We’ve all heard the term “starving artist” but can you tell our readers about the 21st Century working artist?
I really don’t like the term “starving artist”. Forever, people have thought of artists as either starving or selling their art for millions. This sterotype is one of the things that prevents people from pursuing art for a living. It is the reason many parents don’t want their children to become artists. This “fantasy idea” of artists is not what it is really like. Most artists pursue their art career while they hold down another job. Smart artists figure out what it takes to make a living as an artist & pursue that goal. They get the necessary degree/s & experience, & go forward as in any career choice.
Tell us a little bit about your background/training and how you prepared to run an organization like the Urban Art Retreat.
I have always made art, even as a toddler. Art-making was something I found solace in, my confidence, & safety. I attended art school at SUNY at Buffalo. While in college, I became interested in people, diversity, & social justice issues. I worked my early adult years in the helping profession: on the front lines & in administration at- shelter for battered women, emancipating girls from abuse, working with people with disabilities, YWCA, & much more. When I became tired of bureaucracy- I joined with 2 other artists/activists & formed the Urban Art Retreat as a place for under-represented people to find support. Now this was a place where I could bring together my art, & my interest in helping people, to make a difference!
Describe a typical week at the center. What’s going on over there?
During one week at Urban Art Retreat, we check in visitors from Africa who have been in town for a conference & now want to see Chicago. They rent a room in our women’s residence on the second floor. Some volunteers show up to do their weekly weeding session in the Peace Park we have created across the street. A mother arrives wanting to register her children for our youth program. A volunteer shows up with some donations for our organization. We send some volunteers to visit door to door in the area to tell folks about our programs. On Tuesday & Wednesday we have young children running about while attending outside workshops where they remove weeds, water flowers, make art, & learn about immigration issues. We prepare the gallery room for a social justice issues discussion. On Thursday morning we provide art therapy at a neighborhood residential program for people with mental health & physical disabilities, plus substance abuse issues. We teach an adult art program at CUARC on Friday afternoon. On Saturday we are open for visitors in the gallery We also have a youth program- they go on a Peace Walk in the neighborhood after picking up litter.
Why the North Lawndale community? What attracted you to those demographics?
We were in Uptown before locating to North Lawndale. We got tired of slumlords not fixing the spaces we rented. We considered trying to purchase a building. We looked at several places & decided to move where we felt most needed- North Lawndale doesn’t have as much support for people as they could.
What would you say to a young person who may want to dabble in the arts?I recently offered a workshop for young people considering a career in the arts. I tell people to check things out, don’t limit yourself, & there is more to being an artist than showing in a gallery. I also tell people that art-making is healthy for everyone. If you want to use art as a hobby- go for it. It can relax you & help you learn more about yourself.
What’s coming up in the near future for your organization?
Our organization, totally run by volunteers, is now looking into purchasing the building next door to us, so that we can expand the space we offer as housing for women in transition. It will also allow us more gallery space. Another future plan is to offer more programs for adults who would like to relax making art, and/or learn and heal via art-making.
Organization: Urban Art Retreat
Location: 1957 S. Spaulding Ave. at corner of 21st, just 2 blocks west of the Kedzie stop on the Pink line. Chicago, IL. 60623
Phone: (773) 542-9126