2 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY • FEBRUARY 5, 2015
SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY The South Side Weekly is a nonprofit newsprint magazine written for and about neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago. We publish in-depth coverage of the arts and issues of public interest alongside oral histories, poetry, fiction, interviews, and artwork from local photographers and illustrators. Started as a student paper at the University of Chicago, the South Side Weekly is now an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting cultural and civic engagement on the South Side, and to providing educational opportunities for developing journalists, writers, and artists. Editor-in-Chief Bea Malsky Managing Editor Hannah Nyhart Deputy Editors John Gamino, Meaghan Murphy Politics Editors Osita Nwanevu, Rachel Schastok Music Editor Jake Bittle Stage & Screen Olivia Stovicek Editor Visual Arts Editors Lauren Gurley, Robert Sorrell Editor-at-Large Bess Cohen Contributing Editors Maha Ahmed, Lucia Ahrensdorf, Christian Belanger, Mari Cohen, Emma Collins Social Media Editor Emily Lipstein Web Editor Sarah Claypoole Photo Editor Luke White Illustration Editor Ellie Mejia Layout Editors Adam Thorp, Baci Weiler Senior Writers: Patrick Leow, Jack Nuelle, Stephen Urchick Staff Writers: Olivia Adams, Julia Aizuss, Max Bloom, Austin Brown, Amelia Dmowska, Mark Hassenfratz, Maira Khwaja, Jeanne Lieberman, Zoe Makoul, Olivia Myszkowski, Jamison Pfeifer, Hafsa Razi, Kari Wei Staff Photographers: Camden Bauchner, Juliet Eldred, Kiran Misra, Siddhesh Mukerji Staff Illustrators: Jean Cochrane, Lexi Drexelius, Wei Yi Ow, Amber Sollenberger, Teddy Watler, Julie Wu Editorial Intern
Webmaster Business Manager
Shuwen Qian Harry Backlund
The paper is produced by an all-volunteer editorial staff and seeks contributions from across the city. We distribute each Wednesday in the fall, winter, and spring, with breaks during April and December. Over the summer we publish monthly. Send submissions, story ideas, comments, or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to: South Side Weekly 1212 E. 59th Street Ida Noyes Hall #030 Chicago, IL 60637 For advertising inquiries, contact: (773)234-5388 or advertising@southsideweekly Read our stories online at southsideweekly.com
Cover Art by Ellie Mejia.
THE HOUSING ISSUE A look at the residential landscape of our city hints at questions asked and answered many times over: questions of who belongs where, how they should be able to live, what pieces of our built history should be saved, and how we should remember what’s gone. In this, the Weekly’s annual Housing Issue, we tackle the idea of home from multiple angles. We look at the eta Creative Arts Foundation’s search for a stable space and the ongoing problem of unaffordable housing, dorm life at La Casa and youth homelessness on the South Side. The short house histories scattered throughout these pages offer six different perspectives on Chicago’s homes—how they’ve been made and lost, occupied and abandoned. We filled the first half of this issue with stories of homes (and lack thereof ) that we think are important, but we know there are more. Have thoughts to add on South Side housing? Send submissions, story ideas, comments, and questions to email@example.com.
renewing the rosenwald
unaffordable and unavailable
a voice for the invisible
For such a large mass of architecture, its existence was, until recently, decidedly precarious. julia aizuss...4
In Chicago, the housing crisis merely aggravated old wounds. john gamino...18
“As a society, we still aren’t properly articulating what prison is and why it exists.” amelia dmowska...28
sammie spector on Muddy Waters’s house...5 maha ahmed on Clara’s House...6 lucia ahrensdorf on Ben Hecht’s house...15 clyde schwab on Pullman Historic District...17 lauren gurley on Woodlawn Park...19 andrew koski on Robert Taylor Homes...22 revisting auburn park
The abrupt break into open space feels like a sudden entry into a small town within Auburn Gresham. rachel schastok...7 a hole in the world
Youth homelessness is an almost universally misunderstood phenomenon. jake bittle...8 know your rights and resources
A list of resources available to Chicago homeowners and an overview of renters’ rights in the city. meaghan murphy...16
grit and glory
“This is a safe space, and you can take ownership of your history here.” olivia myzskowski...20 more than a dorm
“Where I was living before, you just go there to sleep.” hafsa razi...22 it takes a tennis village
In making its new home on former CHA land, the project has also walked into the debate over what the use of such land should be. mari cohen...24 learn as you do
“The best description for these prints is Montiel’s own: visual poetry.” julia aizuss...25 westworkd’s style
“It is very hard to physically retrain your brain to be like, ‘ You know, I don’t need this straight hair.’” jola idowu...26
squirrels on a train
“At least one ‘person’ on this train is actually seven squirrels dressed up in human clothing.” adam thorp...30 the people could fly and other tales of freedom
The musical does not make light of the issues it confronts. robert sorrell...31 artful outreach
For Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the way that the audience interacts with the music is integral. austin brown...32 afro-sino chamber seeks to close a cultural gap
Liddell wants students to engage with the language as something more than a required course. zoe makoul...34 fantasy writ large
“ You have no idea how seriously these kids—these old men—take this!” stephen urchick...36
FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 3
Renewing the Rosenwald
Inside the history of Chicago’s oldest new housing development
BY JULIA AIZUSS
he Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments had promise. So Edwin Embree, president of the Rosenwald Fund, predicted in June of 1929, in the Julius Rosenwald Fund’s 1928–1929 Year in Review. Possible complication? The apartment complex had been open barely a month. Embree was right—sort of. The complex, which was quickly nicknamed “the Rosenwald” in honor of its benefactor, was a bustling hotspot in the heart of Bronzeville for decades, until another couple decades of misfortune and mismanagement resulted in its closure in 2000. Since then, it’s been a hulking presence on 47th Street, too big to deal with but also too big to ignore. Now, nearly fifteen years later, Landwhite Developers, the Lighten-Gale Group, and Jim Bergman have received a permit to begin renovation of the run-down apartment building. Come 2016, when the development team hopes to complete renovations, the Rosenwald will have a second chance at success. The original Rosenwald was years in the making. Julius Rosenwald, a Chicago philanthropist who made his fortune as president of Sears, Roebuck, and Co., first made moves toward providing low-cost housing for African Americans in 1914. As the Great Migration gained momentum, Chicago’s African-American population was booming. The boom soon turned explosive, causing the infamous race riot of 1919, which moved Rosenwald to devote funding to offsetting the Black Belt housing crisis. Encouraged by Edgar Stern, his son-
archival photographic files, mildred mead photographs, [apf-09303], special collections research center, university of chicago library
in-law and fellow philanthropist, and Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald’s plan finally took off in 1928. It’s easy to see why Embree was so enthusiastic about the finished project. The Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments spanned an entire block between 46th and 47th and between Michigan and Wabash, close to public transportation and surrounded by thriving black-owned businesses. The one five-story building and the seven three-story walkups left ample space for playgrounds and a residential courtyard inspired by Viennese public housing. Twelve stores and two nursery schools complemented the building’s first floor, and all of it was sheathed in handsome Art Moderne brickwork. Those vying for an apartment must have agreed with Embree’s declaration that the rooms were “unquestionably attractive and furnish better housing than Negroes have ever had in Chicago.” The 421 apartments, whose monthly rents were between
4 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY • FEBRUARY 5, 2015
thirty-five and sixty-one dollars, filled up immediately with middle-class families, as did the waitlists. Once the tenants were in place, a community flourished: adults attended tenant community councils and took part in sewing classes and Christmas toymaking, while their children joined ballet classes, a Boy Scout troop, and stargazing classes on summer nights. At the same time, the apartments were inescapably a business venture. The $2.7 million put into the project had all been Rosenwald’s, and he wanted to prove that affordable housing could make money. The true mark of success, Embree wrote, would be to demonstrate “the feasibility of such apartment buildings and so induce other capital to enter this field.” Rosenwald’s optimism was premature; the Depression hit, and by 1937 the same son-in-law who had urged Rosenwald to build the complex concluded that low-cost housing was “beyond the scope of private enterprise”—it was the government’s
job. The building’s low rates of return ensured that the Rosenwald’s private subsidized housing model would not take over Chicago. Nevertheless, the Rosenwald was the place to be for decades, anchoring 47th Street nightlife and even attracting celebrity residents like Gwendolyn Brooks, Nat King Cole, and Quincy Jones. A strict screening process instituted by apartment manager and soon-to-be Chicago Housing Authority chairman Robert Taylor guaranteed relatively affluent tenants, who would fit Rosenwald’s program of advancing African Americans by leveraging respectability politics. Though both Bronzeville and the complex experienced a steady decline after World War II, when much of the middle-class African-American population left the area, its reputation lived on for years, attracting praise through the 1960s. The mid-1980s marked the Rosenwald’s clear downturn, as it fell into the hands of CHA, the last
in a series of poor managers. Under CHA management, the building did not screen prospective tenants and let in former residents of the Robert Taylor Homes for the first time. The crime that dogged public housing spread to a complex once famed for its orderliness, flaring up in gang wars that CHA responded to by effectively jailing residents, keeping only one entrance open and setting up steel gates around the building. Retailers, beset by slower business and more burglaries, left the building, replaced by more security guards and surveillance cameras. Entry required photo ID. The Rosenwald closed in the summer of 2000, defeated by a leaky gas pipe. For such a large mass of architecture, its existence was, until recently, decidedly precarious. Although the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, this provided little protection. A crowd of people protested the possibility of demolition shortly before its official foreclosure in 2002, piqued by then-3rd Ward Alderman Dorothy Tillman’s unwillingness to save the building. In the meantime, the Rosenwald showed up on a number of preservationist organizations’ watch lists: the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2003,” Landmarks Illinois’ “Chicagoland Watch List in 2005,” Preservation Chicago’s “Chicago’s 7 Most Threatened in 2007.” It didn’t fare well physically: most of its 1,150 windows have been removed or broken since closure, exposing the interior. The cost of structural rehabilitation repelled redevelopment, according to a 2010 Chicago Urban Land Institute panel report, but the building also obstructed Bronzeville’s recent middle-class revitalization— the complex was cited by the panel as a safety concern for commercial development on 47th Street. Still, due to the same historical and cultural significance that attracted preservationists, the panel, which 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell commissioned, recommended redevelopment of the Rosenwald over demolition. Dowell’s commitment to renovation set a solid plan into motion: with real estate firm Landwhite Develop-
ers in charge, the renovation began getting consistent press in 2012. So did local opposition. The most vocal group, Rosenwald for All, comprises forty to fifty Bronzeville residents who all live in a four-block radius of the Rosenwald. Although details of the renovation have changed since Rosenwald for All first released a statement online in 2012, its main complaints have remained the same: unappealing design, uncreative use of the property, too much low-income housing that may inhibit Bronzeville’s revitalization, poor planning for retail space, and poor use of public financing. (More than half the project’s $109 million cost is publicly funded. The $25 million in TIF money has especially garnered attention, though Dowell told WBEZ in 2013 that the TIF money is “within the city’s policy” and “entirely appropriate for this kind of development.”) There’s not much the group can do now. The permit for renovation was issued December 30, 2014, for 120 senior units and eighty-six family units. The rent will range from $450 to $850, according to Dowell’s website. This reincarnated complex will be known as Rosenwald Courts, which wouldn’t have pleased Julius Rosenwald (he refused to let the Museum of Science and Industry, which he funded, be named after him). These are the facts, and they are indisputable. Rosenwald for All knows this. While founding member Byron Williams didn’t follow up on a promise to talk about the set-in-stone renovation, another unsigned email from the group’s email said, “Like many things in the city of Chicago, it really does not matter what one thinks or feels when it comes to something that elected officials have decided to do it will get done despite opposition.” Others believe Rosenwald Courts’ combination of affordable housing and retail could support Bronzeville’s revival and accomplish what Julius Rosenwald said drove his philanthropy: “to cure the things that seem to be wrong.” The outcome— what will happen when the old is made new again—remains to be seen.
Muddy Waters’s House
BY SAMMIE SPECTOR
n the late 1950s, a house near 43rd Street and Lake Park Avenue functioned as a hub of music and culture on the South Side. It was the home of none other than Muddy Waters, remembered as the father of modern blues music—a link between blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Over half a century later, the legendary blues performer’s red brick house has fallen into disrepair and foreclosure. Now at risk of court-ordered demolition, fans, neighbors, and preservation organizations are trying to save the house as a homage to the man and the legacy of his music. The row of houses in North seonhyung kim Kenwood where Waters’s former home sits looks like a sea of brick and peaked roofs. Waters’s is the last house on the row; it’s a dark, gritty red with some bricks missing and some color scraped off. The windows that once opened up to let music flow through the neighborhood are now boarded up with plywood, the gutter and drains barely in one piece. The doors, glass inserts with pink flamingos and the house’s namesake scrawled on them, remain mostly intact. Most noticeably, a sign bearing a large red “X” is attached above the door, part of a Chicago Fire Department program to warn firefighters of structurally unsound buildings which is now being phased out. Due to the dangerous condition of the house, its immunity from demolition can be vetoed. This immunity stems more from the house’s location than its cultural legacy: because it is in a city landmark district, it is provided protection unless deemed unfit by Building Court. Still, locals are working hard to save the home, in order to commemorate Waters. After his move from Mississippi to Chicago in 1943, Waters was known for tracks like “Hoochie Coochie Man” that came to define Chicago blues. By the time of his death in 1983, Waters had garnered six Grammys, a spot in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and the loving respect of the Chicago blues community. Waters’s house in Kenwood stands as a physical testament to his legacy—Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs historian, Tim Samuelson, has been known to call the home “Chicago’s real House of Blues.” As community members now await a decision on the foreclosed, beloved home, neither blues enthusiasts nor neighbors are taking its fragile state lightly.
Now at risk of court-ordered demolition, fans, neighbors, and preservation organizations are trying to save the house.
FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 5
Clara’s House BY MAHA AHMED
couple blocks west of the 63rd and Ashland Green Line stop in West Englewood sits Clara’s House, a shelter for homeless women and their children. The shelter is announced by a bubblegum pink exterior in an otherwise muted streetscape, and the inseonhyung kim side is littered with children’s toys, boxes, and hand-written signs: “PLEASE WASH YOUR DISHES” and “CLOSE DOOR ALL THE WAY.” The shelter was founded by Clara Kirk in 1987; Kirk, born in Mississippi and raised on the Northwest Side of Chicago, moved to Englewood in 1974, working as a school bus driver. Along with the entire shelter’s staff, she works as a full-time volunteer. The House can host a maximum of fifty-nine people, but Kirk says that the third floor of the building remains unused, as funds aren’t available to feed the twenty-two people who could live there. Before its life as the shelter’s offices, the first floor of the building was a dry cleaner’s. Clara’s House, along with Clara’s Academic Center and a more permanent shelter, Clara’s Place, is run by the West Englewood United Organization, a charity Kirk founded and helms. In the F C H I C A G O past, the House has servedG as a F C H I C A O B transition into the Place—gas, light, and heating O are provided A G O B O K S T B O O K S T O R E for residents of the former, but families must be able to cover the light and gas bills to live O B O O K S T O R in the latter. Kirk also maintains certain disciplinary standards, like prohibiting drinking and smoking and enforcing a 9pm curfew. “The women here are learning to live,” says Kirk. “It’s not just a flophouse.” Despite Kirk’s noble goals, finances have always been rocky for N TEXTBO O K S TEXTBO O K both Clara’s House and Place: in the past,S the shelters’ heating and e T e xtb o lighting was shut off because of substantialo fines Kirk owed the city,k e T e xtb ook s S A V E UP OKS effectively eliminating the possibility of future financial support from T 6 0 % S A V E UP T Instant download right the city government. Since then, the organization has relied on dos 6 0 % fr om UChicago .bnc olle xtbook s N e w Ins tant do wnload right c om. Do wnload the fr ee nations and fundraisers from community members. But even with the ks N e w Y e a r fr om UChicago .bnc olle eT extbook applica tion f VE UP T O F R E c om. Download the fr ee PC and Mac O S (incl. iP shelter’s financial instability, Kirk, who was given the title of “Mother T O F R E S H S T eT e xtbook applica tion fA o at : % If(incl. you lo v PC and Mac O S iP a m. ownload right If you lo v e acking ne w of Englewood” by 17th Ward cr Alderman Latasha Thomas, has noboo plans op a t : YUZU . c om/ c olleg t hicago .bncollege . new book at the start quart er . . ege. wnload quart er . o k s the free N e e a to abandon her postom/ in thew community. “All ofc us Y do not comey fromour the YUZU . c olleg ee UChicago.bnc ok application for : Sell for Mac OS (incl. iPad) Sell y our ne w books b the end o same place,R all of of us didn’t getthe the same kind ofquart teaching,” Kirk says. S P TO F E S H UChicago.bnc Pad) ment of UChicago gear , the end t o half er th to half the cash back. to coffee mugs, and... If y ou lo v e cr acking “But all of us are here together, and we must how to live together ment of UChicago gear ,learn c om/ c ollege. right ne w book at the st ege. to coffee mugs, and... ncollege. quart er and help one another to live.” . go.bncollege.co e free
“The women here are learning to live,” says Clara Kirk. “It’s not just a flophouse.”
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Revisiting Auburn Park Parks, plats, and the shape of the South Side BY RACHEL SCHASTOK
n a map, Auburn Park appears as an unexpected departure from the city grid, its thin fingerlike lagoons passing under two narrow bridges on Normal and Eggleston Avenues. On the ground, the abrupt break into open space feels like a sudden entry into a small town within Auburn Gresham—and indeed, that was always the intended effect. Auburn Park harkens back to an earlier era of Chicago’s development, when the railroads and heavyhanded real estate speculators shaped the city. The land now occupied by the park was originally marshy and uninhabitable. It was owned by Chicago’s first mayor, William B. Ogden, and drained and platted (surveyed in order to divide it into saleable parcels) in 1872 by the reputed Eggleston, Mallette & Brownell—in 1891 it was written of the firm that “there are few in Chicago more expert in laying out property and supervising its drainage, sewerage, paving, macadamizing, etc.” At this time, there were many
opportunities for speculators to make money platting land in anticipation of the southward spread of the city, which expanded outward from the railroads being laid in the area. At the turn of the twentieth century, the South Side of Chicago became increasingly appealing as an escape valve of sorts, a place to plan beautiful communities away from the bustle of the city center. In the late nineteenth century, Auburn Park lay between two veins of industry. Vincennes Avenue, to the park’s immediate east, was known as one of the South Side’s great thoroughfares, among the first to be served by horse-car lines by 1889. The park’s combination of proximity to and quiet separation from this major artery made the surrounding community a desirable place to call home. Directly to the west sat the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, whose workers comingled with the area’s real estate developers—this explains the juxtaposition of squat bungalows and larger Victorian
homes along Winneconna Parkway, the curving street that follows the lines of the lagoon. The park’s lagoon was intended to echo the area’s original marshland. Auburn Park has long been a recreational space for Auburn Gresham residents. Irene Casey, who grew up nearby at 80th and Union in the 1940s and 1950s, recalls ice-skating in the park and walking around it in the summertime. Her family moved a few miles southwest to the Mount Greenwood neighborhood in 1965, where she still lives, citing Auburn Gresham’s midcentury economic decline. “There used to be so much shopping there, but now there’s nothing,” she says. As the neighborhood fell onto harder times and vacant lots and storefronts came to dot Winneconna Parkway and Auburn Gresham’s 79th Street commercial strip, Auburn Park has remained steadfastly in place, a reminder of the beginning of the city’s development. FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 7
A Hole in the World In a social service desert, activists and policymakers begin to make a space for the South Side’s homeless youth BY JAKE BITTLE Homelessness, says Angelica, a twenty-two-year-old regular at the Teen Living Programs homeless youth drop-in center, is almost universally misunderstood. It can happen to anyone, at any time, for a variety of reasons, and yet when she and her young peers ask for money or assistance on the train or on street corners, people turn their heads and refuse to speak with them. The TLP drop-in center is run out of the basement of a church on 55th and Indiana; it serves about twenty-five to forty young people each day, most of them regulars. For the most part, it provides them with a hot meal, a place to sleep, access to a computer, and information about services and programs to aid in recovery from homelessness. The daily routine of many of the regulars, explains Ericka Hill, the drop-in center’s manager, consists of staying together at the center for as long as it is open and then taking the bus down to Ujima Village, the South Side’s only youth overnight shelter, or
8 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY • FEBRUARY 5, 2015
wei yi ow
over to La Casa Norte, Ujima’s West Side equivalent, so they can try to get a bed there. When the shelters close in the morning, Hill says the youth hang out at a nearby McDonald’s until TLP opens for the lunch meal and “coffee hour,” where visitors offer information or trainings, often including bus cards as compensation for participating. At the end of the day, the nightly cycle repeats again. But TLP is only open four days a week, and only five hours each day. While the shelters are open all week, their beds fill up quickly, and they are often forced to deny many youth admission. These youth are scattered when TLP closes for the weekend, forced to either work together or fend for themselves. On Thursday afternoons, many of them are restless; on Monday mornings, there is a sense of relief, of relaxation. For homeless youth, no matter how competent or self-motivated, finding other people who understand their situation, both people of their own age and adults who are willing to
The map to the left shows the major youth drop-in centers (daytime) and overnight shelters (nighttime) on the South and West Sides, as well as the locations of shelters and centers on the North Side. Most drop-in centers are open four or five days a week, most shelters all seven days. The map does not include transitional housing locations.
help them at every stage of their recovery, is invaluable. For those it serves, TLP is more than just a basement where they can get food and rest. For these forty-odd youth, the drop-in center has become nothing less than a safe haven, a place where they know they can find friendship, conversation, and understanding. Some of them have known each other for years, for as long as they have been homeless or longer. Two of them—Daniel and Destiny, a trans woman—have been dating since they met at a North Side shelter, and another two—Angelica and Anton—are married. “It’s hard to find a place that accepts you,” says Angelica, who is currently on four housing wait lists. “I was pregnant a month ago, and if it wasn’t for La Casa Norte, I wouldn’t have made it. There’s a lot of people who don’t want to help us because they feel like we’re dirty or something. I don’t understand it. Anybody can become homeless, but how they treat us, how they react to us, they don’t understand that. It’s like we’re diseased or something.” Angelica says TLP has been a huge help to her in applying for housing programs, but that she wishes there were more places like it. Oftentimes she can’t get a bed at La Casa Norte. “We don’t have that many options of people who’ll actually help you,” she says. Before TLP and La Casa Norte opened their drop-in centers in 2013, homeless youth on the South Side
had no such place to get a good meal, meet and befriend teens in similar situations, or just sit down for a while. Even Ujima Village only opened in the last five years. Before that, being homeless on the South or West Sides meant being alone, with nowhere to go, and no one to help you figure out how to get back on your feet. It was like falling through a hole in the world. Even within the four walls of the
caseworkers and the teens at TLP are all too aware that making any headway against youth homelessness on the South Side will take not just TLP’s drop-in center but many more like it. Most teens I spoke with said the first step to ending homelessness, even their own homelessness, is to bring more services to the South and West Sides. Until there are more than a few small places for them to go, they say, fighting the root causes of home-
“Within a year of opening we’d served five hundred youths we’d never seen before. We need more research, we need more numbers. How do you know that what you’re doing is making a difference, not just now or in the next two years, but in five years, or in ten years?” Jeri Linas, executive director at Teen Living Programs
drop-in center, the enormity of homelessness is clearly felt. According to numbers available from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), there were over 130,000 homeless people in Chicago during the 20132014 school year, a nineteen-percent increase from the previous year. The
lessness is practically unthinkable.
ere’s my bugaboo,” says Jeri Linas. “You can’t treat homeless youth like homeless adults. You’ve got to have a culturally competent response. The reason is purely because of how young
brains function. That frontal cortex is not developed until age twenty-five.” Linas is the executive director of TLP, which, in addition to the drop-in center on 55th, also runs a temporary housing program two miles north, at 37th and Indiana. The unique psychology of young people is a sticking point for Linas, who sees the city as having failed, until recently, to accept homeless youth as a population with specific needs. This deficiency in the “executive branch” of a teen’s brain, she says, prevents many teens from being self-motivated and systems-savvy enough to navigate the labyrinth of paperwork required to extricate oneself from homelessness. “You can’t always just come to a young person and say, ‘You can’t sit on the street all day, you can’t just smoke weed all day,’” says Linas. “They’re going to go, ‘Why not?’ ” Linas deplores what she sees as the previous strategy for dealing with homeless youth, which was to treat the youth, she says, as problems to be fixed. “Young people are assets,” she says, “and we have to treat them that way. We have to say, ‘Okay, we know you smoke, you drink, you have unprotected sex, because those are coping mechanisms.’ ” Brandon is a calm, collected, twenty-one-year-old who is one of the most frequent visitors at Teen Living Program’s drop-in center in Washington Park. I ask him what he does when the drop-in center closes. He
FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 9
KB, an aspiring rapper, practices a verse in the mirror before recording it at the drop-in center’s recently installed “studio.” looks me dead in the eye. “We drown our sorrows in drugs and alcohol,” he says. “Just kidding,” he adds. He pauses. “But not really.” Whatever the reason—be it trauma, family background, or incomplete education—many homeless teens lack the endurance needed to go through the extensive paperwork and process required to do things like apply for jobs, get crimes expunged from records, and enroll in temporary housing wait lists. The services have to largely be brought to the youth, and not the other way around. Dropin centers and homeless shelters are
meant to do just this with the help of caseworkers and guest speakers. Despite their youth, many of those at the drop-in center, Brandon included, describe themselves as extremely self-motivated. Almost all of them claim that this year will be their last year being homeless. The difference lies in how they plan to get out: some youth attend all the seminars by guest speakers and spend all day applying for jobs and housing in TLP’s computer lab. Others, says Hill, have far less desire to engage with the city’s bureaucratic networks and paper trails. “The desire is there,” says Hill, “but there’s so much they have to go through, so much they’re going through already, to get there, that we
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lose the interest sometimes.” “It’s just hustling, that’s how you get by,” says Leon, an independent twenty-year-old. “Selling squares [loose cigarettes] at the liquor store, selling dope, whatever I can get.” I ask him where he sleeps on the weekends, when it is harder to get a bed at Ujima. He says nothing, but then his eyes change. “I’m saving up money, you know,” he says. He pulls a thick roll of bills from his coat pocket. “I’ve been making money with the squares. This is going to be my last year homeless.” I met Leon the first time I visited TLP’s drop-in center, but he was not there on any of my return visits. Regardless of their motivation or their experiences, says Hill, the most important thing in working
with homeless youth—the thing that makes casework with this population so different from casework with adults—is to “meet them where they’re at.” In addition to lacking the education and patience needed to take long-term steps toward recovery, young people ages eighteen to twenty-four are far more likely to feel peer pressure and to feel stigmatized by their homelessness, and they may refuse to seek out services out of shame or embarrassment. “We do an array of things,” says Hill, “but in some cases, it’s just having a family or a community, having a safe haven, having a place you can go. Sometimes that’s all they want. Some of them have accesses to resources up north, they’ll go and do what they
need to do to get what they need, and some don’t have that access, but they come [here] together.”
hen Anne Holcomb was a homeless college student at DePauw in Indiana, over twenty years ago, the North Side neighborhood of Lakeview was known as one of the best places in the country to be homeless. The neighborhood was free of gang activity, unusually accepting of all sexual orientations and gender expressions, and full of services and resources for young homeless people. “A guy I met in Indiana said, ‘If you ever become homeless again, you might want to think about coming to Chicago. There’s a whole scene there,’ ” said Holcomb. “That was still true when I got here in 1991. There used to be several abandoned cars in front of the Dunkin’ Donuts on Belmont and Clark. One would get towed, another would show up, and you could sleep in them.” After arriving in Chicago, Holcomb worked with North Side homeless agencies for over a decade before moving to the South Side-focused Unity Parenting and Counseling, where she is now the supervisor of supporting services. Since Holcomb’s arrival, Unity has opened Ujima Village, still the only overnight youth shelter on the South Side. Her office on Cermak is flooded with donation boxes bound for the shelter—everything from cereal to tampons to deodorant to water guns. “I would say that when I worked in Lakeview [in the 1990s], over half of the youth had originated on the South or West Sides,” she says. “I wanted to put my energy into the community where I live.” Then as now, numerous outreach and support organizations exist in Lakeview for the homeless, including LGBTQ homeless youth. As Elly Fishman reported in a Reader feature in 2012, homelessness in Boystown and Lakeview entails a host of stigmas and dangers, but the fact remains that
Lakeview and the North Side remain safer places to be homeless as a youth than the less populated and more impoverished South and West Sides, which Holcomb refers to as a “food desert,” a “retail desert,” and above all a “social service desert.” Caseworkers like Steve Saunders of Featherfist, a South Shore-based homeless outreach program for adults, say that there are almost certainly
the resources more plentiful. The one exception to this rule is Hyde Park, where the recent advent of twentyfour-hour restaurants like Dunkin’ Donuts and Clarke’s on 53rd Street, as well as the lower levels of theft and violent crime, has turned the neighborhood into something of a hub for chronically homeless adults. This drain toward the North Side is partly due to the plain lack of re-
The general sense is that discussions and committees can only do so much— but there the sentence breaks off. Without huge changes in the city’s politics and infrastructure, the role that individual advocates at DFSS, CCH or service providers can play in aiding the city’s youth homeless population, even on the North Side, is limited.
more unsheltered homeless from the South and West Sides of the city than the North Side, and that homeless people on the North Side are more able to find each other and work in groups to survive. According to the city’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS), the vast majority (over seventy percent) of the city’s homeless are African-American, most of whom are from the South and West Sides; statistically speaking, the average homeless person is far more likely to come from these areas. If censuses of the homeless conducted in South and West Side neighborhoods return relatively low results, that’s because many homeless people migrate to the North Side, where the streets are safer and
sources—not only do the South and West Sides have fewer warming centers and casework locations than the North Side, but they are almost completely barren of resources tailored directly to homeless youth. But it goes deeper than that. Addressing and preventing homelessness involves not just the warming centers, emergency shelters, and transitional housing options that the young people at TLP say are so desperately missing on the South Side, but a whole host of other infrastructures that may at first seem distant or unrelated. These include but are not limited to: employment opportunities, high-quality public education, public transportation, mental health care, safety in open spaces, grocery stores, and avail-
able affordable housing. The South Side has historically lagged behind the North Side in all of these respects, especially since the demolition of the city’s beleaguered housing projects, the shuttering of half a dozen of the city’s mental health clinics and fifty of its public schools, and the recent housing crisis. Generational poverty on the South and West Sides only exacerbates the problem of homelessness and of youth homelessness in particular. But the problem is far more explicit in the “youth homelessness” subset. Until the advent of La Casa Norte, Ujima Village, and Teen Living Programs, all of which were founded in the last ten years, there had been an almost total lack of youth-oriented services on the South and West Sides.
