic crimes that do need to be surfaced to allow America to make the necessary institutional changes and confront the challenges in the coming decades. Otherwise, these institutions will continue wasting public energies fortifying themselves against exposure – Cheney and covering up his role in the energy task force, an illegal war in Iraq, lies about WMDs and Saddam’s relationship to Al-Qaeda, torture, is just ONE example. These entities are clogging up our bureaucracy and not contributing to solutions as America addresses the present challenges. I can not say how this will occur, and yes, I am excited about the prospect of getting beyond a kind of perestroika towards achieving great things.   


David kurtz over at Talking Points Memo hit-on an ancient sore spot from the cold war era with his post Time Marches Slowly.

It still rankles me two decades after the fact that Bill Casey died before he could be held to account in the Iran-contra scandal. Here’s hoping that Rummy and Cheney live long enough for the wheels of justice to finish grinding.

I completely concur with David’s sentiment.

If memory does not fail me, Casey suffered a seizure while being examined by a CIA physician the day before he was to testify before the House Select Committee on Intelligence. He died of a minor surgical procedure not Brain Cancer as stated at wikipedia.

Didn’t Casey’s surgeon also die a few weeks later?

   – just saying

Categories: National

Info Graphics: Advocacy Ads

April 21st, 2009 No comments

I’m doing an advocacy Ad mockup for an Elected School Board in East Chicago, using my daughter as a model. Besides the blurred picture, the need for young models that reflect East Chicago’s population and a little word smith-ing, I think this could be pretty cool. I can graph any data into the hands of our children, including graduation rates and pollution levels – etc. If necessary, I can also do comparisons with other communities.



On the issue of Elected School Boards:

It appears to me what we are seeking is a system that locates accountability better and more efficiently. Currently, just seven major cities have full mayoral control of education. There has been a nation wide trend toward more centralized control into the hands of chief elected officials e.g., President, Governors and Mayors. This places a greater interest in these central figures making it more difficult to remove them for poor performance or abuses of power in any single sector of their concentrated power. When you keep multiplying areas of responsibility under a single figure you diffuse accountability in any one area and increase opportunities for patronage. Sure this my make for a more stable system, and mitigate against dead-locked disputes, but it also insulates these figures from accountability and removal from office. 

We can look at the Bush administration as a recent example of concentrating power in a chief executive and the problem of seeking accountability, but lets instead look at a smaller example. East Chicago has had a Strong Mayor system with all of its abuses clearly expressed since the beginning of time. With an unemployment rate well above 20%, 28% of its households, or nearly 40% of the electorate, receive a paycheck from the Mayor. This single fact makes it impossible to remove the Mayor from office using the electoral process – too many workers with their jobs on-the-line will not risk voting against the Mayor no matter how tyrannical his behavior is perceived.

The only other alternative for removal would be for prosecution of abuses. And yet, with a justice system so fully politicized as we have in the U.S., the Federal prosecutors office has become a barter system between up-stream political cultures. At the local level Federal prosecutors seem to have been relegated to identifying discontent and collecting whistle blower information on behalf of public executives. Instead of being an arm of the peoples justice they have become an arm of entrenched power. Instead of investigating improprieties rumors have it that they share this information with these executives and only offer mere verbal slaps on the wrist. Unless you have a reach into the oval office this alternative does not appear very realistic. 

Based on my fatalistic example of East Chicago, it appears to me that locating accountability in a strong chief executive is not the way to go.  

But then their are those who would beg to differ. 

  1. Bloomberg:

“Schools Can’t Be ‘Patronage Mills Or ‘Run For The Benefit Of The People Who Work In Them… And when you have these school boards that are fundamentally controlled by special interests, the truth of the matter is the students come last, if at all.”

The irony in this argument is that it is machine politics that is known for taking advantage of patronage. Such as in East Chicago.

  1. Matt Yglesias 

“I think this is part of a larger issue about getting democracy right in the United States. There was an assumption, at one time, that you could make government more democratic and accountable by, in essence, multiplying the number of elected officials.

In retrospect, I think this was based on flawed logic and faulty assumptions that forgot to account for the fact that people have a limited amount of time they’re realistically going to spend monitoring public officials. If you live in New York City you’re voting for the President of the United States, two United States Senators, one member of congress, the Governor, the state Attorney-General, the state Lieutenant Governor, the state Comptroller, a mayor, a District Attorney, a city Comptroller, a Borough President, and a city council member in addition to a variety of state and local judges. And that’s entirely typical for the United States. Add a school board member into the mix and the situation gets even more out of control.

The result of this sort of process is the absence of meaningful accountability rather than its presence. The result is that special interests—the people with strong self-interested motives to pay attention—wind up exerting wildly disproportionate influence.

