In the past few years, H.L. Anderson has exhibited work at several galleries throughout the South Side and beyond, from the Bridgeport Art Center to Rootwork in Pilsen to the Chicago Cultural Center. But, her latest endeavor is closer to home—her own H.L. Anderson Arts & Culture Studio in her home base, Washington Heights. She opened the studio in September 2017 with the exhibition “An Angel Called Junebug,” and with the studio, she’s also started conversations about what an arts community in Washington Heights can look like. One of those conversations has resulted in vision boards that she’s set up around the studio.
First, recap how these vision boards came about.
My goal was to invite community residents of Washington Heights who live, work, or play here to converse with me about their thoughts, their vision, their dreams for our community. Since Washington Heights covers so many different areas, I wanted to just say, “What about just around here, within this eight-block radius, what do you want to see?” And so that just went into a lot of different discussions. This two-day workshop that was done last November in H.L. Anderson Arts & Culture Studio invited people to really think and dream and have a vision for where we are. A lot of it included: we want businesses, we want entrepreneur programs, job training programs, we want arts and culture, we want more political engagement—not that we wanted politics, but they wanted political engagement. We want the alderman to be more active, the state rep—all of these different entities to be more engaged outside of their normal way of doing business. So that’s what some of this represents, and we had about sixteen people total doing this and it was called “A Vision for Washington Heights.”
We teamed up into groups: so, who wants to do arts and culture? These three over here. These three who were interested in safety, right here. Entrepreneurs…And this over here represented kind of the more artistic and creative sides. So, just like any other community areas, they want more health and wellness, arts and culture, business, all of those kinds of things. We just teamed up and used the supplies here to create it. I fed everybody well and gave folks a travel stipend even though they live in the neighborhood, but I think that’s important too. This was going to be something I present to our alderman to see what he thinks, how we can utilize aspects of it, or how we can present it to the town hall meetings.
Last year Chicago Community Trust was seeking proposals for their individual on-the-table grants. I was one of the recipients for my community area. I think that because it’s so far southwest, there’s not a whole lot here; it tends to be a very retired kind of sleepy neighborhood. It doesn’t have the same level of community violence as maybe some of the other areas.
Anytime I ask folks “Stop by my studio!” or “I live in Washington Heights,” the first thing they say is: “Where’s Washington Heights?” [laughs] Actually, when we were in conversation during this workshop, a lot of the people who actually live here said, “Oh, is that what this community area is called? I thought it was called Brainerd, I thought it was called this…” Yo, those are neighborhoods, the actual community area is called Washington Heights. We realized we don’t know a whole lot about this community—we still need to learn. And from this project I am going to move into another project I’m working on called “Where Is Washington Heights?” Where is it in terms of actual placement, location, economics, sustainability, culture—where are we? And who are we?
What were your intentions with your first exhibition, “An Angel Called Junebug,” and what sort of art was in the space?
It aligned with the grand opening, because I actually had this space last July. But I needed time to come in and paint. So, I said, “Well, I’ll have my grand opening be September 23, and just to let people know, here I am,” people that I love, people in the neighborhood, this is H.L. Anderson. This is my little studio.
And then, as I started thinking about that, it just came to me that: no, you’re going to have an exhibit in here, too. So then that’s how that came. And what type of exhibit—as I was painting, and trying to get things ready in here, I started having all of these flashbacks and memories of guys that used to help me and my mother and my grandmother back in the day.
You may not have had all the funds to get a big contractor with men or women to come out. But for twenty-five dollars, they’ll help you paint, they’ll do this or they’ll do that. So I just started really thinking about those types of guys, and how relevant and how significant they are in all communities.
My Spanish friend told me, “Oh yeah, I know someone like that, but we called them June.” That’s what she said. So everybody kind of knows, he may have a different name, but just how vital and in many ways very underappreciated this type of person is. I just wanted to use this whole space to do that, and using found objects to tell that story.
So, right here I had paint cans hanging from the ceiling, and I was like: “Man, I wish this ceiling was really tall so I could really do the things.” So, it wasn’t as elaborate as I wanted. Just different things: work-shoes, a washing board—all of these different things spoke to this person’s story that I created in here, but that’s also real.
I want to also ask about the things that decorate the space that aren’t a part of that exhibit, but are the base things that are holding down the space. When we walked in, you had incense burning. I was wondering if you could explain those things: how have you set up your space here?
First and foremost, this is my artist space. And I am a crystal-wearing, burning incense, candle-lighting type of woman. I’ve always been like that. That energy of preparation, of setting the tone, of ritual is just very important with me before I do anything, whether it’s engaging with myself, or with other people. I do that. I put the Florida water down, I try to sweep, I set intentions for the day, and burn the incense.
Similar to Rootwork, Tracie D. Hall is always setting intentions for the space.
Tracie D. Hall is definitely someone that I admire, and she’s been an inspiration. I met her around 2016, she and this other woman named Tracy Kostenbader—she has this place called AnySquared. She does this thing where every Wednesday, people can come in, and it’s kind of an open studio. You can make stuff, you can talk. She’s very grassroots, activism. She does murals, she holds community meetings, and everything is whatever you want to do on Wednesdays. And then Theaster Gates.
