Monday, October 26, 2009

Creativity. Production. Infrastructure.

Guest Blogger:

Barbara Koenen
Artist and Director of Chicago Artists Resource
Cultural Planning Division, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs

The best studio I've ever had was a loft shaped like a lozenge, with windows all around, in an old factory in Bucktown. The building was to be a sanitarium, built by the church next door, but when that didn't work out, the building became a home for light industry (Milwaukee Tool is rumored to have been founded there) and, by the mid-1980s, it housed a couple dozen artists, writers, performers, filmmakers, and other creative folks. It was informal and open, the spaces were very large and very cheap. We shared ideas, opportunities, heat, bathrooms, the hosting of guests and periodic meals. Some folks spaces looked like they were right out of magazine, or a Peter Greenaway movie, others (like mine) were more "rustic". It was a terrific environment...except it was illegal and when it went condo, we couldn't afford it, and we all simply dispersed.

Chicago is full of tales like this and spaces like this, and full of artists who have lived through this. Waves of various arts communities have reinvented themselves to accommodate their need for space in which to experiment, to share and cross-fertilize, and to engage the world at large. Theater companies re-envision storefronts as theaters, artists reinvent apartments as galleries, musicians remake industrial lofts into rehearsal space and stereotypically solitary writers share office space. In the new economy, landlords and developers are seeking creative ways to animate now vacant storefronts. Many of these innovations take hold and create the landscape of future creative production, but many remain vulnerable and unsupported.

Studio Chicago presents an opportunity to really look at the role that space plays in artistic creation -- from the literal artist studio, replete with assistants and curators, to live/work and collaborative spaces, to the city itself as a "studio" in which the experimentation that takes place today affects the development of a neighborhood in the future. Studio Chicago is an opportunity to figure out the essential qualities needed to make a real creative practice in any artistic discipline in Chicago, and what needs to be done to assure this can continue -- from within the art community, and from entities integral to but outside the community itself.

Studio Chicago's core partners are each investigating aspects of these notions over the course of the year -- through exhibitions, publications, discussions,and an array of compelling programs. These will be featured and shared on the Studio Chicago website, emails and blog. The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs is participating in several ways as well:

  • maintaining the Studio Chicago website and blog;
  • focusing programs such as the Artist at Work Forums and Creative Chicago Expo on space and production-related topics;
  • conducting a comprehensive survey of the space and technical assistance needs of all Chicago artists in 2010;
  • renewing focus on CAR of space-related Artist Stories and resources like Square Feet Chicago and the Spacefinder directory;
  • engaging a large and diverse cross-section of participation in issues relating to Creative Industry; and
  • using the lens of Chicago Artists Month to introduce and conclude Studio Chicago next fall.
But given all that, (and I hope you'll explore these programs more on the site and on Thursday at the Artist at Work Forum "Introducing Studio Chicago" at the Chicago Cultural Center) the most important component of Studio Chicago is yet to be determined: the input of everyone involved in the creative, artistic production, from artists and art organizations to urban planners, educators, developers, students, politicians, activists, funders and business associations.
Whether you post an image of your studio on (tag it "studiochicago"), or submit a Studio Story about some aspect of your favorite (or worst) studio, or propose a program to add to the featured programs calendar, or comment on the Studio Chicago blog, these are tools available for you to also examine and articulate your need for space.

Back in 2003, during DCA's initial study of artists, one of them noted that "the space you have determines the work you make."  This is an invitation to determine the space we have, our Studio Chicago.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What is Studio Chicago?

Studio Chicago is a yearlong collaborative project that focuses on the artist's studio.Through exhibitions, talks, publications, tours, and research, participating organizations will celebrate the working artist and reveal their sites of creative production from historical and contemporary perspectives.

With concepts ranging from the "studio as muse," "virtual studios," "street as studio,"and "gallery as studio," Studio Chicago invites participation from artists and the art-curious, beginning with Chicago Artists Month in October 2009, and an Artists at Work Forum panel at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Posts from guest bloggers (artists, curators, and other Studio Chicago participants) coming soon!

Image: Lee Tracy's studio