n 2013 the Mayor’s Task Force to End Homelessness, an institution that survived from the last days of the Daley administration, released its so-called “Plan 2.0 to End Homelessness,” a ten-year strategy for addressing the biggest problems with homeless services in Chicago. One of the plan’s main items was a provision about the importance of aiding homeless youth ages eighteen to twentyfour, which was the first time youth homelessness was recognized by the city as a significant issue in its own right. Among other things, Plan 2.0 called for the creation of a smaller task force, the City of Chicago Task Force on Homeless Youth (hereafter referred to as the Task Force), which then sought to address major areas of oversight and inequity in how the city provides services to this age group. Since it was first convened, this Task Force has successfully addressed and implemented two of its major goals. The first was an initiative to obtain accurate data about the youth homeless population in Chicago. The second was a promise to fund one new drop-in center on the North, South, and West Sides—Broadway Youth Center, La Casa Norte, and
FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 11
12 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY • FEBRUARY 5, 2015
TLP’s drop-in center on 55th and Indiana offers limited-time computer access so that visitors can research job opportunities and print out application forms. Teen Living Programs respectively. But while the new drop-in center on the North Side was not the first of its kind in that area, TLP’s drop-in center on 55th and Indiana was. It is the first daytime youth shelter to exist on the South Side ever. La Casa Norte’s drop-in centers in Lawndale and Back of the Yards set similar precedents on the West and Southwest Sides. The Task Force recently met, on January 15, to review what progress had been made in the first two years of the plan. The meeting, at the Department of Family and Support Services on Chicago and Ashland, featured city officials from DFSS and CPS as well as three or four advocates from CCH. Also present in full force were youth service providers from across the city. Holcomb, Flores, and Linas were there, along with three or four emissaries from various North Side service providers. The meeting’s agenda was fairly thin: review goals, identify areas of achievement and failure, and discuss possibilities. The first half proceeded with relative ease as the Task Force reviewed what progress it had made in designing a youth-specific method for counting the homeless, opening up one new drop-in center on each side of the city, and making connections with and offering training to CPS officials who work with homeless students or those with unstable housing. But as the “areas of failure” portion led into the open discussion, the room became noticeably more tense: some of the failures identified by the slideshow tie in with systematic issues like public transportation (the Task Force has been unable to negotiate successfully with the CTA for the subsidization of bus passes), and mental health (it’s harder than ever to find nearby clinics, let alone hire workers to come diagnose youth with mental health issues). Grappling with these
issues out loud led to the creation of subcommittees and further meetings, and to a room-wide biting of lips and more than a few raised voices. The general sense is that discussions and committees can only do so much—but there the sentence breaks off. Without huge changes in the city’s politics and infrastructure, the role that individual advocates at DFSS, CCH, or service providers can play in aiding the city’s youth homeless population, even on the North Side, is limited. “You’re homeless, you feel me?” says James (“Bond” to his friends), a talkative nineteen-year-old at TLP’s drop-in center. “Why are you homeless? Probably because your family kicked you out. Why did your family kick you out? Because ain’t everybody eating. Why ain’t everybody eating? Everybody can’t get a job. And now you’re homeless, and maybe you got a kid, and you don’t have a place to stay, and now you can’t get a job, you feel me? Your family can’t get a job, now
you can’t get a job.”
o further complicate matters, there is a significant lack of thorough and reliable data on the homeless population in Chicago. Yearly tallies of the city’s sheltered population and an annual volunteer-led count of the unsheltered homeless found on Chicago’s city streets in the winter attempt to offer a “snapshot” of the city’s homeless population, but experts from the DFSS and from homeless outreach organizations agree that this snapshot is nowhere close to complete. The results of the most recent homeless count by the DFSS finds youth ages eighteen to twenty-four to be one of the smallest segments of the homeless population, but there is no telling how indicative the results of this count are. Since homelessness is particularly stigmatized among youth, and since this population is less likely to want to be counted, the data on youth homelessness is prob-
ably the least trustworthy. An independent census conducted in 2005 by the University of Illinois at Chicago estimated that there are two thousand homeless youths in Chicago on any given night; this number, says Linas, is the best figure available to service providers. Though the point-in-time count of unsheltered homeless people has been employed in Chicago for well over a decade, this year marks only the second time that the Task Force on Homeless Youth has conducted a youth-specific homeless count. The conductors of this year’s count, spearheaded by Adriana Camarda of DFSS, were not adult volunteers but homeless youth whom the city paid to seek out their peers. The idea, Camarda says, is that they might know where to find those who refuse to make themselves visible to DFSS and its partners. “There’s been a gap in services on the South Side, historically,” says Camarda, “and now we’re using this
FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 13
data to spread these services geographically to the areas that don’t have them. As we get more data, we’ll be able to expand more.” Having the data, Camarda says, has brought more awareness to homeless youth as a population with specific needs and characteristics. Last year’s count, conducted by service providers on the youth in their facilities, surveyed four hundred homeless young people ages eighteen to twenty-four. Preliminary findings from this study indicated that over half of the respondents had not completed high school and that over a quarter of them had no source of income. The report ends, however, with a caveat: “the survey findings do not provide a conclusive number of homeless or unstably housed youth in Chicago,” due both to resource limitations and to the unique challenges of finding and counting homeless people of this age group. Results from this year’s youth-to-youth count are not available at press time (2014’s results came out in July), but Camarda’s belief—and her hope—is that increasingly accurate data on the youth homeless population will make it easier, and possible, to provide services. Until then, the work of service providers and city policymakers amounts to something like the fable about blind men touching different parts of an elephant and trying to describe what the creature looks like. “One of the things we knew we would learn when we opened the dropin center was what we didn’t know,” says Linas. “Within a year of opening, we’d served five hundred youths we’d never seen before. We need more research, we need more numbers. How do you know that what you’re doing is making a difference, not just now or in the next two years, but in five years, or in ten years?” Linas says that over a hundred shelter beds have been added across the city since the release of Plan 2.0 in 2013, but it’s impossible
to know just how much of a dent has been put in the overall population. But even with the numbers available in the UIC census, it is clear to activists and city officials alike that the problem is daunting. Homelessness is extremely complex on a systemic and infrastructural level, but
inherent in being homeless. “One of our biggest needs is trying to find a therapist or a psychologist that can assess, diagnose, medicate, come to our shelter—even just once a week,” says Holcomb. “If you don’t have a diagnosis, where can you go for mental health care? You’re eigh-
“You’re eighteen, you’ve been kicked out of your house, you saw someone shot a few days ago, and now someone’s handing you a paper referral saying go apply for housing? We need someone there [who] can stay the course.” Anne Holcomb, supportive services supervisor at Unity Parenting and Counseling
it is also complex on an individual level—for a single person to get out of homelessness can take months of dedicated casework, not to mention psychological therapy. In order to apply for the housing wait list, for example, you need a valid state ID. You can get that ID for free from the city if you are homeless, but first you need to fill out the city’s form, which you need a computer to download and print out. Then you need to get signatures from both a notary and a service provider, who will both testify that you are homeless. Only then can you mail or deliver the form to the Thompson Center downtown to get your ID. Even for the strong-minded, this process could take weeks to complete, but a huge portion of the homeless youth that visit drop-in centers and overnight shelters need adult help not just in navigating governmental processes but in dealing with the trauma
14 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY • FEBRUARY 5, 2015
teen, you’ve been kicked out of your house, you saw someone shot a few days ago, and now someone’s handing you a paper referral saying go apply for housing? We need someone there [who] can stay the course.”
t is the job of the drop-in centers and the shelters, where caseworkers like Hill work with teens faceto-face, to stay this course. A single church basement may not be able to end homelessness, or even to end one young person’s homelessness, but what it can do, even if only for a few hours, is offer young people a place to stay, a place to be. Nowhere is this clearer than in the just-installed “recording studio” in the back office of TLP’s drop-in center, where youth can sign up to write and record raps with a peer educator who visits the center a few days a week. Almost everyone uses the stu-
dio whenever it’s available, including Hill, who performs a beautiful Gladys Knight cover for me to test out the equipment. On the second day I visit, five or six boys of varying ages sit together in the tiny room (the “booth” is made of plywood and sound-resistant curtain) trading lines back and forth for a new song they’re working on. After twenty minutes of debate and discussion, they settle on the chorus, to be sung by their layered voices in between rap verses: “This a demonstration / Lotta people been anticipatin’ / Life shouldn’t be so hard / Day shouldn’t feel so long.” Though they don’t put homeless youth any closer to having a place to stay, artistic expression and other forms of “alternative therapy” are widely regarded by service providers as an essential part of helping with recovery. At press time, Holcomb has just hired an artist who will help her run what she calls a “speak-truth-topower arts group” out of Ujima every week. Holcomb says she hopes the group will help youth understand not only that their situation does not have to last forever, but also that they do not have to feel broken or cast out. Even as the endlessness of the issue looms large over the head of individual service providers like Linas, Holcomb, and Hill, they have to stay focused and remember what they can do: help the youth they meet out of the hole into which they have fallen, one by one. “You look at the population and say, ‘We have to go further upstream to deal with this issue.’ That entails family conflict, poverty, lack of affordable housing, so many things,” says Linas. “The challenge [at the drop-in center] then becomes, what do those young people walking off the street need? How can we make them safe, and how can we make them stable?”
Ben Hecht’s House
hough the neighboring house, with its hoary cobweb wrinkles, has a scarier face, the lemon merengue-colored Victorian house is where the phantoms live. The street curls in the Chicago humidity and dissolves into a lake-bitten fog. The ghost of Ben Hecht peers out the window of the sardine-can room where he used to sleep and write. Twenty-six years old, eyes sunken as a roadside ditch; he floats through the wall, pallid moustache quivering. He moves slowly on his dead legs. The Hyde Park street is a stranger. Now, the three-headed Cerberus of MAC Property Management offices, Wingers fine dining, and Zberry frozen yogurt shop guard the entrance to his underworld existence. He remembers the nocturnal strolls, brain chewing on the faith of fishermen, the tragic feet of flappers, the moldy juice joint philosophers.
BY LUCIA AHRENSDORF
The three-headed Cerberus of MAC Property Management offices, Wingers fine dining, and Zberry frozen yogurt shop guard the entrance to Ben Hecht’s underworld existence.
Literary allusions, odd words, and a somewhat farcical philosophy were characteristic of Ben Hecht’s famous “1001 Afternoons in Chicago” column for The Chicago Daily News, which he wrote while a boarder at the large yellow Victorian on the 5200 block of South Kenwood Avenue during the early 1920s. His editor, the iconic Henry Justin Smith, illustrated the importance of Hecht’s literary masterpiece, highlighting his attention to the fleeting, unexamined perfect imperfection of city life—“The idea that just under the edge of the news as commonly understood, the news often flatly unimaginatively told, lay life; that in this urban life there dwelt the stuff of literature.” Hecht lived with his friend and collaborator Charles MacArthur and frequented the Jackson Park art colony that had developed just a few blocks away on 57th Street, seekers of a bohemian lifestyle who paid cheap rent to inhabit former restaurants and concession stores built for the World’s Columbian Exposition. The mustachioed screenwriter-director-producer-playwright-literary journalist Hecht went on to win the first Academy Award for screenwriting, cementing his status as a Hollywood legend. His impressive resume includes defining the gangster movie genre as screenwriter for Underworld and Scarface, writing scripts for two of Hitchock’s psycho-drama masterpieces, Notorius and Spellbound, and being the primary script editor for the epic Gone with the Wind. A fixture in glamorous Hollywood circles, he has been credited with ghostwriting Marilyn Monroe’s autobiography My Story. The literary giant’s old home on Kenwood is now a private residence for a family of six with a dog. In the same way that he poeticized the underbelly of the industrial new Chicago, Hecht’s life story makes a fairy tale of the unassuming block. FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 15
Know Your Rights and Resources
Resources available to Chicago homeowners
hicago is often thought of as a city of renters, with many renting rather than owning their homes, yet homeownership has played a contested and extremely influential role in creating this city. From rampant redlining and blockbusting practices in the twentieth century to the more recent impact of the foreclosure crisis, Chicago has been shaped—quite literally—by fluctuations and manipulations of mortgage rates, property values, and homeownership. The Weekly has compiled a list of organizations and resources that might be helpful for those navigating precarious homeownership situations, or for those seeking more information on the subject. The Illinois Foreclosure Prevention Network, established by former Governor Quinn, spearheads the Mortgage Relief Project and aims to help Illinois homeowners take advantage of programs that keep people in their homes. Free counseling is available. Visit idfpr.com or call (800)532-8785 (toll free). The Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign is a South Side-based organization committed to stopping all economically motivated evictions in Chicago. Established in 2009 at the height of the foreclosure crisis, the CAEC believes in housing as a human right and works to keep individuals in their homes through direct action and civil disobedience. For more information, visit chicagoantieviction.org. Illinois Legal Aid provides information and legal assistance for those navigating the ins and outs of homeowner’s insurance, mortgage and foreclosure scams, and other sticky aspects of homeownership. Their website includes a helpful search-byzip-code feature that essentially refers
web visitors to a number of nearby legal aid and assistance organizations. These tools can be found at illinoislegalaid.org. Circuit Court of Cook County Foreclosure Mediation Program aims to assist Cook County homeowners in crisis situations as early as possible in the foreclosure process. Homeowners who have received a summons to appear in court will necessarily have access to free legal assistance and housing consultation. Visit cookcountyforeclosurehelp.org or call (877)895-2444. Lawyers Committee for Better Housing helps low- and moderate-income renters in Chicago, including Housing Choice Voucher holders. LCBH provides free legal assistance to renters for a number of serious housing issues including eviction, discrimination, unsafe housing conditions, illegal lockouts, and landlord retaliation. LCBH also offers assistance to those affected by foreclosure. Visit lcbh.org or call (312)784-3507
16 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY • FEBRUARY 5, 2015
An overview of renters’ rights in Chicago
n late January, the city of Chicago released a list of landlords found by the Department of Buildings to have repeatedly failed to provide for their tenants basic services such as heat, hot water, and functional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to their tenants. The “Problem Landlord List,” as it has been dubbed, cites forty-five individual properties, concentrated on the South and West Sides, with three or more serious code violations—all owned by landlords caught up in two or more administrative hearing cases within a two-year period. One building on the list—a Woodlawn address at 64th and Eberhart—has ninety-three open violations. The list is meant to alert renters to some of the worst-case scenarios of renting in Chicago. The Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) outlines the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords alike. Below are some of the main issues covered in the RLTO. Rent: If you are late on rent, the landlord can charge a late fee of up to ten dollars per month on rents up to $500, plus five percent per month on the part of the rent that exceeds $500. As a tenant, you have the right to withhold rent if your landlord fails to make necessary repairs to your unit—write your landlord a letter with details on all necessary repairs to your apartment and/or common areas, with pictures. This letter should state the amount you intend to withhold, should repairs not be completed within fourteen days. You can send this letter by certified mail or hand-deliver it with a witness. The Metropolitan Tenants Organization advises that, should you choose to withhold too much (half or more of the monthly rent), your landlord may be able to start the eviction process. If possible, it is best to consult with an attorney. Essential Services: Landlords must provide essential services to tenants. These services include heat, running water, hot water, electricity, gas, and plumbing. Who is responsible for payment of those services depends on the terms of your lease. However, your landlord must provide you with a written statement of the projected monthly costs of heating your unit. If you receive a shut-off notice in the event that your landlord neglected to pay a utility bill, you can pay the util-
ity company and deduct the amount from your rent, after giving your landlord a written notice. Temperature: The Chicago Municipal Code stipulates that, between September 15 and June 1, your apartment must be at least sixty-eight degrees from 8:30am to 10:30pm and at least sixty-six degrees at all other times, even if your tenancy is not governed by the RTLO. If you suspect that your apartment is not adequately heated, you can record the temperature in your apartment three times a day for one week. If these records show that your apartment is indeed too cold, send your landlord a letter with a notice that they are in violation of municipal code. If your landlord does not respond or comply, call the city’s Heat Hotline at (312)744-5000. Pests and infestations: The Chicago Building Code says that every owner or operator must maintain clean, sanitary, and safe conditions for shared and public areas of the dwelling. Landlords must exterminate insects, rodents, or pests if the infestation is caused by that owner or operator’s failure to maintain reasonable pestproof conditions. If the infestation exists in two or more of the family units in the dwelling (or in public spaces), the owner is responsible for extermination regardless of the cause of infestation.
