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


 

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.

  1. April 10th, 2009 at 16:58 | #1

    When I was back in Boston in the eighties, it was a big issue that the Boston art establishment ignored local artists. For a while, they tried to open up, and for a while things were a little better – but I have the impression that they went right back to their bad old ways as soon as they got a chance, as soon as the furor died down a little. Personally, I believe in artist coops.

  2. April 24th, 2009 at 16:29 | #2

    Frank: Wonderful insights here!

    Did you see the art issue of the Chicago Tribune magazine last week? Lowell Thompson said he met with some people from the Trib who promised they would do things differently in the future. But they do have short memories, as Paul intimated. By the time another art issue is produced, will they remember?

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