20 Neighborhoods Comes to a Close… for a moment.

Possibilities for Phase 2, and Reflection on the Final Exhibition

Closing event

On November 1st, 20 Neighborhoods community members, including Teaching Artists, participating Artists, and Partner Organization representatives, gathered at Woman Made Gallery to say goodbye to the 20 Neighborhoods Exhibition. This final meeting marked the end of the project’s first phase, which included the curriculum design sessions and teacher trainings in the Spring, the Summer art-making workshops that took place across the city, the citywide gatherings at Woman Made Gallery, and the exhibition.

We used the time together to reflect on the project thus far and discuss the development of a “Phase 2”, to take place in 2013. At the end of the evening we dismantled the collaborative fiber installation in the gallery’s atrium, cutting fabric pieces and untying braids as mementos to take home.

What’s Next?

With over 25 people present, the anecdotes and prescriptions based on the past experience of the project, as well as dreams for what will come next, were many and varied. In looking back, a number of people expressed that the “professional” setting of Woman Made Gallery elevated and validated their experience of art making and presentation, as well as community building.

In terms of art-making, there seemed to be a general consensus that if we are going to pursue another project that involves art workshops, then we need to build in more studio time for both skill-learning and art-creation, as well as pursue more better funding for more abundant materials.

As we talked about the concrete ways in which community building took place, both in the individual workshop groups and in the gallery as a whole, it became clear that many are interested in deepening those connections with other groups across the city. Taking the difficulties of geography and transportation into consideration, many ideas for a Phase 2 focused on leveraging the new connections and networks created through the project in order to group two or more partner organizations that could create and/ or exhibit artwork together, both at Woman Made and other gallery spaces throughout the city, as well as perhaps outdoors.

Exhibition Event Series

This meeting was also the last event in a month-long series that accompanied the October exhibition. In summary:

Poetry Reading – On October 18th we held a poetry reading, which included both a reading of original poetry by participating artist Victoria Rowels who worked with South Side Community Arts Center, as well as research and poetry from the poets Emily Dickinson and Audre Lorde by participating artist Sharon Stillwell from Mercy Housing South Loop Apartments. Stillwell’s exploration of Dickinson and Lorde, while fascinating on its own, also provided an interesting historical context for Rowels’s original poetry, which focuses on the history of African Americans in the U.S., and connects it to present-day violence and activism in Black communities.

Film Screening and Discussion: The Invisible War – On October we screened “The Invisible War”, a documentary on the epidemic of rape and sexual assault within the U.S. military. This was followed by a discussion with Sabrina Waller, member of Iraq Vets Against the War and participating artist with Living Art Center’s Women Vets Art Group. In conversation with Art Therapist and Teaching Artist Suellen Semekoski, Waller spoke about her own military history and subsequent anti-war activism and art making. She highlighted the importance of art therapy in treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and ended with a reflection on how veterans are very well-positioned to be peace activists, asking: “If veterans can define non-violence, what else can they do?”

 Artist Talk: Victoria Martinez – On October 20th, Victoria Martinez, Teaching Artist at Yollocalli in Pilsen, and designer of the collaborative fiber installation for the 20 Neighborhoods Exhibition, gave an artist talk in which she discussed her art practice and shared images of past and current work. She also talked about her work as an art teacher in various schools and organizations across the city. She reflected on her use of found fabric and fibers, particularly in the context of her site-specific work. She also contrasted the more horizontal and adult-centered environment that she had to navigate when she designed and directed the 20 Neighborhoods fiber installation, with the classroom settings she is used to as a teaching artist working with children and teens.

Panel Discussion: Creating Community Beyond Place – Finally, on October 27th, we hosted a panel discussion, moderated by Suellen Semekoski (Women Vets Art Group). Entitled “Creating Community Beyond Place”, the event featured 20 Neighborhoods Artists from Partner Organizations that focus on building community beyond geographic place. From Arts of Life we had Frances Roberts and Jean Wilson with Caitlin Law, their Arts Coordinator. From Center on Halsted we had Cassandra Herring, Louise Klie, Eva Skye, and Teaching Artist Veronica Stein. And from the Women Vets Art Group we had Emily Siefken and Sabrina Waller.

The main inquiry was: how does art-making help us connect through shared experiences and identities? Panelists shared ideas and stories about how art making has inspired both personal autonomy and interpersonal exchange. The discussion was quite candid, with panelists bringing up artistic and emotional breakthroughs and at times painful pieces of personal history. The most compelling moments included an exchange between Cassandra Herring, who is active duty military, and the two women veterans in the room who are both anti-war activists, as well as Eva Skye’s explanation of what geographic space means to her as a transgender person, particularly in terms of personal safety. We ended with a reflection on what it feels like to be truly in community with others.

And now…

In the spirit of that “community feeling”, we are looking forward to continuing the development of “20 Neighborhoods: Phase 2” with the now more-solidified community that formed through Phase 1. We are anticipating some beautiful and unexpected changes as a result of this shift in context.

After a little break, we are excited to move ahead in December, using the same collaborative and participatory design process of surveys and meetings that we used to create “Phase 1”. Keep an eye out for updates on the project’s evolution, and as always, feel free to get in touch with questions and ideas!

–Ruby Thorkelson, 20 Neighborhoods Project Director Gallery Coordinator

For more information on the 20 Neighborhoods Project, check out:

 

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