For more information, advice, sample letters to landlords, and the full text of the RTLO, see the Metropolitan Tenants Organization at tenants-rights.org. For more information on the tenants’ rights listed in the Municipal Code of Chicago, visit chicityclerk.com/legislation-records/municipal-code. For legal help, visit the Center for Renters’ Rights, a Chicago-based nonprofit, at renters-rights.com.
Pullman Historic District BY CLYDE SCHWAB
f one thing stands out about Pullman, it’s its roots. In the 1880s, railroad magnate George Pullman constructed the neighborhood, then an independent town, to house his factory’s workers. Its homes, all designed by Chicago architect Solon Spencer Beman, range from brick mansions reserved for the doctors, lawyers, and executives of Pullman, to the narrow rowhouses inhabited by its workers. The company lost ownership of the town after Pullman’s death in 1897, and through the deindustrialization of the 1950s, the neighborhood stagnated while many residents moved to nearby suburbs. Currently, Pullman stands as a diverse residential neighborhood entering a new phase. With new businesses moving into the neighborhood, including Method, an eco-friendly soap manufacturer, the historic neighborhood continues to grow. CJ Martello is the owner of one of the distinctive rowhomes and bears a passion for Pullman history. “The house was built in 1881,” he explained. “The first resident was a blacksmith, and then a group of Norwegians, and then the Italians started moving. The homes were rented to the factory workers, but the idea for such a nice spot was revolutionary. You had a lawn outside, and clean running water at a time when everyone else in Chicago lived in squalor.” The house, only about twenty-five feet wide, contains a vast collection of Pullman memorabilia in its five rooms. Martello eagerly shows me his collection, highlighting various pieces: the walls are adorned with posters, and, behind a sheet of glass on a shelf, lies original Pullman car cutlery and mugs, Pullman whiskey, and photos of the cars themselves. The exterior of the house is unaltered, as are all the neighborhood’s homes since the town gained state and national landmark status in 1972. A mural of factory workers decorates the exterior of the neighborhood visitor center, a reminder of the history that Pullman’s community keeps close.
“The homes were rented to the factory workers, but the idea for such a nice spot was revolutionary. You had a lawn outside, and clean running water.”
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Unaffordable and Unavailable Adding up Chicago’s housing crisis BY JOHN GAMINO In Chicago, the housing crisis merely aggravated old wounds. Of the ten largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., Chicago ranked second for the greatest racial disparity in high-cost loans—loans with interest rates that the federal government considers substantially higher than the Treasury standard. In 2005, African-American families with an income of $100,000 were more likely to get such loans than white families with incomes under $35,000. Neighborhoods whose populations were already in decline were hit the hardest by foreclosures. Those who have been able to stay in their homes now face the impact of vacant and abandoned properties on their communities. The numbers below reflect what has been felt by renters and homeowners across the South Side and the city. Number of housing vouchers the Chicago Housing Authority received federal funding for in 2012: 51,400 Number of vouchers the CHA issued in 2012: 38,000 Amount of reserve funds the CHA had built up by 2012, from not spending voucher money: $432 million Number of Chicago households that applied for housing or housing vouchers when the CHA opened its waitlist last fall: 282,000 Year in which the CHA had last opened its public housing waitlist: 2010 Year it had last opened its housing vouchers waitlist: 2008 Number of five-year housing plans the city has released in the last two-plus decades: 5 First words after the table of contents in the 2014-2018 plan: “This Plan is Different” Word that was dropped from the title of previous plans: “Affordable” Total amount earmarked by the 2009-2013 plan: $2 billion Total amount earmarked by the 2014-2018 plan: $1.1 billion Number of times a five-year plan has earmarked less funding than the previous plan: 1 Percent of all Chicago renters who were cost-burdened (paid over 30% of their income on their rent or mortgage) in 2010: 50.2 Percent of renters who were cost-burdened in 2000: 37.9 Percent of homeowners who were cost-burdened in 2010: 49.5 Percent of homeowners who were cost-burdened in 2000: 27.8 Percent of Chicago homeowners with high-cost loans in 2006 who were African-American or Latino: 50 Percent with prime-rate loans who were African-American or Latino: 22 Percent of residential parcels that have filed for foreclosure in Washington Park since 2005: 44.5 In South Shore: 31.4 In South Lawndale: 22.3 Number of South Side community areas in which over a quarter of all parcels have filed for foreclosure: 18 Number of South Side community areas in which over 5% of all residences have been vacant for more than two years: 12 Number of South Side census tracts in which over 20% of all residences are vacant: 7 Amount the city budgeted for demolishing vacant buildings in 2014: $11.6 million Amount the city spent boarding up buildings: $2 million Amount the city has budgeted to spend on demolitions this year: $8.1 million Amount it would have to spend to clear the current backlog of court-ordered demolitions: $35 million Number of affordable housing units for every 100 extreme-low-income families in Cook County: 26 Number of homeless students in CPS during the 2013-14 school year: 22,144 Percent increase from the previous school year: 18.6 Percent of homeless students who were minorities: 98.2 Percent diagnosed with disabilities or developmental delays: 20 Estimated number of homeless people in Chicago during the 2013-14 school year: 138,575 Percent increase from the previous school year: 19.4 Sources: The National Community Reinvestment Coalition, the Chicago Reporter, Chicago Housing Authority, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, the Chicago Rehab Network, the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul, the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Chicago Tribune, the Urban Institute, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
18 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY • FEBRUARY 5, 2015
BY LAUREN GURLEY
n 2007, nearly twenty percent of the 504 Section 8 apartments that made up Woodlawn’s Grove Parc Plaza sat vacant due to damages that landlords decided weren’t worth remedying: broken windows, fire burns, collapsed roofs. In 2006, a federal inspection gave seonhyung kim the project a dismal score of eleven out of one hundred points. Roaches and mice colonized the apartments, and the remaining residents cited robberies and malfunctioning appliances as everyday occurrences. Built in the 1960s as a privately owned alternative to public housing projects, by the 1990s Grove Parc Plaza had become emblematic of the failings that result when federal subsidies end up in the pockets of stingy property management companies instead of being funneled into property improvements. Eight years later, the trials and tribulations of life in Grove Parc Plaza live on only in the memories of its former residents, as a new mixed-income housing development called Woodlawn Park now occupies this stretch of Cottage Grove Avenue between the University of Chicago and the terminus of the Green Line. The revitalization project, which includes several “green” mixed-income buildings, a senior residence—The Burnham—and a youth center, is currently in the third of its six phases of construction. Planners hope that by creating housing with more economic diversity as well as access and visibility from the street, outcomes like that of Grove Parc Plaza can be avoided. Landon Bone Baker Architects say that with the development they hope to restore “historic linkages between the University of Chicago, the neighborhood of Woodlawn, Washington Park, and the CTA Green Line.” These days, there’s no doubt that this section of Cottage Grove is tidy and well kept—there are no broken windows, graffiti, or boarded-up doorways. The lobby of one of the recently completed buildings has been painted with the Chicago flag and the slogans “Keep calm Chicago, Fight against violence” and “Woodlawn Pride.” On the surface, things are looking brighter than they have in years. Yet if anything is to be gleaned from Grove Parc Plaza, it is that the success of Woodlawn Park over the coming decades will be determined not only by its design, but, equally, by the integrity of its management.
Planners hope that by creating housing with more economic diversity as well as access and visibility from the street, outcomes like that of Grove Parc Plaza can be avoided.
FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 19
Amid renovations, the eta Creative Arts Foundation remembers its structural history
Grit and Glory
BY OLIVIA MYZSKOWSKI
emati Porter, executive director of the eta Creative Arts Foundation, does not hesitate to explain the challenges of renovating the cultural center at 76th Street and South Chicago Avenue. Originally a storm window factory, the sprawling site was acquired by the eta Creative Arts Foundation in the early 1980s, remodeled extensively, and opened for use in 1988. “There comes a time in a building’s structural history where there are issues that need to be taken care of in order for it to remain viable,” she said, looking around the library where many productions’ worth of costumes were stacked and wrapped in garment bags, to be returned to the dressing rooms after construction. “We didn’t meet building codes, and we had a leaky roof. But the only option [for eta] is to go forward.” And so, in a fashion consistent with the approach eta has taken since its founding in 1969, the theater company kept moving. With a $500,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Op-
portunity, eta is getting an exterior makeover, a new roof, and updated classrooms. Even after the roof above the theater caught fire in October, delaying completion of the renovations by several months, the show went on—eta’s forty-fourth season is being performed at Kennedy-King College until the South Chicago site is up and running. Actors took the stage in October to perform Christine Houston’s rendering of 1950s Bronzeville, Two Twenty-Seven, followed by Ekundayo Bandele’s If Scrooge Was a Brother in November.
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This isn’t the first time that eta has staged an itinerant season. When Chicago performers Abena Joan Brown and Okoro Harold Johnson first founded the Ebony Talent Agency Creative Arts Foundation, they were without a permanent performance space. Early shows were held in various auditoriums until 1971, when the company settled into its first home at the Harris YWCA. That year, eta was incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the mission of providing opportunities for training, performance, and art exhibi-
tion on Chicago’s South Side. Eta has since become a premier cultural resource for African-American artists, with drama, dance, and music workshops provided for patrons of all ages. Oftentimes, alumni of eta’s workshop programs go on to act in the theater’s full-stage productions, and then on to roles in the greater Chicago theater community. Most recently, eta veteran Jerod Haynes starred as Bigger Thomas in Court Theatre’s September staging of Native Son. Porter beams with pride when discussing Haynes’s success. “He was
courtesy of eta creative arts foundation
“There is no better feeling than opening up a program, reading an actor’s bio, and seeing ‘eta’ listed under their performance history.” Kemati Porter, executive director of the eta Creative Arts Foundation nurtured here,” she said, smiling. “And there is no better feeling than opening up a program, reading an actor’s bio, and seeing ‘eta’ listed under their performance history.” As Porter tells the story, Abena Brown and Okoro Johnson founded eta in the late 1960s with that very experience in mind. “There weren’t many opportunities for black performers at that time, and they were not getting work,” she said. “So instead of waiting around, [Brown and Johnson] decided
to take matters into their own hands and make work for themselves.” With the help of attorney Archie Weston and journalist Al Johnson (no relation), Johnson and Brown built eta from the ground up. Driven to provide a venue where stories of the black community could be told, they recruited volunteers, community partners, and an advisory board dedicated to finding sufficient space and funding. Before performances, Brown would regularly get onstage to address
audiences and call for their support. “She would always tell them how grateful she was for their presence, and then remind them of their obligation to themselves and to their community,” said Porter. “It was about stoking an awareness.” Brown’s tenacity and commitment to a strong black theater community still guides eta, even in her retirement. A graduate of the University of Chicago’s Community Organization and Management Program at the School of Social Service Administration, her long tenure as president and executive director shaped the organization’s tight-knit feel. “She was like a mom to me,” said Darryl Goodman, who has worked as eta’s technical director since the early 1970s and is now acting as the project manager on the South Chicago site renovations. “Rest Okoro’s soul, he was like a father to me too.” Porter emphasizes that this culture of close support has been fundamental to eta’s success. “When we’re all here for workshops on Saturdays, this is a family,” she said. “We all know each other. This is a safe space, and you can take ownership of your history here.” In choosing performances for production, eta aims to take the black community’s history into account while also speaking to audiences young and old about the experiences and issues of the present day. Sometimes, Porter says, that means pushing audiences outside of their comfort zones. When eta produced hip-hop artist Will Power’s Flow in 2011, some older patrons expressed unease with the play’s use of profanity. Porter
welcomed dialogue about these concerns by talking with audience members after the show. “Eta has always been about portraying the experiences of our community authentically,” she said. “When you’re speaking to intergenerational audiences, sometimes there’s a challenge. But we’re looking for that moment of recognition, where you see a character onstage and you say, ‘I know that person.’” Authentically portraying experiences in the black community often includes confronting issues of race, politics, and poverty head-on, a task Porter doesn’t shy away from. “Art is political,” she said frankly. “But that doesn’t mean we discuss it every day—everyone just knows.” The newly renovated eta is tentatively scheduled to open up to audiences and students again this spring. Michael Lewis, current Chairman of the Board of Directors expressed excitement about the prospect. “The idea is to bring the place back to its glory of years ago,” he said in a phone interview. “The community misses us, and we miss them.” Even in the site’s current state, laden with tarps and paint buckets, with the faint sound of hammers and saws in the background, the glory of the place still feels strong. Colorful old programs are on display in glass cases in the lobby, with impressive pieces from the local art collection hung on the walls alongside a large framed photograph of Abena Joan Brown. Brown’s philosophy for eta’s success was simple, said Porter. “‘At the end of the day, do your work.’ That’s how Abena always put it.”
FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 21
More than a Dorm
Robert Taylor Homes BY ANDREW KOSKI
n 1995, Henry Cisneros, secretary of Housing and Urban Development for the Clinton administration, called Bronzeville’s Robert Taylor Homes “without question, the worst public housing in America today.” Though the homes are gone, their legacy remains a sore spot in the history of Chicago’s seonhyung kim public housing. The twenty-eight Robert Taylor Homes made up the largest housing project in the U.S. at the time of their completion in 1962. At sixteen stories tall each, the complex’s buildings contained over 4,400 apartments. The monolithic structures stretched from Pershing Road down to 54th Street, bordering the Dan Ryan Expressway to the west and State Street to the east, Named for Robert Taylor, the Chicago Housing Authority’s first African-American chairman, the project was intended to provide adequate housing for low-income African-American families. The location of the homes was no coincidence; in accordance with the laws of the time, the residents of a housing project could not alter the racial makeup of the area. The plans were misguided and chronically underfunded, and the Robert Taylor Homes were ultimately a failure. The buildings were perpetually overcrowded, peaking at 27,000 residents despite being designed to hold no more than 11,000. They were also in a constant state of disrepair. Though the project came to exemplify the failures of public housing, it was still a home for thousands of residents. In 1996, HOPE VI, a program started by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to replace failed modernist housing projects with mixed-income communities, allocated federal block grants to redevelop the Homes. The residents were gradually moved out by 2005, and the final building was demolished in 2007. Redevelopment of the area has been a slow process, however, and replacing such a vast housing project with low-rise apartments and houses has proved to be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. According ABC 7 Chicago, critics say that only 300 of Robert Taylor’s 4,400 apartments have been replaced with affordable housing. Since 2007, Brinshore Development, one of the top producers of affordable housing in Illinois, has constructed 840 of the projected 2,400 mixed-income units of its Legends South Development on the site of the Homes. Part of the project has created government-subsidized affordable housing, with the other portion remaining at market rate. According to Brinshore Principal Richard Sciortino, “This allows us to have a healthy mix of incomes, so we can attract working families.” Plans have also been announced to add a $9.8 million, 112,000-squarefoot tennis facility to the area (see page 17). Despite its troubled legacy, the hope is that new structures on the site might bring some of the benefits that the development failed to provide the first time around. Progress may be slow, but investment in the Washington Park neighborhood’s revitalization efforts was what was missing in the original Robert Taylor Homes project.
