What began as a conversation about building the Woman Made Gallery community and the challenge of the seeming exclusivity of the art world has manifested into a truly special project within the city of Chicago. In celebration of Women Made Gallery’s 20th Anniversary, 20 Neighborhoods has taken on the unique task of working within 20 different and vibrant neighborhoods throughout Chicago, many of them lacking in access to arts programming. To make this a reality, Woman Made Gallery partnered with twenty Chicago community-based, arts-based, and housing organizations to create an art exhibition based on Chicago women’s individual and collective experiences and aspirations for their homes, families, neighborhoods, communities, and city.
With the help of teaching artists, teaching assistants, partner organizations, interns, and countless volunteers, 20 Neighborhoods has successfully introduced a diverse group of individuals to an array of artistic skills and abilities, as well as created space for new conversations on self, home, community, and city. Since June, Woman Made Gallery has hosted found-object assemblage sculpture workshops for participating women, and in some cases youth, at each organization’s location, which will culminate in an exhibition of all the participants’ art pieces, writing, additional project documentation, and a group-created site-specific installation at Woman Made Gallery in October of 2012. The exhibition will be one of 12 featured programs for Chicago Artists Month.
As many of the teaching artists have noted, participating artists have been extremely excited and eager to work with the various provided art materials bringing personal objects from home for incorporation. Not only have these women been creating found-object assemblages, they have also been introduced to very specific artistic techniques that many were not familiar with, such as gel medium transfers and paper making. Many artists have incorporated these newly learned techniques into their own work. Using the themes of “self”, “home”, and “community” as catalysts to develop their artwork thematically, the artists have also had opportunities to reflect on themselves, their families, and their visions for their neighborhoods and communities.
Teaching artist Kristina Tendilla shares the words of her workshop participants at Benton House in Bridgeport: ‘“It’s great because we get to make…us” said 12 year old Amaya. Her mother echoed this. Quite a few of the ladies expressed that they’re grateful to be able to designate time for creativity in their busy lives through this workshop. Even the women who admitted that they don’t consider themselves to be ‘artistic’ or ‘creative’ felt at ease creating works that represented them- one participant referred to the project as “creating a piece of myself”.’
The overarching goal of the 20 Neighborhoods Project has been to use the space and resources of Woman Made Gallery to build an artistic community among women and youth from different neighborhoods throughout Chicago, with a specific focus on self and community empowerment. By offering a safe space for participating artists to explore themselves and the community they live in, many involved in the project have developed new insights into how they would like to see themselves, their families, and their communities grow stronger and healthier.
As teaching artist Silvia Gonzalez shares of her work with women and girls at Albany Park’s Centro Autonomo: “[Week two’s theme of self-identity] also sparked conversation on the importance of self-care and self-awareness. Women worked through these ideas with energy and conviction, after reliving important memories and discussing hopes for themselves. It was clearly important to all of them that self-reflection was actually happening in a very safe space. That space allowed for connection making: many of the women, bonded as a result of the conversations, seeing that they had a lot in common, or discussing the impact of memories in constructing who they are now and what they want for themselves, their families, and their futures.”
As many of the workshops have come to an end and the project moves toward exhibition, the success of this endeavor is palpable and the interest in 20 Neighborhoods remains strong. Many partner organizations have expressed a desire to continue this sort of creative enterprise into the future. Participating artists have mentioned their excitement about sharing their newly learned techniques and skills with family and friends around them, as well as new ways of thinking about themselves, art, and community. Stay tuned for an update on last week’s first Artist Meetings at the gallery, which brought together women from all over the city to meet each other, discuss their ideas and visions for their neighborhoods and communities, and start the exhibition planning process.