As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads throughout Chicagoland, most of the culture, news, and community that South Siders take for granted have become unavailable. To fill the gap that the quarantine has created, a number of local organizations have adapted to the times by offering remote news, art, and even (even!) dancing, available online. We’ve spoken with a few of the organizations that are uploading their events into cyberspace and discussed what it takes to provide a semblance of togetherness in these lonely times.
Slo ‘Mo Dance Party
For nine years, Slo ‘Mo: Slow Jams For Queer Fam has run a Third Thursday party at the Whistler in Logan Square, produced by Kristen Kaza and DJ’d by Audio Jack, VITI GRRL, and “a rotation of LGBTQ+ & allied DJs playing R&B, house, hip hop, and disco from the seventies to today,” according to Kaza. Now, they will be continuing their Third Thursdays event online in the form of a live digital dance party, “so that you can still experience the joy of Slo ‘Mo—from your home-o.”
Their first attempt at hosting the event online was this month, on March 19, and producer Kristen Kaza says it received “an enormous response,” with 5,000+ viewers. The party is held every third Thursday of the month at 8pm on Instagram Live and Zoom (details can be found on Slo ‘Mo’s social media accounts). This month, on April 16, the Slo ‘Mo DJs will be joined by The Empress Darling Shear, who will lead dance lessons for viewers.
Slo ‘Mo has created a fund for artists and LGBTQ+ community members in need. Participants in the Slo ‘Mo parties can contribute to these funds by Venmoing @slomoparty or by purchasing “tickets” to the free party on their website.
Rebuild Foundation, the South Shore nonprofit that serves as a hub for artist and University of Chicago professor Theaster Gates’s many initiatives, usually offers free arts and cultural programming at its Stony Island Arts Bank and Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative. Julie Yost, the director of public programming for Rebuild, says that “before closing our sites to help protect against the spread of COVID-19, we offered free programming across our sites every day, from community meetings and dance and music classes to artist talks, film screenings, DJ sets, wellness offerings, and opportunities to engage with some of our collections.” Now, they have partnered with their teaching artists and artists in residence to create virtual arts opportunities for their community.
Every Sunday at 3pm, DJ-in-residence Duane Powell is presenting a Virtual Sunday Service, based on his usual Sunday Service sets at the Stony Island Arts Bank. He is also releasing his sets on Mixcloud, “so people can feel the spirit in their own homes,” as Yost noted.
Every Sunday at 1pm, Rebuild’s wellness practitioner-in-residence, Stacy Patrice, will be conducting a live virtual yoga class on Rebuild’s Instagram. Patrice, who usually leads a free community yoga class at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative each week, will continue to walk participants through yoga and meditation techniques specifically tailored to helping people find healing ways to express themselves during this time.
Like most people and organizations, Rebuild’s programming is changing week by week. To stay updated with their virtual programming and find archived material from their past online events, you can visit their website. Yost encourages South Siders to “reach out to us with resources or suggestions for online engagement that may provide clarity and support during this time.”
The Silver Room
The Silver Room boutique and gallery, located in Hyde Park, is adapting to quarantine by moving two of their events online. Eric Williams, who founded The Silver Room in 1997, says that the Silver Room decided to move some of their events online “a few days before we knew we had to close.” He invites readers to follow the Silver Room on social media and sign up for their newsletter. “We welcome folks to contribute content and ideas.”
Every Thursday from 1-2pm, the Silver Room will be hosting a weekly webinar, the Silver Room Sessions, “as a way to connect the community.” The webinars will be led by Williams and John Robinson (the CEO of BackUp leadership coaching), and is titled “Navigating Small Business for Artists + Entrepreneurs.”
Every third Thursday, they will host their storytelling night, “Grown Folks Stories,” through Zoom from 7–9pm.
Quarantine Times, via the Public Media Institute
The Public Media Institute is a Bridgeport-based nonprofit that runs the Co-Prosperity Sphere, Lumpen Magazine, and Lumpen Radio (WLPN 105.5 FM). In response to the pandemic, it has created The Quarantine Times, a newspaper, art, and radio outlet that can be found online. Nick Wylie, the managing director of the Public Media Institute, said that The Quarantine Times was created with urgency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We started talking about it about a week ago, brainstormed a structure last [Wednesday], confirmed we were going forward last Friday, and started calling editors that night,” Wylie said. “We launched the site and started working toward new content last weekend.”