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La Casa Student Housing acts as a support system for students and community
BY HAFSA RAZI
a Casa Student Housing stands at the corner of 18th Street and Paulina, a six-story building that seems even taller next to the short tiendas and houses nearby. Here, at the edge of Pilsen’s zócalo, across from the old St. Vitus’ Catholic Church, this building supports a carefully formed community. La Casa is home to about eightyfive students who study at over twenty-five different universities in Chicago, according to Angela Crawford, the project’s Outreach Representative. La Casa’s diverse student population, in combination with its affordable price and extensive resource center, make this student housing project unique, possibly the only one of its kind in America. “La Casa is a community of students from different universities all across Chicago, and all of the students come from different places, come from different types of families, are studying different things and going to different schools, but they all have one goal—to get their first bachelor’s degree,” Crawford said. “And that’s what unites everybody here, and what keeps all these students on the path to graduation.” La Casa is an extension of The Resurrection Project (TRP), a Pilsenbased organization that promotes community development in Pilsen, Little Village, and Back of The Yards through housing, health, and education programs. The student housing
center, which opened in 2012, was conceptualized over ten years ago, Crawford said, when founding members of TRP realized the demand for education resources in the community. “We realized that there was a need in Pilsen for students to know how to go to college. Students just didn’t know, students weren’t going or they were starting and not completing the process,” Crawford said. “So college knowledge was necessary.” There was also a need for students to live in an environment that supports their academics. “One of the founders of the organization was talking to students and said, ‘Well, what’s your average day like? Where do you study when you get home from school, how do you study?’” Crawford remembered. “And this student’s response was ‘Well, I study in the bathroom at 2am once everybody’s gone to sleep.’” Even in the best of situations, Crawford said, students who lived at home with their families weren’t afforded the same opportunities as students in college housing. Particularly, they missed out on the chance to live and work with their peers. “It was really the realization that what was happening a generation ago was still happening now,” Crawford explained. “Students are still commuting to one of the colleges downtown and not necessarily networking and living with people.”
“It was really the realization that what was happening a generation ago was still happening now. Students are still commuting to one of the colleges downtown and not necessarily networking and living with people." Angela Crawford Two years ago, Claudia Martinez, a senior at UIC and resident of La Casa, found herself in just that situation, riding the train for over an hour and a half every morning and evening as she commuted between school and her home in the suburb of Carpentersville. Between her classes and her extracurriculars, the schedule was exhausting. Living in UIC’s dorms wasn’t an option either, though she had done so for her first two years of college.
“The one reason I stopped living at the dorms was because it was way too expensive. I found myself having to take out too many loans—not only myself, my parents also had to take out loans—to cover the living expenses on campus,” Martinez explained. “La Casa was just way more affordable.” At La Casa, Martinez gets her room for free, in exchange for her work as TRP’s Marketing Intern. The established rate is just under $700 a month for housing in a double room
and utilities, though many students with financial needs receive scholarships. This price, Crawford conceded, may be more or less expensive than apartments in the area, depending on how comfortable they are—the monthly rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Pilsen can range from $1,000 to $2,600. However, La Casa is generally more affordable than most university dorm rates—for example, UIC’s price hovers around $1,000 a month for room and board. But now that she lives here, Martinez’s favorite thing about La Casa isn’t the price—it’s the people. “La Casa does not only serve as a place to live,” Martinez said, “It’s not just a college dorm, it’s more like a community of students who are all here for the same reason.” La Casa builds community among its students through its ten-person apartment-style suites, equipped with communal kitchens and living areas. The design of the suites has a modern industrial feel, both functional and comfortable, mixing exposed ceilings
and bare concrete walls with swaths of vibrant pastel and neon colors. Here, students live and work together, with the support of a graduate student RA on each floor. The resource center next door also provides support and counsel for students through a host of programs and activities, from movie nights and study breaks to FAFSA workshops and “skill-builder” nights, where students learn career skills like résumé-writing. Another program brings in professionals from the Pilsen community to talk to students about their different fields. “The goal here is to get our students thinking about certain topics, but it’s also to introduce them to people in the community to build their network, [to ask] ‘How did you do it? How did you get to where you are?’” Crawford said. La Casa also hosts programs for non-residents, such as college information sessions for local high school students and their families. Most of these programs are held in both English and Spanish. Eventually, Crawford hopes that La Casa and its resource center will be a “one-stop shop” for all things college, available to both students and the entire surrounding community. For now, Crawford said, the primary objective of their program is to help graduate their students, many of whom, like Martinez, are the first in their families to attend college. “As a recent college grad and as a first-generation college student, from my own family background, I’m helping students who are similar to myself,” Crawford said. “I love being around the students and supporting the students in ways that I thought I needed support in when I was working toward my degree.” Martinez is set to graduate from UIC this year with a degree in marketing. She agrees with Crawford that living at La Casa has changed her life, from the people she’s met to the real-life experience she’s gained through her internship. “In the dorms where I was living before, you just go there to sleep,” Martinez said. “But La Casa is like the whole experience. They help you so much.”
FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 23
It Takes a Tennis Village
During redevelopment, uncertainties persist about the use of former public housing land BY MARI COHEN jean cochrane
o call XS Tennis Village, a 112,000 square foot, $9.8 million facility to be opened on the corner of 54th and State in Washington Park, simply a tennis center would be shortsighted. It’s clear from XS Tennis and Educational Foundation’s mission for the village, which will break ground this year, that the educational component of the name is just as important as the tennis. There will be plenty of tennis involved: the village will include eight full-size indoor courts, nineteen fullsize outdoor courts, plus ten total indoor and outdoor courts for children ten and under and numerous tennis programs serving both children and adults. But XS Tennis Village, which will stand on land that used to hold the Robert Taylor Homes, also aims to play the role of a community center; XSTEF has pledged to offer academic support, test prep, and mentoring for its young athletes in partnership with the University of Chicago’s Civic Knowledge Project, as well as nutrition and wellness education for children and adults. Yet in making its new home on former Chicago Housing Authority land, the Tennis Village project has also walked into the debate over what the use of such land should be, a topic important to former public housing
residents waiting for the replacement of public housing units that the CHA demolished as part of the city’s Plan for Transformation, which began in 2000. XSTEF, which began simply as XS Tennis in 2005, already operates out of a facility on 47th Street in Kenwood, but according to the organization’s website, its lease is expiring and the facility is too small for XSTEF’s current needs. XSTEF dreamt big for its new facility and managed to secure partnerships with both the CHA and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In 2013, the CHA voted to sell some of the former Robert Taylor Homes land to XSTEF for the Tennis Village, and in November 2014—after already announcing the Tennis Village to the public in May—Emanuel said he would use $2.9 million in Tax Increment Financing funds to contribute to site preparation expenses for Tennis Village. “Chicago’s XS Tennis is the largest, most successful minority-owned tennis organization in the nation,” reads the May 2014 city press release. XSTEF’s website boasts impressive stats: it runs afterschool programs, summer programs, and operates free in-school tennis programs in ten Chicago Public Schools—serving close to 3,000 youth from underserved communities in Chicago. (Ac-
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cording to the press release, XSTEF will increase involvement in CPS from ten schools to twenty with the opening of Tennis Village.) Of participants in the afterschool tennis program, supported by its academic enrichment programs, XSTEF says on its website that “100% have received full tennis college scholarships,” and achieved “100% college graduation rates.” One XS Tennis player, Taylor Townsend, became the top junior in the world, went on to play professionally at sixteen years old, and recently received attention for propelling herself into the third round of the 2014 French Open, beating out two higher-ranked players. But in selling land to Tennis Village, the CHA drew the ire of activists like Roderick Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, which focuses on leadership and community organizing in Bronzeville. Wilson has no problem with the idea of the Tennis Village, but is concerned that the CHA might use more land for functions other than housing before providing it for those displaced by public housing demolitions under the Plan for Transformation. “I think the point we were making was that before they could give up any public housing land for some
type of commercial development, they should make a plan for replacing housing,” Wilson said. According to him, the CHA had pledged to “bring back” 800 of the 4,400 housing units that the Robert Taylor Homes had provided, but so far has only come up with around 300. “I don’t have anything against the tennis program. It sounds like a noble idea—my issue is with [the CHA] saying ‘I’ll give you one thing,’ and giving [us] something else,” he said. The CHA did not respond by press time when contacted for comment. In addition to providing fitness and academic opportunities for community members, XSTEF pledges to provide $800,000 in jobs for CHA residents and $1.8 million in scholarships for CHA youth at Tennis Village, a hint that XSTEF is not ignorant of the history of its new location, nor of its detractors. XSTEF’s mission is “to provide Chicago’s underserved youth with an enriching safe-haven and positive academic/ athletic pathway to college through a community-based sports and academic enrichment program.” But it’s hard for the frustrated public housing community to laud even a community tennis facility when much of the housing promised by the CHA is still missing.
Learn as You Do “Wxnder Wxrds” at the Hyde Park Art Center BY JULIA AIZUSS
he first word visible was the only instruction necessary. Diagonally down a postersized print, in a large, orange, block type that required deciphering, it read learn. The second word, deciphered, felt like a reward for the viewer’s work: focus, and intersecting it like a word in Scrabble, the Spanish: foco. Initially, it felt like nothing if not subliminal messaging. The crucial move, we viewers found, was to let our guard down and absorb the words on the wall. Once we figured out our task—what do the words say?—we unlocked the task after it: what do the words want us to do? It seems like a natural proposition after viewing it, but that’s a lot of power for an art exhibition, especially one as modest as Nuria Montiel’s “Wxnder Wxrds” at the Hyde Park Art Center: one hallway with eight distinct series, consisting of sets of six smallish prints each, lined up neatly and pressed to the beige wall with white pushpins. The presentation somehow seems too luxurious for the art, which was designed for the background of a city street. Montiel, who’s based in Mexico City, produced these prints during a ten-week residency at the Hyde Park Art Center. Here she honed her practice of participatory printmaking, which she began in 2010, recording the slogans used by protesters in Mexico. Carting her mobile printing press with her around Chicago this past fall, she collaborated with people from many different neighborhoods
to create each site-specific series. She pasted some resulting prints on the walls of the neighborhoods where they were created. The original placements of these prints, Montiel told me, was a way to learn and transform the city. Even the font of the words is tied to geography: Montiel designed it specifically for her Chicago art, combining Bauhaus forms and Mayan architecture with Chicago architecture and Pilsen murals. Taken from their spatial context, the essential quality of each print series remains: they voice the concerns and values of a community and convey them to the viewer through a riot of crisscrossing words which, altogether, form a series of grids that Montiel said were modeled after Chicago itself. “AgriFarm,” a print series made with the nonprofit sustainability organization Sweet Water Foundation, blares, in black, blue, and yellow-green, such phrases as creacion/creation, green, depopulation, carpe diem, and, hilariously, “kale” (with no less than three exclamation points). Simply listing the words makes the art sound hopelessly didactic. The word “explore” occurs in several of the exhibition’s prints, and this command is more faithful to Montiel’s project: the words are found within a mix of symbols, letters, and symbols that turn out to be letters. Words are written backwards, upside down, or both, letters performing double duty for multiple words. Sometimes a word is in Spanish; sometimes it’s in English. Every possible symbol combination has some potential for meaning. The
courtesy of hyde park art center
letters exist for the viewer to muck around in and forge meaning from. The best description for these prints is Montiel’s own: “visual poetry.” “Working in my studio, thinking about the conversations during workshops, I wanted to leave some hidden messages and to include my spelling errors,” Montiel explained. “In the difficulty to decipher the words, the print becomes an abstract map where people can find and also think about their own ideas.” Not only does each print become a playground for the viewer’s own ideas, but these ideas also take form within the prints’ vocabularies. After gazing long enough at “You Are Invited,” a series made with The Franklin, an outdoor exhibition space in Garfield Park, a visitor may well begin stringing words together from different prints within the series, thinking in terms of the attitudes the Franklin wants to introduce to viewers. You have to skate to spread the net. What you must do if you desire the open hood. You are invited to involve suerte. The viewer’s actions complete the community’s original ideas. The art needs
people to activate it. This dependency on audience presents a slight wrinkle. People don’t study images in the streets; they glance and rush past. But if someone glanced and rushed past every day, eventually those days of glances could coalesce into a meaning that they could activate. They would learn, just like the first series encouraged. At the end of my visit to the exhibition, I walked down the hallway again, from “Risk” to “Change” to “Death/Muerte.” And, last, “Art.” When I first looked at the prints, I did not realized that the title of each series dominated the prints, or that arte, intersecting with learn, was even there. I had to learn the way Montiel’s art worked by doing, just like she learned the city of Chicago through her neighborhood wanderings. Now, her art was ready for activation. Nuria Montiel, “Wxnder Wxrds.” Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Through February 21. Monday-Thursday, 9am-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, noon-5pm. Free. (773)324-5520. hydeparkart.org
FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 25
Westworkd’s Style An interview with Diontae Davis
BY JOLA IDOWU
iontae Davis, a nineteen-year-old Hyde Park native, is the man behind Westworkd, a fashion blog and Instagram account documenting young African-American people around Chicago. He met with the Weekly to talk about Westworkd’s origins, his inspirations, and the importance of history in his work. Davis has style himself—he came to our interview carrying a vintage gym bag and wearing a hat, tortoise shell glasses, and multiple sweaters. Davis had requested a space with no people, because he is, in his words, “pure. I talk really loud.” Well, when you have something to say, as Davis does, you may as well shout it. In your own words, what is Westworkd?
How do you find people to photograph?
Westworkd is an outlet for people to become closer, an outlet for communication, and an outlet for African Americans. I focus on their external uniforms. My goal is to capture those uniforms, and, later on in life, write a book on how those uniforms relate back to our ancestors. Also, I focus on people who have broken out of this Westernized way of thinking about the world. I have no Western knowledge at all. I can’t talk to you about Greek philosophers or French Revolutionary Wars; I don’t know anything about that. These braids you have in your hair—I don’t know if they’re called faux braids or faux locks?
Really, I am a stalker. [Laughs] I am a big creep. So pretty much I search people up on Instagram and I’m like, “Hey, you look cool.” Sometimes people hit me back, sometimes people don’t. Now that my work is getting bigger, people actually come to me.
They’re called box braids. Those braids originated from Senegal. So I am just trying to make that known, and I am really going to write a book. Because it is very hard to physically retrain your brain to be like, “You know, I don’t need this straight hair.” It’s very hard, because wherever you go that is all you see, especially with black people. But you should at least know who you are and where you come from, and then it can be your decision if you want straight hair or not. 26 SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY • FEBRUARY 5, 2015
How did you get into photography? Skateboarding. Prior to this I used to skate a lot, but I broke my ankle and I couldn’t skate as much. So I just started taking pictures. And on my computer I went back [through] like a thousand photos and thought, “There is a relation in all these photos, but what is it?” And I was like, “Well, they’re all black and they’re all dressing cool.” My goal is to present more Afros and present more locks. Women are strong, but I just really want to advocate for women who don’t see it. AFROPUNK, all of that New York fan girl stuff—they got their lives. I really want to focus on the girls in Chicago. Chicago is where I am from, so I just want to advocate for these young ladies.
