Arts and Public Life initiative announces new artists-in-residence

Susan Allen
News Officer for Arts and HumanitiesUniversity Communications

The University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life initiative, together with the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, has chosen three artists for its 2014-15 artist-in-residence program. In addition, Arts and Public Life has selected the inaugural artists for its new residency program, Crossing Boundaries, which emphasizes collaborative projects.

The 2014-15 Arts and Public Life/CSRPC residents are sound artist Ayana Contreras, new media artist James T. Green and visual artist David Leggett. The inaugural Crossing Boundaries residents are multi-modal artist Alberto Aguilar and performance art collective Honey Pot Performance.

“Every year we are attempting to make the selection process of the residency organic enough so that we keep making room for different kinds of projects and practices, in addition to creating opportunities that artists of color can benefit from,” said Theaster Gates, professor in the visual arts and the College and director of Arts and Public Life. “This year‘s group of artists range in discipline and we are excited to see, with this amount of flexibility, what new ideas and outputs emerge out of spending a year to a year and a half together.”

The Arts and Public Life/CSPRC residency program is open to Chicago-based artists and groups whose work explores issues of race, politics and culture. It aims to advance the ambitions of and opportunities available to artists who are underrepresented in the Chicago and national arts scenes.

During the 10-month program, resident artists have access to rehearsal, performance and exhibition space at the Arts Incubator in Washington Park, as well as access to the academic and research resources of the entire University. Each artist receives a $10,000 stipend and additional funds for materials and programming support.

The residency was established in 2011 as a partnership between Arts and Public Life and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture. The Crossing Boundaries residency supports artists for a five-month period with a $5,000 stipend. Each Crossing Boundaries resident selects a collaborator in a different field whose work can help them to expand their practice. The Crossing Boundaries program is supported by Arts and Public Life and CSRPC.

The five new resident artists succeed 2013-14 artists-in-residence David Boykin, Krista Franklin and Andres Hernandez. During their time at the Arts Incubator, the previous residents sponsored events like 100 Saxophones for Sun Ra, a musical tribute to the legendary jazz artist; convened experimental gatherings focused on themes of absence and emptiness; and organized exhibitions like Library of Love, a tribute to the city of Chicago.

This year’s residents were selected from a competitive pool of more than 150 applicants by a jury of artists, community members and arts professionals.

The 2014-15 Arts and Public Life/CSRPC artists-in-residence

Ayana Contreras is an artist who works in sound. Her artistic process revolves around the idea of creative reuse as a means of building community. She hosts and produces “Reclaimed Soul” on the public radio station Vocalo. The program features an all-vinyl soundtrack from her extensive personal collection, as well as her original audio documentaries about people who are using old items to create new artistic or cultural endeavors. Additionally, she interviews original Chicago soul artists and musicians. Contreras produces “The Barber Shop Show,” a radio show broadcast live from a North Lawndale barber shop, which airs on Vocalo and WBEZ. Contreras was a 2011 Dorchester Projects Resident Artist.


Chicago-based artist James T. Green has developed a diverse practice that includes technology-based media, performance, video and object-making. His work has been shown at EXPO Chicago, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. Green has completed residency programs at ACRE and Chicago Artist Coalition’s HATCH Projects. In 2013, Green helped to organize the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago and, in 2014, was selected to perform at The Chicago Home Theater Festival. Green is currently a designer at Tribune Interactive.


David Leggett is a visual artist and blogger who lives in Chicago. He received his BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design, and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He also attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. His work tackles many themes, including hip-hop, art history, popular culture, sexuality, the racial divide and the self. He takes many of his cues from stand-up comedy, which he listens to in his studio. Leggett runs a daily drawing blog, Coco River Fudge Street, which started in 2010. He has shown his work throughout the United States and internationally, including a recent solo show at 65 Grand Gallery in Chicago. He received the visual artist award from 3Arts in 2009.

The 2014-15 Crossing Boundaries residents:

Alberto Aguilar currently teaches at Harold Washington College in Chicago, where he also coordinates Pedestrian Project, an initiative dedicated to making contemporary art practice more available and accessible to his students. Over time, he has been moved to integrate his various life roles with his creative practice and work within his immediate surroundings rather than a studio space. Using materials at hand he captures intimate discoveries, fleeting moments and exchanges with others in tangible form. Aguilar has given guest lectures at the Queens Museum and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. His work has been exhibited at the Elmhurst Art Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Steven Zevitas Gallery in Boston and Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville Arkansas.


Honey Pot Performance is a woman-focused creative community dedicated to chronicling and interrogating Afro-diasporic feminist and fringe subjectivities. Their work draws on a central notion found in performance studies, black feminist discourse and sociology. For them, non-western, popular and folk forms of cultural performance are valuable sites of knowledge production and cultural capital for subjectivities that often exist outside of mainstream communities. Since 2001, Honey Pot Performance has created multidisciplinary performance works that employ dance, music and theatricality as key art-making tools.