So really, thinking of Theaster Gates, the two Tracys—they, back in the day, really gave me the inspiration to say that I can do some stuff the way that I want to do it, how I want to do it, and you can use any space to activate that. It doesn’t have to be the traditional gallery, white-wall thing—or it could—but that we could utilize the things, the materials, the landscapes, the buildings that we have here. Because before we came here, I was at Fulton Street Collective, which was cool. Well, before I went there, I was in my basement. I outgrew that, which my partner is glad for. And then I was up north, which was close to my job. But then I outgrew that, and then I was thinking of Hyde Park. We have a lot of good South Side spaces to have a studio. But then I thought, “No, I’m going to just get a storefront in my neighborhood, and that’s going to be my studio, and I’m going to do what I want in there.” And that’s essentially what I’m doing.
But I’m also really deeply trying to understand how I can utilize my studio practice to work, help, heal communities, too. That’s a big thing, too. And that brings us to this table over here: every Sunday is what I call—I used to call it Community Day, now I just call it Unity Day. And anybody can come in from three to five-thirty, and just get a snack. I have snacks in there, and the snacks always change every week. Some of them are healthier than others. I have donuts, I have cookies, chips, I also have a lot of fruit in there too, and if somebody wants to just come in, I’ll have people just come in after church, grab a bag, say hello to me, and keep going. I have other people that’ll stand right there and just talk and that’s cool. And I’m always having music playing, so people sit down. I have this guy who was part of this workshop, the Vision for Washington Heights workshop, he comes in pretty religiously, and he plays the guitar that I have here, or he brings his Casio [keyboard], and he just jams all day. So I’m like, dude, this is your studio, I mean, forget me. And we laugh about that, but I want this place to at least be my thing that I do, and then be able to open it up and provide a space for others that’s free.
And the other contents on the table?
This table is set for Sunday, for people that want to use supplies to create something, make some art. Sponges, acrylic paint, I’ve got glue, I’ve got homemade paper. I’ve got everything. And this right here is something that I’m working on now, and it’s not nearly finished, but this next exhibit is called “Spare the Rod: Do Black Lives Really Matter?” And that is going to be using found objects, kind of like what I did with “Junebug.” It’ll use belts and stitches and switches and all of this shit that people use to spank children, whoop children, beat children. I want all different types of people in here, whether you’re pro or against, whatever, doesn’t matter. And I’m going to have a little small panel discussion right there too, really talking about, you know, do we have any other resources that we could use? And how detrimental this can be. Let’s just talk about it! I’m not shaming nobody, because Lord knows, we gon’ have some spanking mamas and daddys in here talking about, “But you got to—!” I’m prepared for that and I understand that.
This is another little painting that a one-year-old did on Halloween. I kind of like it, little abstract, little blues and stuff with some of the acrylic paint. Then she sat on her mother’s lap and painted, and kept painting, and she loved painting. This tub was part of the exhibit too, the “Junebug” exhibit, and so was this. Again, using found objects with mixed media: the hammer, acrylic paint, and just part of the “Junebug” exhibit. This was some kind of masonite, and then, some photo transfer. But I wanted it to be kind of ghostly or whatever, to kind of evoke the spirit of men from the past.
You took us through the past, present, and future of the space, so what about the logistics? If people want to come by and do stuff, when can they come?
Every Sunday afternoon from like 3pm–5:30pm, sometimes 6pm, anybody from anywhere can just come in here and do whatever they want, within reason. Listen to music, sit, chill, talk. We can talk about whatever you want to. Whatever you want to do, you can kind of do it in here. If you want to create, that’s fine too. And I’m not gonna tell anyone to pull up their pants, or any of that nonsense either.
I am looking for artists to expand Unity Day. I haven’t advertised, so it’s whoever finds out, walks by, wants to come in—sometimes it’s one person, sometimes five, sometimes ten, sometimes it’s just me and the ancestors in here—because it’s been more of a spiritual thing. But next month I’m gonna do more promoting and marketing. I’m looking to expand. I want live musicians to come; right now I just play music, but I would love to have, you know, a violinist come. Especially in the spring and summer. When we did “Junebug,” not only did we have the exhibit here, we had an old-school blues guitarist sitting right outside on some crates, playing some great blues, and people loved it. It was an outside-inside kind of thing. That’s how I see this. Because this place is small, and it’s really hot in here in the summertime. I’d want to have a cellist out there, a harpist, a violinist, a guitarist, somebody who plays hard rock—you know, different types of stuff—I’m looking for that.
What do you think about more traditional spaces—like the Beverly Arts Center, which is relatively nearby—for creating art or learning the skills to make art?
It’s all necessary. Traditional and nontraditional. You have people who would never go there, and you have people who would; we all need to have a place for that. I love the Beverly Art Walk, where all these businesses and art come together, it’s all things art that weekend; and likewise in Hyde Park, The Silver Room has this big festival—it’s just lit! It’s all these people, these artists, it’s live music—I want to do something like that here. It doesn’t have to look the exact same, but we can have that. It’s not as service-rich as some of those areas, like Beverly or Hyde Park, but we can still do it in our own way. How will that look? We need to talk about that.
H.L. Anderson Arts & Culture Studio, 9451 S. Bishop St. Unity Sundays 3pm–5:30pm or so. “Spare the Rod: Do Black Lives Really Matter?” opening Friday, June 15, 7pm–9pm. Hours by appointment. (312) 485-2009. Suggestions, artistic or otherwise, welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. hlandersonart.com