“It’s not the kind of residency where you go off in the woods and think by yourself,” said Tracye A. Matthews, executive director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at UChicago. “How do you think with communities in mind? How is your practice enhanced or fed by community?”
The Center pulls together faculty, students, and staff across the University to deeply engage in issues related to race and ethnicity. Residency facilitators believe artists absolutely have a voice in these conversations.
“I think the role of the artist is to be an instigator, an active participant in a community,” said Isis Ferguson, senior director of engagement and partnerships at UChicago’s Arts + Public Life.
While in residence, artists are given a monthly stipend, administrative support and studio space in the Arts Incubator to use however they want.
“What was most beneficial during the residency program was having a space to make work at a larger scale, which had been an artistic goal of mine for a while,” said 2021 resident zakkiyyah najeebah dumas-o'neal.
Residents can also pursue related research through University of Chicago libraries and archives. Victoria Martinez was able to connect with faculty and students studying the African presence in Mexico—a topic she’d been interested in researching ever since 2011 when she spotted a mural in Veracruz, Mexico featuring Mexican and African people working together in a field.
As part of the annual culminating exhibition for each cohort, Martinez displayed pieces made from fabric dyed with hibiscus flowers—an important ingredient in Mexican cuisine. “You have to allow the material to be what the material wants to be,” said Martinez.
Today, she’s preparing for a solo show at the Chicago Cultural Center that incorporates her dyed textiles as well as interactive displays.
“All that light”
In 2021, a virtual event celebrating Arts + Public Life’s 10-year anniversary began with a reading of each resident's name. Panelists Theaster Gates, Jacqueline Stewart, and Adrienne Brown—all former or current APL directors—were in awe of the impact of the program on Chicago’s art scene. Moderator Tracie D. Hall, executive director of the American Library Association, reflected, “Ten years and all that light.”
Struck by the power of that statement, administrators later approached Hall to curate a retrospective exhibition centered around this theme of “light.”