Art is happening here and now on Chicago’s South Side

This fall, the University of Chicago and HyPa (the Hyde Park Alliance for Arts & Culture) are teaming up to create opportunities for local visual artists to show their work while transforming unoccupied commercial storefronts on 53rd Street between Harper and Blackstone avenues. The joint initiative, Art Here Art Now, will showcase temporary, high-quality and thought-provoking window art installations and a practicing artist studio that will be open to the public.

The effort is meant to highlight the South Side's vibrant arts scene and help make 53rd Street an inviting destination for artists. For many Chicago residents, the South Side's arts tradition is something of a mythic past rather than an active present, said Theaster Gates, a visual artist and Director of Arts Program Development in the Office of the Provost.

"But today," said Gates, "South Side arts organizations and visual and performing artists are challenging the presumption that the South Side is a historical lesson for the arts, and they're doing so in new and imaginative ways."

Bringing in more working artists and lovers of art should benefit the entire neighborhood, said Michelle Olson, Director of External and Government Affairs in the Office of Civic Engagement.

"We have been looking for ways to attract new audiences to Hyde Park and add to the vitality of the streetscape," Olson said. "We took inspiration from other Chicago neighborhoods like Wicker Park, the Loop, and Pilsen, which have successfully shown how art can function in empty storefronts, adding to neighborhood vitality by activating unused spaces and connecting community to the art-making process."

Art Here Art Now is one of 12 projects being featured in the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs' 2010 citywide Chicago Artists Month. Artists Marty Burns, Cydney Lewis, and Melissa Weber will create site-specific installations and welcome the public into their studio space from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays throughout October, at 5226 S. Harper Ave.

Weber, who sits on the board of directors for the Hyde Park Art Center, proposed the idea of bringing art-making to community spaces where the public could engage with artists and the creative process. Weber describes her own work as "sculptures that are driven by a curiosity of the unknown and evolve over time through experimentation, serendipitous discoveries, and a process of editing and re-editing."

Visual artists Andr'e Callot, MFA'08, Danielle Paz, MFA'09, and Jillian Soto also have installed exhibitions in four storefronts on 53rd Street. Peter Zeigler, the groundskeeper of Harper Court and the former Harper Theater building where Art Here Art Now is housed - also will participate in the exhibition. Zeigler, a self-described outsider artist, has maintained President Obama's former barbershop, which also will be on view.

This year's Chicago Artists Month theme is The City as Studio, which looks at how Chicago's urban environment affects artists and their work and how artists contribute to the life of the city. A light installation called Projecting Modern at Robie House is another of the 12 selected sites.

"We are really excited to have an opportunity to activate under-used spaces on 53rd Street," said Gates. "By partnering with HyPa, the Office of Civic Engagement, Logan Center initiatives and community partners, including the Hyde Park Art Center and Little Black Pearl, we have been able to identify artists throughout the city and on the South Side who have amazing ideas and are well suited to imagine the potential inherent in the these beautiful structures.

"This effort is the beginning of what we hope to be ongoing arts activity in unused spaces, and a growing ambition to see artists and arts and design organizations celebrated on the South Side."

Scheduled events at the site include Art Here Art Now launch parties from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 1 and Saturday, Oct. 2, and a talk with the artists at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16. The talk will provide an opportunity to engage the artists in conversation about the nature of their work and to begin a broader discussion surrounding the availability and accessibility of art spaces on Chicago's South Side.

"We believe the arts can play an important role in the redevelopment of commercial districts like 53rd Street," said Irene Sherr, Executive Director of HyPa. "The South Side and Hyde Park have a tremendous number of organizations serving artists, and we saw Art Here Art Now as a chance to come together to address the need for exhibit and studio working space for artists in the area," said Sherr.

HyPa, known for organizing the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, was founded in 2009. This 50-member-plus arts organization works to enhance, support, and showcase cultural opportunities in the greater Hyde Park area.

HyPa members include the Court Theatre, the University of Chicago Department of Music, the Oriental Institute Museum, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, the Smart Museum of Art, Little Black Pearl, the Hyde Park Art Center, South Shore Opera Company and the Hyde Park School of Dance, among others.

-Sarah Galer

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