I see men on Westworkd too—would you say it’s also a place for presenting alternative styles for black men too? Definitely so. It is kind of a different approach for black men, since the paradigm is that black women are the most objectified by the media. So I tend to focus on women, because I love women. I want to help her know she has a voice and she doesn’t have to conform to a certain way of living. Who are your inspirations? Rog Walker. The way he shoots his photos, it’s a contemporary way of shooting. The image itself is so quiet and so beau-
tiful, and sometimes I feel like you have to love being quiet so you can like being around people, and he just shows that so much. And he’s doing what I’m doing now, but more subconsciously. He shoots a lot of black people. Any last words before we end? I really do have love for every single one of you. Like right now, once you press that red button to stop recording, I really do want to get to know you. [If you] see me on the street, say “hi.” Buy me coffee or I’ll buy you coffee, doesn’t matter. I really want to get to know you. Also, drink your water and eat your fruits and vegetables. That’s important. FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 27
The Princess Who Went Quiet tackles explaining incarceration to children
A Voice for the Invisible
BY AMELIA DMOWSKA
courtesy of bianca diaz
ords spread through her lungs like vines, and blossomed from her mouth like flowers,” writes Bianca Diaz in her beautifully illustrated children’s book, The Princess Who Went Quiet. Words and stories—with their ability to transform, to illuminate, and to empower—are a central theme of this short tale about a princess who falls asleep while trapped within a dragon’s belly, but who later learns about the power of stories to strengthen family ties and escape invisibility. “This world needs you to tell your stories. They need to learn how to speak and find each other,” Diaz continues in her book. With her story, Diaz seeks to
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help children and parents understand how to speak openly about a very different type of enclosure—not within a dragon’s belly, but within prison walls. Through her comic-style-black and white illustrations- Diaz shows how prison is not a self-contained box which one can leave and enter as if it were just another walled room. Rather, it is like a void, where individuals become invisible behind walls—isolated from life, and sometimes families, on the outside—and often remain invisible once they leave. Diaz’s book was distributed at an event on Tuesday in the Grace Episcopal Church in the South Loop, organized by a number of activist groups
seeking to find more effective solutions to reducing youth crime than arrest, detention and incarceration. But the dialogue extended far past The Princess Who Went Quiet. The groups in attendance included Project NIA, Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, and 96 ACRES. Before the distribution of the book a panel of brave women shared their own experiences related to incarceration and its effect on their families, discussing the importance of speaking openly about prison with children in order to diminish the tendency toward feelings of shame and ostracism. “How do you tell your child you are going away for the second, third, fourth time?” asked Colette Payne, who
“This world needs you to tell your stories. They need to learn how to speak and find each other."
is an advocate for women through the CLAIM Program of Cabrini Green Legal Aid. Finding the right words to tell your children that you must leave them for another stretch of time seems almost impossible, and many women lack the support and resources to have their children cared for while they’re away. Children grow up confused and scared, Payne explained, wondering why their parents left and whether they were to blame for their departure. Another speaker, Josephine, has been out of prison for twenty-eight years, but the effects of her confinement have stayed with her. At the time of her incarceration, she placed her daughter under the care of relatives, unknow-
ingly entering a decade of legal battles to reclaim her right to care for her own child. She urges more education and support for women, so that they are fully informed about child-care laws and the options they leave. When women are released from prison, struggles might include the loss of housing, the difficulty of locating secure employment, and estrangement from their children. Another woman on the panel explained that after her initial sentence, she asked her brother to tell her children that she had “gone away to college,” and pleaded with him not to bring her children to see her because of her feelings of shame. “I didn’t want them to see me here, inside this glass box, and terrify them
even more.” All five women on the panel agreed that all of us need to start speaking differently about prison, conversing openly with our children, friends, colleagues, and politicians—to them, this is the only way to combat the culture of shame that surrounds prison. “As a society, we still aren’t properly articulating what prison is and why it exists,” says the founder of Project NIA, Miriame Kaba. “The questions we should be asking are: why are certain people always in prison? We need to include systemic oppression as part of the discussion, and we need to move away from placing blame on the individual action, but instead start talking about
the system which only punishes certain people for performing this action.” After an internship with Project NIA, Diaz started to think more about the ways to empower youth by speaking openly about prisons, encouraging community members to share their stories. The Princess Who Went Quiet is the product of her work with incarcerated youth and parents, and it is meant to encourage families and communities to connect by sharing their own stories about incarceration. “Nobody deserves to be made invisible,” Diaz writes. Open words, acceptance, and shared stories can ensure that these individuals are not forgotten.
FEBRUARY 5, 2015 • SOUTH SIDE WEEKLY 29
A comedian plasters CTA trains with absurd ads about squirrels, lost love
Squirrels on a Train
BY ADAM THORP
he inside of a CTA train car is blanketed with ads. Companies hawk products and pharmaceutical studies need subjects; a red-state governor wants Illinois businesses to migrate. Some of the advertising is in the public interest: riders are told to donate organs and give money to worthy causes and encouraged not to drink under-age. We are also, naturally, warned against potentially psychopathic squirrels. Chicago comedian Ben Larrison and his Chicago CTA Project added that last alert to the commercial clamor. Larrison raised a little more than $4,000 from ninety-one Kickstarter supporters to put a pair of comedic ad campaigns into one hundred Red Line cars—one out of every four. The ads went up January 15. The “Facts about Squirrels” campaign warns commuters about the dangers posed by the ubiquitous rodents (sample copy: “Statistically speaking, at least one ‘person’ on this train is actually seven squirrels dressed up in human clothing. Can you spot him/her? #SquirrelTruth”). His other campaign, “...Vanessa?”, tries to woo back an imagined ex named Vanessa by citing personal accomplishments, like overcoming a dog allergy or wearing button-down shirts (“It’s a good look for me, I think”). A vote by the Kickstarter contributors picked ...Vanessa? and Facts
about Squirrels out of six campaign choices, winning them a spot on the trains. Facts about Squirrels attracted the most votes, and represents the vast majority of Chicago CTA Project’s ad buy. Larrison said he is pleased by the #SquirrelTruth phenomenon, which has spread across Twitter. “My absolute favorite are the people who are just utterly bewildered and totally confused. Someone on the first day of them being up posted what I think is still my favorite—I think it was a tweet. All it said was ‘What the actual hell? #SquirrelTruth.’ I really, really, really enjoyed that,” Larrison said. Larrison’s pitch for the project presents the joke as a chance to push back against omnipresent advertising, and to lighten the load on oppressed
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commuters. “It’s kind of eerie if you take a step back—like, if you look out the window right now—how many different places involve marketing. So it seemed nice to be able to reclaim a little bit of public space and take it away from marketing and do something fun and silly with it,” Larrison said. The Facts about Squirrels campaign was meant to look professionally done, according to Larrison, mimicking the frantic sincerity of public service announcements on a crusade against lead paint or manspreading (when a male spreads his legs to show his crotch on the subway). The pared-down style of the ...Vanessa? ads was inspired by ads with a very personal target and a scattershot approach: a wedding proposal featured on a bus depot billboard and
a website created to try to rekindle an old flame were two of Larrison’s examples. The project’s existence is a joke in itself; the word “absurd” comes up a lot when Larrison talks about it. But a $4,000 price tag can make a good gag—say, nonsense ads on the CTA—seem suspiciously earnest. For Larrison, Kickstarter circumvented that problem; lots of small donations put the whim back into whimsical, and put advertisements promoting desperate love and squirrel paranoia in Red Line cars from Howard to 95th/ Dan Ryan. “I think it can definitely be funny, even after the fact, (to think), ‘Someone put in the effort to do this thing,’” Larrison said. “The act of going through the whole process itself is kind of absurd.”
The People Could Fly and Other Tales of Freedom Chicago playwright and director premieres musical at the Beverly Arts Center
courtesy of beverly arts center
BY ROBERT SORRELL
ear Natchez, Mississippi there is a small grove called “The Devil’s Punchbowl.” There, peach trees grow heavy with fruit that remains uneaten, made unpalatable, supposedly, by the knowledge of what happened there right after the Civil War. The story, reinforced by a few local papers and historians and adapted in a new musical The People Could Fly and Other Tales of Freedom by Carla Stillwell, tells of “concentration camps” set up in this grove where formerly enslaved people were forcibly kept until they expired from starvation and malnourishment. They were buried, so the story goes, where they dropped, their bodies fertilizing the ground for the peach trees that now overrun “The Devil’s Punchbowl.” Stillwell, a director and playwright whose play Bodies won a Black Theater Alliance Award for Best Play, and composer Shawn Wallace (who has worked with Common, Ice Cube, Erykah Badu, and others) paired up for this musical, which combines the “Devil’s Punchbowl” lore with an African-American folktale. The musical premiered Friday and Saturday at the Beverly Arts Center this past weekend, and, while Stillwell did concede that there are plans to put the musical on again at some point, she was not able to say where and when quite yet. The People Could Fly has quite a small cast for a musical—six—and cor-
respondingly the orchestra section, at least this weekend, was left out in favor of a single keyboard. Nonetheless, through dynamic staging that kept the actors moving across the stage, and courtesy of the strong voices Stillwell and Wallace found for the oldest characters, the production was more brash
louder. The overseer comes over and orders her to quiet the child. She tries, but to no avail, and the overseer brings his whip down upon her back, and consequently on the day-old baby. Near her in the field, an older man named Toby sees what happens and takes her aside. He tells her that he knows an old secret:
The musical makes unabashed use of the vagaries of storytelling, staking its ground not on the literal truth, but on the metaphorical and the creative truth. than sparse. Quinton Guyton, who played Toby, and Deanna Reed-Foster, who played Misses, were especially wonderful, their powerful voices amplified in the small space of the BAC. The second story that went into the script—the part that involved people flying—is a popular African-American folktale. As Stillwell adapted it, it begins with a young woman named Sarah who, after giving birth the previous day, is forced to work in the fields with her day-old baby on her back. Unable to feed or hold the child while she works, Sarah sings to keep the infant from crying. However, as the day wears on, the child begins to cry louder and
he can fly, and she can too. Toby begins to sing in Yoruba, a Nigerian language, and after teaching Sarah, he turns to the rest of the enslaved workers and urges all of them to sing, to sing and fly, far away from that plantation. In Stillwell’s version, Toby and the others fly all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, arriving safely back in Africa. In the version popularized by Virginia Hamilton in her book The People Could Fly, Toby sacrifices himself to allow the others to escape. Stillwell’s musical version takes out this tragic note, turning the scene where the workers fly off the plantation into one of the most rousing and exuberant numbers in the produc-
tion. All the voices on stage meld into a mellifluous yet pounding ballad—even for those in the audience who didn’t understand Yoruba, the meaning was not diminished in the least. Yet, despite this change in the play adaptation, The People Could Fly does not make light of the situations and issues it confronts. At the end of the show Stillwell did not allow the actors to come out and take a bow; she said that she finds the practice akin to saying “thank you everybody, none of this is real,” and asserted that “it seems distasteful.” Yes, the actors are acting, but, as Stillwell noted in a Q&A session after the premiere (many of the questions were asked by small children), the musical makes unabashed use of the vagaries of storytelling, staking its ground not on the literal truth, but on the metaphorical and the creative truth. The People Could Fly and Other Tales of Freedom is quite short; the play clocks in at around thirty-five minutes, mirroring the mere six weeks it took Stillwell and Wallace to churn out the script, music, and lyrics. But for a musical—especially one aimed at all ages— it is surprisingly affecting. Regardless of whether or not the peach trees at “The Devil’s Punchbowl” actually rest on a mass grave, and whether or not people can actually fly, Stillwell and Wallace’s production is quite real—as are the issues it depicts.
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Hypnotic Brass Ensemble returns to Chicago
BY AUSTIN BROWN
hen I sit down to talk with Gabriel Hubert (or Hudah, as he prefers to be called), one of the four trumpet players in the eight-piece Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, he is wearing a standard set of black and grey jeans and jacket, an unassuming outfit punctuated by a pair of carefully chosen bright red boots. He speaks with precision and concision on topics like entrepreneurship, education, and how to make a living in the music business. Now, he chooses his words carefully and doesn’t rush into a topic. But when I saw Hudah a week earlier, he was shouting “She makin’ it hot” over and over again onstage with a crowd of other band members over a funklaced trumpet line. For the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, a jazz-funk collective comprised of the eight sons of jazz legend Phil Cohran, the business of music is necessarily intertwined with the artistry: changes to the music have to be made in response to audience reactions and market size. In the band’s January 15 show at Hyde Park’s Promontory venue, this dynamism is obvious: when on stage by themselves, the band members sprawl out, remaining organized while each shows off his individual personality. But when the special guest of the evening, De La Soul, enters, the band finds a way to pack into a fraction of the space they originally took up, letting the 1990s hip-hop icons take center stage. While other musicians, especially those working in or near the jazz tradition, try to reject this problem of the audience or work against it, Hudah avoids the conversation by being
courtesy of the artists
upfront and pragmatic. He freely talks about the ways that the band has, at various times, added in or taken out elements of their sound depending on how audiences have reacted to them. But these changes in sound are never sacrifices—in fact, for Hypnotic, the way that the audience interacts with the music is integral. This almost populistic engagement with the audience, both as a market and as individual people, is part of what sets Hypnotic apart and adds social relevance to their work.
or Hudah and his brothers, pragmatism is the key in both performance and lifestyle: the band has returned to Chicago only after years spent building connections in New York, where they moved in 2004 because of the increased scope of audience and musicians there. “Chicago is only so big,” says Hudah, “so our decision to move to New York was based on our ability to sell ourselves and market ourselves in a better way.” Now the band has returned to
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their home city to take advantage of the market here, supporting both developing musicians in Chicago and nationally renowned bands like Blur, Prince, and De La Soul, with whom Hypnotic Brass has lasting connections. When Hypnotic left Chicago they were still playing outside shops and on the streets, busking to make a living, but now they have the experience of playing venues like the Sydney Opera House. This experience, says Hudah, has given them an impressive network from which to gather collaborators for their burgeoning South Side Music Series, of which the aforementioned Promontory show was the first (sold-out) installment. Music has always been a part of the band’s life: having grown up together with a jazz deity for a father, they’ve worked as a band for longer than the members of some bands have been alive. They began as the Phil Cohran Youth Ensemble when they were children, traveling the world with their father and playing for luminaries such as Nelson Mandela.
Cohran had all the brothers wake up at around six o’clock and practice on their brass instruments before school, a process Hudah described as trying for a child but eventually rewarding and integral to the band’s current dedication and ambition. Hudah also speaks openly about the period of time some of them spent involved in gang activity. He admits there was a period of time when the band members did “foul things,” a time when, as he frames it, they were using the hard work and discipline they learned in the band for something negative rather than positive. The turning point came after one day with a friend of his in high school. “One of my friends went home to his parents after hanging out with me and got a whupping at the age of seventeen,” he says. “If I’m that bad of a person to where a teenager almost in college life can get a whupping for hanging out with me, there must be something that I’m doing wrong.” This event and others like it drew the octet back together, and back to music.
