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Art vs. Mediocrity

From “Humble Beginnings” to Quiet Obsolescence

In 2006, when the art walk gained its first group of organized volunteers, some important initiatives were undertaken:

• As a volunteer in 2006, I proposed the idea of a survey of creative residents that would culminate in a catalog or archive of Chicago artists working in Ravenswood. Ruth Duckworth, internationally renowned sculptor, was one of our more prestigious residents. This would also allow AWR to tailor its programs and events to artists that live and work in Ravenswood rather than devolving into a generic festival or block-party. This concept was elaborated upon in the grant I wrote for opperational funding to the MacArthur-Driehaus Foundation.

• The 2007 *Annual Poster Graphic competition was intended to highlight the diversity of Ravenswood based artists and afford them an opportunity to create a work inspired by their community. The 5th annual arts tour featured a poster with Ted Atzeff’s noir rendition of Ravenswood; the following year Angelica Busque introduced the human element with a whimsical walk down Ravenswood including images of people working, trains, pedestrians and cyclists.

• The creation of the Ravenswood Arts Advocate Award, brainchild of Dave Avery and Mary Pat Studdert. The award would be a commissioned work of art and serve to bridge the artistic community and its manufacturing and small business patrons, and to award individual artists and groups that had worked to sustain the viability of the larger art community. Nominees were to be chosen democratically by the registered artists of the art tour; the award commission given to a Ravenswood based artist.

One of these projects continues. This October 2008, three Ravenswood Arts Advocate awards will be given to The Jane Addams Resource Corporation, Alderman Gene Schulter, and Café 28. In addition, a new award has been created: The Ravenswood Architectural Preservation Award will be given to Sharon and Joe Hayes for the work of Hayes Properties to restore the old factory buildings they have purchased to their former glory — and then some. Hayes Properties also offered space in one of their buildings for “Ravenswood artists without studios” to participate in the 2007 arts tour; this year they are providing space in multiple buildings to their tripled numbers (this is mainly due to the arts tour being open to an abundance of non-Ravenswood based artists).

In the past two to three years there has been an increase in development in Ravenswood Corridor. This trend reflects the larger shift in the growth of service oriented businesses: architects; graphic design firms; tech industries and others. It naturally follows that if/when manufacturing ceases to be a factor in Ravenswood Corridor its zoning will change to allow for more residential living and even higher rents. This potential future, as well as the heavy investment of one property owner, raises some important issues about the value of maintaining space for industrial and art uses and whether corporations perceive their responsibility with regard to their social impact.

Residential and/or profit-only motivated development in mixed use and industrial urban areas affects the arts community by displacing us. ArtWalkRavenswood has no capacity to reverse this trend. They have not maintained existing partnerships, satisfied that a token award will suffice, nor has AWR expended resources towards thinking about or promoting the future arts community through a survey of artists’ needs, public art projects, or partnerships between local businesses and artists.

A compromise is possible between private profit and social investment but it requires the cultivation of relationships. AWR would be especially well positioned to make those connections if it would only occur to them. On the other side of the aisle, artists need to be more vocal about the issues that affect them. We are responsible not only for making art but for exploring ways to educate society to the value of our work. The life of the artist is an investment in creative exploration and the products of that life’s work tell a story greater than the individual. Without space to create, the potential for artistic development is severely hampered. Entire bodies of work, even whole artistic careers, may never have the opportunity to take root and grow.

All though slow to recognize the receding arts community, a significant drop in registered buildings (from 54 – 30 odd) must have stirred some anxiety within the fold. A committee on arts issues has been created to look into our failure to thrive. Arlene Rakoncay (former Executive Director of the Chicago Artists’ Coalition) and Judith Roth (founder of AWR and past president of The Chicago Women’s Caucus for Art) will lead the initial informational meeting on Artists’ Issues. So far, no public notice of the meeting has been placed on the website or in an AWR e-mail.

If you are interested in attending, it will be held on Monday, October 13th (yes, Columbus Day), at the Peter Jones Gallery, 1806 W. Cuyler Avenue, 6:30 PM.