Needless to say, special interests get a lot of influence one way or another. But when it comes to a President or a Governor or a Mayor it is realistic to expect the broad mass of people to form a meaningful opinion and register it at the polls. When you keep multiplying offices and diffusing responsibility, you play into the hands of folks looking to game the system and make it hard for voters to understand what’s happening. I think part of the answer is that states should probably adopt unicameral legislatures and consider cutting down on the number of independently elected statewide officials. But cutting down on the quantity and influence of hyper-local electeds and putting responsibility in the hands of visible figures like the mayor and city council is crucial.”

Although I would generally agree with Matt about the difficulty for citizens to actually participate in the democratic process in any meaningful and informed way, I think the actual loss of accountability in any single area and the potential for abuses of power far outweigh information overload on the part of the citizen. Granted America lacks a good education system and thus a well informed citizenry, but to propose that America needs structural changes that concentrates more power in a few leaders as the answer is beyond me.

Indiana Harbor Shipping Canal: Measured, Characterized, Not Clean

April 21st, 2009 No comments

Tabula Peutingeriana

April 20th, 2009 No comments


Categories: What I am Looking at

Uncle Freddy’s Closes

April 14th, 2009 No comments

The only institution in Northwest Indiana supporting the cultural life of visual artists is closing its doors on April 30th. That is not meant as a slap to The South Shore Arts or any of the Universities in the region. It is just the nature of how creative cultures live – on the pulse of life and not the structure and wealth of institutions. Since 2002 Tom Torluemke and Linda Dorman have worked where artist congregate, move and interact with their surroundings, and in “Uncle Freddy’s” they created a place where those activities could thrive. 

Uncle Freddy’s rocky history in Hammond and then moving to Highland is only one example of how artistic visions and talents are battered about in the region. This is occurring under the noises of regional leaders who are hugely invested in institutions and annually proclaim that the ARTS are strong in Northwest Indiana at dinner events at the South Shore Arts and Chamber of Commerce, and breakfast events at the Quality of Life Council and university conferences. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, there is extraordinary talent here, but no sustaining PLACES for that talent to interact and grow. 


Tom has been instrumental in the lives of so many young and mature artists in the region, from the East Chicago graffiti art scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, to the great mural art throughout the region and opening the substation in Hammond.


Although I have only begun to show my work again, I am terribly sorry to see them close. I know they will continue to serve the community and produce new spaces with life. Thank you allowing me to trip into this space.  Take care…

Categories: General Arts

Panel Discussion: The Invisible Artist – Creators From Chicago’s Southside

April 9th, 2009 2 comments


On March 26th the School of the Art Institute held a panel discussion to “address perceptions that artists on Chicago’s South Side are under-known and undervalued or, at worst, intentionally ignored” as Jason Foumberg so aptly states in his piece titled “Why Have There Been No Great South Side Artists?” at Newcity Art.

Panelists included:

  • Andre Guichard, artist and owner of Gallery Guichard
  • Joyce Owens, Chicago State faculty, Art & Design Department
  • Lowell Thompson, artist and writer
  • Natalie Moore, reporter, Chicago Public Radio
  • Patrick Rivers, SAIC faculty, Visual & Critical Studies Department

Living so far south that I inhabit a whole other state (which is still part of Chicago’s Calumet region), my marginal location gives me a very useful perspective on this subject. The subject speaks to the importance of identity and place and the old stories of enfranchisement. And I am very glad it has been brought up. I hope many Artist from Northwest Indiana participate in the ongoing discussions.

A major characteristic of my identity with Chicago growing up on the North Side was what was absent. I had a massive blackhole in my awareness of the city’s South Side. My family took advantage of a few South Side islands such as Hyde Park, China town, and Maxwell Street and I was a Sox fan, besides that I had no other identity with the South Side.

Chicago is known for its iconic neighborhoods, and yet during my youth – from the 1960s through the 1980s, most of Chicagoan’s lived in what I now call “Gap Areas.” These are places that lie between identities, mostly serving the nimby instincts (not in my backyard) of more powerful iconic identities. Consequently, these places tended to receive discarded land, material, infrastructure, and peoples; out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Whether they are brownfields or brownpeople north siders were too preoccupied with the forming of their own identities that they gave little attention to the South Side. It is hard for an enlightened northsider to speak to a Blackhole, even if they grew up in one.

When I think about this topic and its ramifications for Artist I don’t just think about the agents of art (makers and consumers) but also the place of art. Whatever you may think about the person, place also has an important role in Art. And when you add markets to the mix, well then, you just created hierarchies of place and centers of the arts which are highly biased toward monied interests.