When Hypnotic left Chicago they were still playing outside of shops and on the streets, busking to make a living, but now they have the experience of playing venues like the Sydney Opera House.
ow the band is committed not just to becoming renowned musicians but also to being role models to people—especially children—currently struggling on their native South Side. On their tours around the world Hypnotic has offered classes and workshops to children, teaching them about careers in music and the arts. Now, having returned to Chicago, they’re beginning to bring these same workshops to students in Chicago schools. They hope to offer an artistic path for children, one that reintroduces the power of music and art into the lives of African-American children for whom music has been taken out of school life. Hudah decries the current lack of the arts (especially music) in American education, and, more generally, pushes for what he calls the “education of self-determination:” an education that would teach children to pursue their passions and be rewarded for their interests. He’s quick, however, to dismiss the idea that he’s looking to change the ed-
ucational system on a grand scale. “I would be beating my head up against the wall to try to change the system,” he says. Nonetheless, it does feel like what Hudah recommends and wants is a dramatic paradigm shift. The band recognizes the power they have to shift perceptions through their presence, both as positive role models and as counter-evidence to the prejudices against urban life in America. Hudah makes it clear that the band considers themselves ambassadors, “not just for the South Side, but for impoverished people anywhere on the planet.” He never hesitates to state the full scope of the band’s aspirations with Cohran-like grandeur: “Our goal,” he states, “is to become household names here in America. Once we do that, we can become household names across the planet.” He seems sure that that enormous goal is achievable, and with the drive and confidence that the Ensemble exudes, both on the stage and off it, it’s not hard to believe.
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Afro-Sino Chamber Seeks to Close a Culture Gap Rasaan Liddell’s small room holds big plans BY ZOE MAKOUL
asaan Liddell, executive director of the newly founded Afro-Sino Chamber of Commerce, jokes that if someone were to run their fingers over the Chamber’s articles, their hand would come away smudged with ink. The Chamber’s headquarters on South Wabash Street were only completed last December, and consist of a multipurpose room and a medium-sized table where Liddell’s young son sometimes does his homework after school. Although the nonprofit organization is just starting, its goals are big. The Afro-Sino Chamber of Commerce aspires to acquaint two cultures and communities with each other: the African-American and the Chinese. One of the Chamber’s programs, the Chinese Cultural Initiative, is designed to reinforce African-American students’ knowledge of the Chinese language while educating them about the modern Chinese community. Personally, Liddell describes a need to “do justice” in representing two communities that he identifies with closely. On a pragmatic level, too, the Chinese market is growing quickly and reaching to America for business, and African-American youth need jobs. As Liddell explained at the Chamber’s Chinese Cultural Initiative Open House on January 24, the program aims to teach Mandarin. While language programs like the Chinese Cultural Initiative are fairly standard, the wider ambitions of the Afro-Sino Chamber of Commerce are a bit more creative. In 2014, the nationwide unemployment rate for the African-American population hovered around ten or eleven percent, compared to the national average of five or six percent. Liddell argues that the Chinese Cultural Initiative is a step toward closing this gap. The initiative is split into three modules. The first module is called
“#BridgetheDivide,” which aims to teach participants about China, and foster an understanding of global citizenship through interaction with fellow Chinese-studying peers and the local Chinese community. In the second module, “Confucius Says,” Liddell hopes to send twenty high-school students to Beijing and the Sichuan Province, providing a cultural immersion experience and, Liddell hopes, increasing their marketability to colleges by demonstrating their interest in global affairs. But the most interesting part of the initiative is the third module, the Chinese Corner. Based on the “English Corners” of China, the Chinese Corner would allow students who are currently studying Chinese to converse with native speakers, discuss Chinese current events, and could lead, with enough participation, to the opening of the Chamber’s Putonghua Academy, which would offer Chinese reinforcement every day after school. For members of the Chamber, the Chinese Corner is free. For non-members, a donation of twenty dollars is suggested. Liddell stresses the importance of learning the language of an employer or business partner. “That’s how we gain employment in our communities,” he says. “We really need to focus on ourselves and the way we present ourselves, and comport ourselves, and educate ourselves, and take care of ourselves.” Liddell hopes that allowing African-American youth to hone their Chinese language skills will make them more competitive candidates for jobs with Chinese businesses or American businesses looking to extend their reach. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese dialects combined) is the second most commonly spoken non-English language in the U.S., closely behind
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Spanish. Chinese is being taught in schools across Chicago, but Liddell wants students to engage with the language as something more than a required course. “Let’s switch this around,” he says. “We’re not looking at this like a laborious task, we’re looking at it like an opportunity.” Liddell hopes that getting students who have already been exposed to Chinese to converse with native speakers about Chinese current events will engage other young people and spark their interest in global affairs, while giving them the tools they need to find work in the international market. By increasing interest in—and understanding of—Chinese culture among African-American youth, Liddell wishes to eradicate the misconceptions that he says sometimes discourage African-American-Chinese partnerships. A native Chicagoan, Liddell is concerned with neighborhood polarization. “Several years ago,” he explains, “Chinatown bordered an area—an African-American community—that was extremely impoverished. Here,” he says, outlining a square with his hands, “there was Chinatown, and then right across the street we had this public housing complex. They got a bad experience.” Abroad, Liddell taught in Sichuan Province for over a decade, and he was struck by the lack of African-American peers. “Unfortunately, since we’re not there being represented, the only information the Chinese have about African Americans (specifically and particularly African-American males) is what gets displayed in the media. And what I’ve come to find out is that more often than not, the negative stuff gets propagated and expounded upon more so than ‘local guy graduates with straight A’s.’” Liddell is not alone in his goals. Two months ago, the Chamber was
asked to participate in the decennial celebration for Walter Payton College Preparatory High School’s Confucius Institute. Liddell has also been a guest lecturer at Lindblom Math and Science Academy. And the open house attracted a number of passionate parents and students who are eager to connect with other cultures. Two young native Chinese women made an appearance, communicating solely in Chinese— they’ll be teachers in the potential Putonghua Academy. Also in attendance were curious community members such as Joseph Greene, a language enthusiast who heard about the event from a friend on the Eventbrite website. Greene cites his previous travels abroad as inspiration for his love of languages. Like Liddell, Greene sees similarities between the African-American and the Chinese experience, especially in how the two cultures are portrayed to each other. “In both cultures,” he says, “there are more similarities than differences. Just push yourself to go outside your own box and environment and expand yourself.” Despite the excitement at the open house, the informal atmosphere was a reminder of the newness of the Chamber. In the context of African-American underemployment, learning Chinese seems to represent, at most, a niche solution. But the Afro-Sino Chamber of Commerce’s Chinese Cultural Initiative is pushing forward in its idealism. The very first Chinese Corner was held on January 31, and Liddell was pleasantly surprised by its success. Besides a group of adults eager to discuss China and foreign policy, the program attracted a few students from St. Ignatius High School and six primary school students, ages four through eight. Soon, the chamber may need a bigger room.
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Fantasy Writ Large
Level Eater 5.0 teleports into the Co-Prosperity Sphere BY STEPHEN URCHICK
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urator Ed Marszewski grabbed me by the shoulder. “You have no idea how seriously these kids—,” he checked himself mid-sentence, nodding at the grey heads in the crowd, “these old men take this!” By “this,” Marszewski refers to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the theme of that evening’s happening (an art form in which the audience participates in a real-time performance). Hosted by the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport, this fifth installment of the “Level Eater” series continued the tradition of using a regular gallery opening as an opportunity to run pen-and-paper role-playing sessions until four or five in the morning. Combining medieval-themed food-trucks and local craft breweries with visual art installations and live performances, “Level Eater” essentially magnified the basic idea behind a typical gaming session: get people who believe in your fiction into the same room, and work with them to radically reconstitute that space. When first looking at the character portraits that Matt Hilker contributed to “Level Eater,” there’s an immediate impulse to shrink back from their excessive detail and decorativeness. The articulation of each chainmail link, an archer’s unique crescent-shaped arrowheads, the million little individualized pouches and caskets on a lady’s utility belt all err towards a kind of fantasy kitsch. The conditions of the event’s staging help explain Hilker’s work. Friendly chatter about character skills builds over dark beer and the several Magic: The Gathering games being played all at once furnish some necessary and helpful context for the uninitiated. All of these people in your appreciative scrutinizing are themselves invested in bringing their imaginings into real terms. They do much the same work as every artist in his or her chosen medium. Hilker’s art openly cites a real practice of generating character sketches as a way to index and keep track of how a player’s persona develops over what could be a months-long, open-world game. The problem sometimes is not trusting in the fantasy, but remembering all the little things—the reality effects—that
make it so lush and vibrant to players. It’s important that Hilker’s portraits are not illusionistic. One easy response to grappling with the imaginary quality of a role-playing experience would be to adopt a hyper-real style. (This is a technique that videogames, for example, attempt as an industry standard.) Hilker’s deliberate stroke, his mark with his various tools, is present all throughout his designs; the figures are not rendered with photographic authenticity. They are, instead, remarkable accountings of histories and symbols crafted by a readably human presence. Artists Stephanie Burke and Jeriah Hildwine were responsible for the site-specific, larger-thanlife “Tormented Rebirth” murals on the Co-Prosperity Sphere’s far wall. Burke said they both had been introduced to the happening by former “Level Eater” curator Michael Garcia, while Hildwine added that “Level Eater” had, in turn, introduced him to pen-and-paper gaming, and exhaustively at that. “We played what was basically my first game ever, that lasted— like—three days!” Burke was generally satisfied with the art on the display, arguing that there’s a substantial cohort of artists who are informed by role-playing experiences, but treat them as trivial “bullshit.” “It’s interesting seeing artists actually address that material,” she said. The two panels of “Tormented Rebirth” are fantasy writ large. The protagonist of the monochromatic mural is undergoing a painfully slow mutation into a flame-gushing dragon, and finally bursts forth in the second panel to level a city from above. Hildwine credits the lyrics painted into the pieces (“What once was breath/Now sears like fire,” “Is this immutable change/Is it my new life?”) to a friend’s band out in Flagstaff, Arizona. These words declare the work’s intention to interrogate the notion of self-transformation, which “Tormented Rebirth” does at more than just the literal level of the song. By scaling up to the dimensions of the room, “Tormented Rebirth” signals that the process of growing beyond
STAGE AND SCREEN
Poll Watching Training for the Chicago Municipal Elections Dr. Lora Chamberlain will provide free poll watching training Wednesday, February 4 at the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, helping those who wish to volunteer at the polls during municipal elections on February 24. Dr. Chamberlain, known in part for her anti-fracking advocacy, has helped watch Chicago’s polling places for the past twelve years and can answer questions ranging from how to get voters to the polls to how to report irregularities. Attendees are encouraged to read the election manual ahead of training and bring a pen and paper. The training is limited to 178 people. RSVPs are encouraged via Facebook. Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted St. Wednesday, February 4, 6:30pm-8:30pm. (Clyde Schwab)
Chi-chi Nwanoku has conquered one of the largest and most daunting instruments in the world: the double bass. One of the most famous double bass players in the world today, she has performed and recorded with Europe’s most esteemed musical ensembles. Barrie Gavin’s engrossing documentary portrait, Tales from the Bass Line, recounts the challenges of how Nwanoku, a London-born youth of Nigerian and Irish descent, worked her way through Britain’s classical music sphere to achieve virtuosity. The film, presented by Black Cinema House, is sure to enthrall with not only the tale it tells but also captivating performances of Haydn, Elgar, and Dvorak, and others. Nwanoku herself will be present to answer questions after the film. Black Cinema House, 7200 S. Kimbark Ave. Monday, February 9, 7pm. Free. RSVP recommended. blackcinemahouse.org (Felicia Woron)
Fruitvale Station Screening and Discussion
Short Films of Shirley Clarke
Examining racial politics and the “school to prison pipeline” for young black males, Gallery 400 will host a screening and discussion of Ryan Coolger’s Fruitvale Station. The film documents the shooting of Oscar Grant III (played by Michael B. Jordan), an unarmed black man, by a Bay Area Rapid Transit Police officer in San Francisco. It received critical acclaim, winning the top prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The Chicago Teachers Union, Teachers for Social Justice, Black Lives Matter, and the Social Justice Initiative will join the discussion afterward, covering budget cuts, school closings and racial disparities in Chicago’s justice system. Gallery 400, 400 S. Peoria St. Thursday, February 12, 5:30pm-8pm. Free, RSVP recommended. gallery400.uic.edu (Clyde Schwab)
The Film Studies Center is screening a collection of films by Shirley Clarke, described by Manohla Dargis for the New York Times as a “dancer, bride, runaway wife, radical filmmaker and pioneer,” who was inspired by “the dance of life.” Drawing inspiration from architecture and fellow dancers like Anna Sokolow, Clarke expresses on film a range of emotions of unparalleled intensity and beauty through movement. Using locations from Paris to bull fights to the beach, and eclectic music, Clarke pushes the boundaries on dance as an art form in itself and couples dance and film to challenge and become acquainted with each other. The films of Clarke—as Dargis says, “one of the great undertold stories of American independent cinema”—that will be shown include: Dance In the Sun, Bridges-Go-Round, Skyscraper, and A Scary Time. Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St. Friday, February 6, 7pm. Free. (773)702-8596. filmstudiescenter.uchicago.edu (Cristina Ochoa)
Rally for Reparations
your own skin—the kind of imaginative identity construction that role-playing sells—is something that nominally acts at an epic, totalizing scale. Hosting a game “explodes” the spatial and temporal conditions of your living room in much the same way the mural’s fictive monster flattens a town. Hildwine argues that “Tormented Rebirth’s” monumentality has an additional, tone-setting dimension, citing a history of previously huge “Level Eater” installations. A game’s storytelling dungeon master might invoke these grim, granite faces to characterize what’s next to come for the adventurers. The similar size of “Tormented Rebirth” helps to foreground its proposal that
role-play dominates an environment as a central issue for the “Level Eater” happening. Hilker, Burke, and Hildwine— through particularity or grandiosity—all deal in the impulse that keeps artists and art beholders alike at a single game for seventy-two hours and propels “Level Eater” into its fifth time going. The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rulebook that “Level Eater” celebrates is essentially a chance to run creativity through a complex network of conventions and get outside of yourself in the process. The “Level Eater” happening levels up the circumstances under which AD&D normally occurs, allowing us to think harder about the wyrm-winged life the series offers.