Every day, The Quarantine Times commissions and publishes one project by a local artist. These projects are displayed on their website alongside a calendar of past projects and reflections by commissioned artists on how they’re getting through the pandemic.
Every Sunday, members of the Co-Prosperity Programming Council will be posting content to The Quarantine Times.
Every day, all day, the Times broadcasts radio content online and on WPLN 105.5 FM. The content is hosted by Lumpen Radio’s usual DJs, but they’ve “added a hotline for anyone to call in and leave a message about how they’re doing. [They will] edit and air the best ones.”
The Quarantine Times will continue putting out art, news, and radio content until the end of the pandemic. They invite listeners and readers on the South Side to “send us projects that we can help glow brighter.”
The Quarantine Times. quarantinetimes.org
smallWORLD collective, which hosts free pop-up parties all over Chicago, started two years ago with a weekly event called “E N E R G Y.” The collective had been hosting it in different spaces across the city until earlier this month, when quarantine went into effect. In a statement to the Weekly, smallWORLD said they’ve moved their parties online because “before the COVID-19 crisis, we were a free party every Sunday night for years and we watched it grow into a safe, reliable, and necessary space for Chicago’s Queer community. As soon as the order came through to close Chicago bars and other facilities, we immediately refused to let that very important space wither away.”
So every Sunday from 8pm to 11pm “while social distancing is in effect,” smallWORLD is hosting a virtual dance party “for ‘Womxn and their buddies!’” accessible live on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. During the event, Chicago DJ and smallWORLD co-founder DJ Dapper will take listeners and dancers on a “uniquely blended musical journey.” Forty-five minutes of the event is devoted to Q&A and discussions on non-monogamy and polyamory. smallWORLD will also be releasing a “QPOC Polyamorous-focused podcast,” accessible through a Patreon account.
smallWORLD said that their virtual events make it possible for “everyone [to join in], and that’s been the really beautiful thing about all of this.” Their Sunday “E N E R G Y” parties are open to “our regulars who attend our weekly party in person, families at home blasting our live stream in the living room, allies and newcomers who haven’t had the chance to attend an event IRL, and strangers turned family from all over are able to tune in, and catch a vibe and sense of community auditorily and via the comment sections!”
WHPK 88.5 FM, “The Pride of the South Side,” ordinarily broadcasts live radio shows 7am–midnight every day, with a rotation of archived shows playing during their off hours. But because DJs can no longer access the WHPK studio, the station has moved to broadcasting archived material twenty-four/seven.
Archived shows were added to the WHPK schedule last year and happened to be a perfect solution for adapting to quarantine. They were originally added to the schedule by current WHPK station manager Andrea Tabora and former station manager Nik Varley, “as a backup for no-shows to avoid dead air, and as a way to broadcast overnight.”
In the future, Tabora says that she hopes to add new, pre-recorded shows to the station’s quarantine broadcasts. She says that “[we’re] trying … but I’m still getting a hang of the automated program. Once I figure out how to do this, we can hopefully have DJs who are able to pre-record their shows send in new shows.”
In the meantime, listeners can tune into WHPK around the clock to hear archived shows from the station’s past. Archived shows include rare WHPK specialties like Pure Hype (live performances by Chicago bands, recorded in the studio), Radio Dada (chaotic sets where DJs are encouraged to break all the rules of easy listening), and Focus Shows (a full hour of one particular artist or label).
Pride South Side
Pride South Side is a festival that, in its own words, “centers the experiences of black and brown LGBTQ folks on the Southside of Chicago.” In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pride South Side developed Pride South Side Studio (P3S), an initiative that provides “short term gig work to community artists affected by the COVID-19 Crisis.”
P3S will officially begin the week of April 7th, but artists and other content creators can apply and sign up to do work for P3S now at PrideSouthSide.com. Pride South Side also welcomes “other businesses, organizations, nonprofits and entrepreneurs to submit content to the platform to promote their organization’s work and educate consumers on resources for the community, at PrideStudio.live.”
Record stores have closed their physical locations, but many have decided to offer curbside pickup and/or home delivery. The Reader has compiled a list of Chicago record stores, and what each is doing to adapt to the pandemic, available on its website.
Kyle Oleksiuk is a former staff writer for the Weekly. He last contributed an interview with WHPK DJs Brenda Phillips and Linda Hall in April 2019.