There has always been a conflict between where the market is and where the artist live. Artists (or the Creative Class), being more mobile, have been known to abandoned where they live to migrate in mass and cluster around these highly capitalized creative centers. But now that capital has become highly mobile itself, actually much more mobile than people, there is no reason we can not bring these markets to these once discarded communities and neighborhoods and seed the development of more great artist.

See I believe, some of the blind neglect by the institutions of art and the media has expression in our built environment. The built environment is a physical record that also solicits certain behavior – it’s the construction of the Dan Ryan all over again. What has occurred on the southside with respect to the art world is another form of white flight and building barriers.

We are only beginning to see revitalization in the Bronzeville neighborhood and the near southside. My worry is that developers such as Community Builders, who are developing the Ida B. Wells area, have neglected the importance of Culture and the Arts to such an extent that they have not attracted the necessary capital to seed a vital cultural life.

Although Pilsen is a near southside community it can serve as a good example for seeding the development of a cultural center. There are several initiatives that make it a vital place for artist to live (the Hispanic Art Museum and the Podmajerski properties to name just two). The last decade has also seen an expansion of the art scene into Bridgeport and farther south. Then of course there is Hyde Park, Beverly and Morgan Park.

But what is forgotten are the neighborhoods that lie under the plumb of existing and fallow 20th century industry – steel mills and oil refineries. There has been very little to no progress in these neighborhoods.

By the title “Why have there been no great South Side Artists?” Jason Founberg references Linda Nochlin’s famous Feminist essay, “Why have there been no great women artists?” This is a great rhetorical tactic that worked well for women in the arts in the late 1980’s and early 1990s. It creates a dialectic between the art establishment and South Side Artists. The framing of the dialectic repositions the South Side Artist to a position of equivalence. Remember this is also the era that produced the Guerilla Girls, Hillary Clinton and other effective tactics of identity politics to empower disenfranchised women. If I was a community organizer, I would say we made same great gains here. So, as much as we need to continue building channels for great artists to reach the great show rooms of the Art establishment so too we need build the channels that brings the Art establishment to the South Side.

Finally, there are perceptual advantages to living at the margins of this Metropolis. ….

Last Final Note: 

The “Invisible Artist” panel discussion will air on Chicago Public Radio at a future date to be determined. A related exhibition, “Change…” is on view through April 30 at the South Side Community Art Center, 3831 S. Michigan.

What I am Looking at: Paul Kane

April 3rd, 2009 2 comments

Paul Kane is an Artist working in Bloomington Indiana. Like myself he hasn’t shown much, but has been prolifically working on his paintings, some of which he has reworked over the course of twenty years.

Categories: What I am Looking at

The Bayh Bulletin: “We Prefer a GOP Budget”

April 3rd, 2009 1 comment

There goes my senator. 

Bayh and Nelson: We Prefer a GOP Budget | TPMDC.

I noted earlier that two of the Senate’s most conservative Democrats–Evan Bayh and Ben Nelson–voted against the Democrats’ budget. That’s not terribly surprising. The resolution wasn’t vulnerable to a filibuster, their votes weren’t strictly necessary, and, whether they were ideologically opposed to the measure that passed, or adhering to the demands of their conservative constituents, or bending to the whims of special interests, voting “no” allows them to say they voted “no” without necessarily wedding themselves to an alternative proposal.

Enter Mike Johanns, the freshman Republican senator from Nebraska whoseamendment preventing the Senate from passing climate change legislation through the reconciliation process passed on Tuesday.

He also authored a different measure–not an amendment, but a “motion to recommitt”–which would have scrapped the budget that passed and replaced it with a much more conservative version. Most significantly, it would have indexed non-defense, non-veterans discretionary spending to the expected rate of inflation. It failed 43-55–for all intents and purposes a mirror image of the vote on the final budget resolution. Which is to say that Bayh and Nelson voted for the “Johanns Budget”.

I don’t have all the details of the Johanns budget just yet, but will pass them along when I do. And I’ll place a call for comment to Bayh’s and Nelson’s staffs to see if there’s more to this than simply that the two would have preferred Johann’s budget to the Democrats’.


UPDATE: I noticed on april 8th a sudden increase in hits on the Bayh Bulletin coming from Washington D.C. just saying…

Categories: National

Studio Visit: Ish Muhammad

April 1st, 2009 2 comments

[ Ish Muhammad ]

This weekend I visited with Ish in his Hammond studio. Ish grew up in East Chicago and was apart of the Chicago East Chicago graffiti art scene of the 1980s and did a lot of work with Cisa Studios over the years. He recently has focused on his art career and has begun showing quiet a lot lately. Ish presently has an “unofficial retrospect” at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art






Categories: Studio Visits