Chi-chi: Tales from the Bass Line
According to the organizers of Rally for Reparations: A People’s Hearing, over 110 African Americans were shocked, raped, suffocated, and beaten under former Police Commander Jon Burge and his detectives. For over a year, the Reparations Ordinance, designed to provide compensation and assistance to those still suffering from the trauma of this torture, has been stuck in the city’s Finance Committee, with no hearing scheduled despite the fact that even the United Nations Committee Against Torture has called on the U.S. to recompense victims and pass this ordinance. The Rally for Reparations is a response to the lack of progress on this issue. In addition to the rally, there will be a public hearing featuring survivors of Burge’s torture sharing their experiences and community leaders discussing what this ordinance hopes to accomplish. Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St. Saturday, February 14, 1pm-3pm. (Akanksha Shah)
Second Annual Celebration and Community Recognition Ceremony To commemorate Black History Month, the Far South Community Action Council and Olive-Harvey College have teamed up to present a ceremony honoring the citizens, educators, and elected officials doing the most to impact their communities “through advancing education, community engagement, and student leadership” on the Far South Side. The Second Annual Celebration and Community Recognition Ceremony will feature food and live entertainment as well as a keynote speech by City Treasurer Kurt Summers. Olive-Harvey College, 10001 S. Woodlawn Ave. Saturday, February 7, noon-4pm. ccc.edu/colleges/ olive-harvey (Osita Nwanevu)
Tongues Untied Marlon Riggs’s semi-documentary film Tongues Untied portrays black gay culture at a time when black gay men were marginalized, oppressed, and vilified from all sides of society. The film has been praised as much for a genuine representation of its subjects as its unique structure, which mixes documentary footage, narration from Riggs’s own experiences, spoken word poetry, and music. While it was made over twenty years ago, Tongues Untied remains relevant today and continues to create opportunities for conversations around a culture that too often remains silenced. Black Cinema House, 7200 S. Kimbark Ave. Friday, February, 6, 7pm; doors at 6:30pm. RSVP requested. blackcinemahouse.org (Eleonora Edreva)
Notorious: Chicago Film Club Screening and Discussion They say to separate the personal from the professional. But rules are broken in Notorious when three people involved in an espionage operation also get involved with each other. Alicia Huberman, played by Ingrid Bergman, is recruited by Cary Grant’s character, government agent T.R. Devlin, to go undercover in Brazil and seduce the leader of a displaced Nazi group. Set in Rio de Janeiro, Notorious is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best-known forays into the complex dynamics of love. The Chicago Film Club will be screening the film and facilitating a discussion as the last installment in its Hitchcock series. Come and expect adventure; danger is only a film reel away. Daystar Center, 1550 S. State St. February 10, 6:30pm. $5.
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Coffee and snacks provided by Overflow Coffee Bar. (312)674-0001. daystarcenter.org (Kristin Lin)
E. 59th St. Sunday, February 8, 7pm. $5. (773)7028574. docfilms.uchicago.edu (Eleanore Catolico)
Portrait of Jason
Waiting for Godot
As the camera closes in on Jason Holliday’s flirtatious grin, the hustler makes the audacious proposition that he “can make you feel that you’re the most desirable human being that ever walked this earth.” Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason (1967), to be screened as part of Doc Films’ Film as Subversive Art: Amos Vogel and Cinema 16 series, is an intimate, cinéma vérité documentary of Jason Holliday, the charismatic gentleman persona of Aaron Payne, a gay African-American male prostitute in 1960s New York. Inside the living room of Jason’s Hotel Chelsea penthouse apartment, Clarke captures on the screen the man’s scintillating aura and his boyish charm, offensive at its peak. As Jason recalls stories of orgies, imprisonment and addiction, Clarke interrogates his street outsider pose, her disapproving voice heard off-camera. A deep exploration of race, class, and sexuality, Portrait of Jason exposes how a man’s self-created myth is his only real, uncompromising truth. Doc Films, 1212
This season, Court Theatre takes on absurdist play Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The story follows two moody vagrant men, who are (you guessed it) waiting for a mysterious Godot. The tragicomedy has been interpreted in countless ways since its 1953 premiere. Court’s interpretation comes from accomplished director Ron OJ Parson, and the cast includes regulars A.C. Smith, Allen Gilmore, and Alfred Wilson. After Parson’s work on Seven Guitars in 2013, audiences will be waiting to see his returning direction at Court, whether or not Godot shows up in the end. Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. January 15 through February 15. $35–$65, discounts available for seniors and students. (773)753-4472. courttheatre.org (Sammie Spector)
Missing Pages Lecture Series Did our high school history textbooks cover
everything we needed to know? The DuSable Museum doesn’t think so. Aiming to reveal the people, places, and events that haven’t gotten proper credit for shaping history, the lecture series “Missing Pages,” which started November 20 and runs through March, is designed to address larger themes of politics, culture, race, and personal identity. The largely unknown figures and topics will be presented and discussed by nationally known speakers, and while their subjects never received much recognition in common memory or the media, now they take center stage. All this series asks of its audience members is that they remain open to what they might not have known and be willing to pick up a pencil and fill in history’s forgotten pages. DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Pl. Through March. Various Thursdays, 6:30pm. $5. dusablemuseum.org (Emiliano Burr di Mauro)
VISUAL ARTS Seeing Red Charlie Hebdo may have stirred intense debate in France, but in the U.S., editorial cartooning has quieted in recent years, as mainstream newspapers increasingly replace politically provocative pictures with more generic, syndicated cartoons. Out of the heart of this discussion emerges “Seeing Red,” an exhibition and political poster workshop with Wisconsin-based labor cartoon duo Gary Huck and Mike Konopacki. Merging illustration with computer-generated images to cover labor movements, welfare reform, as well as a whole host of social injustices, Hugh and Konopacki promise a most colorful evening of cartoon collage. UriEichen Gallery, 2101 S. Halsted St. Friday, February 13, 6pm-10pm. Free. (312)852-7717. uri-eichen.com (Josephine Geczy)
Until it becomes us Rituals—actions and beliefs prescribed by traditional, regulatory performance for the sake of individual progress—are both personal and communal. Jesse Butcher, an artist and current photography instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, intends to showcase his investigation of these private rituals, beliefs, mantras, and longings in his solo exhibition, “Until it becomes us.” This is Butcher’s first solo exhibition in Chicago since 2010, sure to be a culmination of his most recent exploratory work, which starts from the claim that we are all “cognizant islands longing for a personal Pangaea.” Ordinary Projects at Mana Contemporary Chicago, 2233 S. Throop St., fifth floor. February 20-March 20. Opening reception Friday, February 20, 6pm-9pm. ordinaryprojects.org (Zach Taylor)
Objects and Voices: A Collection of Stories Rummaging through a family attic, you might find collections of past significance that have accumulated with the long-settled dust. After seeing these disparate objects in the same space, patterns of meaning begin to emerge. “Objects and Voices” is exactly this type of eclectic collection, a celebration of the objects both forgotten and validated by time. Curated by a diverse array of individuals ranging from university professors and artists to graduate students and professional curators, this show is the second of the Smart Museum’s fortieth anniversary exhibitions. Curator Tours, led by some of the twenty-five collaborators featured in the exhibition, will give you a foray into micro-exhibitions like “Fragments of Medieval Past” or “Asian/American Modern Art.” It might be worthwhile to add this exhibition to your own collection of memories. Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave. February 12-June 21. Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm; Thursday, 10am-8pm. Opening reception Wednesday, February 11, 7:30pm-9pm. (773)702-0200. smartmuseum.uchicago.edu (Kristin Lin)
Wxnder Wxrds Gallery 5 at the Hyde Park Art Center currently
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features recent work by Mexico City-based artist Nuria Montiel. Pieces included in the exhibition, titled “Wxnder Wxrds,” were produced during Montiel’s 2014 Jackman Goldwasser residency at HPAC, during which she brought her mobile printing press—La Imprenta Móvil—to various public sites around Chicago, including Sweet Water Foundation, Hull House, and the National Museum of Mexican Art. Monteil engaged visitors at each site in conversations on art, politics, and civic life while making her prints, which transform bits of collected dialogue into abstract visual poems. Through public production and installation of the prints around the city, Montiel’s project explores the relationship between art and social participation. “Wxnder Wxrds” exhibits Montiel’s prints and installation documents, as well as reflections on the artist’s community-centered creative process. Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Through February 21. Monday-Thursday, 9am-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, noon-5pm. Free. (773)324-5520. hydeparkart.org (Kirsten Gindler)
I Am American This land is your land, this land is my land. From sculpture to paint, from first-generation immigrant to Native American, twenty-five artists explore the different dimensions and definitions of American identity. “I Am American” is a traveling exhibition that, by virtue of its destinations across the U.S., challenges viewers to reflect on their own place in the nation and what it means to inhabit a space with people who may not share the same answer. In Chicago, the exhibition will be housed at the Zhou B. Art Center. Go with questions about the exhibition’s title. Chances are, you’ll emerge with more than twenty-five answers. Zhou B. Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St. Through February 14. Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm. (773)523-0200. zhoubartcenter. com (Kristin Lin)
People at Work Michael Gaylord James has captured the workday tasks of people around the world in photographs taken over the course of fifty years. Beginning in Chicago, James carried his camera everywhere from Cuba to Ireland to the late USSR, snapping pictures of the glamorous and the not-so-glamorous on the daily grind. Though this might seem like a mundane topic, beware of underestimating the intrigue of this show, for these aren’t your typical nine-to-fives. In photos selected from a larger collection, you will see President Kennedy in a motorcade, the unseen kitchen hands of Chicago, Muddy Waters, and James Cotton playing music, dancers, mechanics, and many others on the job, all frozen in an almost eerie moment of monotonous movement. Take a break from your own job and visit “People at Work” to witness first-hand how beautiful everyday life can be. Uri-Eichen Gallery, 2101 S. Halsted St. Through February 6. Closing reception, 6pm-9pm. Additional hours by appointment. (312)852-7717. uri-eichen.com (Dagny Vaughn)
Mathias Poledna The Renaissance Society is currently celebrating its hundredth anniversary. Their most recent showcase, the finale to this first century, not only celebrates the past decades of audiences and artists galore, but also considers, and dismantles, the very structure of the Renaissance Society’s gallery. Literally. Los Angeles-based, Viennese artist Mathias Poledna has removed the gallery’s steel truss-gridded ceiling, an emblem (and tool) of the space since 1967. He is the first artist to physically alter the gallery, asking viewers to consider both iconoclasm and the nature of material property. This altering of the gallery will be supported by a 35mm film installation. The Renaissance Society’s invitation to Poledna to demolish the iconic grates, as well as the co-production of his film, stems from its readiness to enter its second century as a leading modern art gallery. Poledna’s work—highly concentrated film stills and their contextual contemplations—creates a dialogue between the historical legacy of the
CALENDAR Renaissance Society and the avant-garde artworks within it. The Renaissance Society, 5811 S. Ellis Ave. Through February 8. Tuesday-Friday, 10am-5pm; Saturday-Sunday, 12pm-5pm. Free. (773)702-8670. renaissancesociety.org (Sammie Spector)
Ground Floor Marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Hyde Park Art Center, “Ground Floor” features artworks from prominent Chicago MFA programs, creating a biennial showcase of emerging talents so new they haven’t even begun their careers yet. The twenty artists, selected from over one hundred nominations, represent a wide range of mediums, forms, and universities: Columbia College, Northwestern, SAIC, the UofC, and UIC. These artists have also had the chance to exhibit at September’s EXPO Chicago in HPAC’s booth. This unique program, showcased throughout the entirety of HPAC’s ground floor gallery space, offers the chosen artists a helpful push toward a career in the art world; “Ground Floor” alumni include two artists who have recently displayed artwork at the Whitney Biennial. Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Through March 22. Monday-Thursday, 9am-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 12pm-5pm. Free. (773)324-5520. hydeparkart.org (Sammie Spector)
Boys Will Be Boys There aren’t many things in this world sadder than the sight of a stripped Christmas tree shivering by the dumpster in January. While the smell of pine may linger on the pillows and curtains for a few days, most would say it’s time to move on from last month’s jolly excess and consumption. With an onsite installation featured at the Ordinary Projects, however, Kasia Ozga brings the Christmas tree back into the new year with commentary on the events of the year past. Her giant sculpture of fifteen Christmas trees will challenge the ordinary conception of those skimpy green branches to trigger reflection on ties between consumerism and racism in America, including recent events of police brutality. After an encounter with “Boys Will Be Boys,” you might never look at your Christmas tree’s “unchanging leaves” the same way again. Ordinary Projects, 2233 S. Throop St., fifth floor. Through February 6. Gallery hours TBA. ordinaryprojects.org (Amelia Dmowska)
MUSIC Pre-Valentine’s Day/Aquarius Birthday Bash It may no longer be the Age of Aquarius, but one week before this Valentine’s Day, the stars will align to bring you a very special evening of house music at the Promontory. This power-packed lineup, coordinated by “Promontory After Dark” DJ D’Rob, includes a laundry list of local “House Heavyweights,” with sets by DJs Bro Mac, B Creamer, and WHPK’s Most Valuable Player, the one and only Track Master Scott. If you want to dance away the winter blues until the wee hours of the morning with some of the South Side’s most talented DJs, there’s no better time to do so than this Saturday. The Promontory Chicago, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. Saturday, February 7, 9pm. $5 in advance, $10 at door. 21+. (312)801-2100. promontorychicago.com (Juliet Eldred)
feature performances by Illinois darlings Fletcher, Halfmoon Mad, and AudioBakery, along with DJ sets by marathon, Aztec Vector, and many others. The work of seventy-five local artists will be on display, and the event will include a “LIVE ART BATTLE!!!”, whatever that means. Hedonistic dreams are made of these, it seems—don’t miss out on this carb-fueled creative circus. Reggies Chicago, 2105 S. State St. Saturday, February 7, 8pm. $5. 21+. (312)949-0120. reggieslive.com (Olivia Myszkowski)
Solace Souls Sundays Open Mic This week’s Open Mic at the Spoken Word Lounge in Bridgeport is shaping up to be a celebration of epic proportions. In honor of the event’s host Jeronimo Speaks, “Jeronimo’s Birthday Bash” promises an evening filled with music and entertainment, and, as always, the linguistic acrobatics of muse-infused spoken word poets. The Spoken Word Lounge is a venue for musicians, poets and artists of all kinds to connect with the lively, enthusiastic audience; food and drinks will accompany the festivities. Solace Souls Sundays Open Mic will continue every week until March 22. Spoken Word Lounge at Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 W. 35th St. Sunday, February 8, 6pm. $10. (773)690-0099. thespokenwordlounge.com (Sophia Sheng)
Asaf Avidan Following a grueling tour schedule, Asaf Avidan rented a single room in Tel Aviv—not a recording studio—and made a record. The resulting project, Avidan in a Box, is Avidan (mostly) alone with his guitar and his voice. The vocals on display in this box-album are Avidan’s primary calling card, moving seamlessly from a scratchy pseudo-howl, to a purer, silvery tone. That signature sound is recognizable on DJ Wankelmut’s remix of Avidan’s “Reckoning Song,” a track that got significant airplay in 2012. As he promotes Avidan in a Box and his more recent 2015 album, Gold Shadow, Avidan will stop at Thalia Hall on Wednesday, February 11, where he’ll play with Chicago-based rising songwriter Quinn Tsan. Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport St. Wednesday, February 11, 9:30pm, doors 8:30pm. $25 in advance, $28 at door. (312)526-3851. thaliahallchicago.com (Elizabeth Bynum)
Tigran Hamasyan The Tigran Trio will soon perform in Hyde Park as part of the UofC’s “Jazz at the Logan” series. The trio features pianist Tigran Hamasyan, drummer Arthur Hnatek, and bassist Sam Minaie. Hamasyan, born in Armenia and a piano player by training, was something of a child prodigy. His creative output has only increased over the years as he’s established himself on the international jazz stage. Hamasyan is influenced by a broad spectrum of artists and styles, including Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, folk music, and classic jazz. In recent decades, he has proved himself repeatedly in contest and festival performances to be a musician of the highest caliber, and his recent trio endeavor should only serve to underscore that reputation. Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St. Friday, February 13, 7:30pm. $35; $5 UofC students. (773)702-2787. chicagopresents.uchicago.edu (Elizabeth Bynum)
Pancakes & Booze Art Show Batter, booze, and body paint—has there ever been a more titillating combination? For the organizers of the Pancakes & Booze Art Show the answer is, resoundingly, “no.” On February 7, this LA-based underground art movement will bring its intoxicating blend of live performance, art exhibition, beer, and all-you-can-eat pancakes to Reggies for a night of rowdy nonsense. The evening will
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