A March afternoon in Chicago where sunlight pools in from all directions and warms the city’s cold concrete is rare, and the vibe in Little Village matched the day’s warm atmosphere. The building where Yollocalli Arts Reach hosts an artistic safe haven for primarily Latinx high school students is just as vibrant: a vintage building covered in graffiti art with colors like mustard yellow and bubblegum pink. This space, which partners with the Little Village Boys and Girls Club of Chicago, has the kind of energy that only youth can have.
You won’t catch Nikko Washington storytelling through the mic like his Savemoney crew members.
Diana Quiñones Rivera is a filmmaker from Puerto Rico who moved to Chicago in November 2015. While she was a 2016 fellow in Kartemquin Films’ Diverse Voices in Docs program, she lived in Woodlawn for a year before moving to Avondale. Her new short film “D on the South Side,” which was screened in January and February as part of Collaboraction Theatre’s winter festival, deals with her time living in Woodlawn. “It was tough living in Woodlawn,” Rivera said. “I guess I didn’t expect it to be as segregated. I knew it was segregated but I didn’t think it was going to be a place where I would feel uncomfortable, and it [was].” Invited to make the film by the organizers of long-running weekly performance series Salonathon, Rivera’s experience with Woodlawn’s racial dynamics were a good fit with the Collaboration festival, which was titled “Encounter.” Its focus was on “racism and racial healing in Chicago.”
Where does art live?” we asked in last year’s Arts Issue, exploring city initiatives, programs, and arts spaces throughout the South Side. This year, in this collection of reviews, interviews, profiles, photography, and visual art, above all we spotlight the voices of the artists themselves, asking: “Who’s responsible for that life?” Whether it’s the museum docent who introduces art to children from all over the city, the artist-curator starting a conversation about what an artistic community in her neighborhood can be, or the visual artist who emerged from the Savemoney collective, we hone in on the individuals—the everyday and the exceptional, the seasoned veterans and the young up-and-comers—who pinpoint what their communities need and how they can serve them.
As the old cliché goes, artists must “find their voices.” The rap duo Mother Nature, on the other hand, already know what they want to say. The two will waste no time telling you what they stand for: they’re a “badass group of MCs, coming to conquer the world through Black girl genius.”
After one of Katherine Davis’s tours at the Smart Museum, she gathered her group of two dozen students around Emmanuel Pratt’s wooden art installation outside of the main gallery. To evoke a connection between blues music and the art in the museum, Davis led a call-and-response rendition of “Let the Good Times Roll.” It worked. The whole group clapped, sang, and even danced along. Between Davis’s rich voice and her vibrant energy, this was not your ordinary docent-led museum tour.
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.
Two weekends ago, high school poets from across Chicago took to the stage for the finals of the Louder than a Bomb (LTAB) poetry slam, a competition that seeks to engage the city in the “pedagogy of listening,” as Young Chicago Authors marketing manager José Olivarez says. Olivarez has been involved in LTAB since 2005: while he began as a student participant in the festival, he’s now working to make the slam an annual reality.
Daniel Borzutzky’s new poetry collection Lake Michigan slides from the familiar to the fictional in the space of one line, so quickly you might almost miss it. In the collection’s opening poem, “Lake Michigan, Scene 0,” the poet writes, “And the mayor said…we can no longer have empty schools we can no longer have / failing schools we can no longer have public schools we can no longer have public / bodies.”