Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, April 20

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Profile Fri Jul 31 2015

One Dream at a Time, Charity Supports Seniors in Poverty

One Dream: Louise at a Cubs game

Melissa Cosentino has had one dream for as long as she can remember: working to improve the lives of seniors. She grew up with a strong relationship to her Grandmother Mimi, which inspired her to begin working with older adults in high school. When she went on to college, she knew she wanted to study gerontology, social work, and health care management. She had found her passion -- advocating and caring for the senior population.

That passion led to the development of her growing Chicago-based charity: One Dream. The organization fulfills the dreams of low-income seniors by providing them with an experience they have desired, but do not have the means to pay for.

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Jennifer Prohov / Comments (1)

Chicago Speaks Tue Aug 12 2014

Chicago Speaks: Bengali, as Spoken by Feryall Rahman

Chicago SpeaksAs a global city, Chicago is home to many languages besides English. Chicago Speaks profiles speakers of these languages, and shares some of their personal stories along the way.

The structural engineer Fazlur Khan is known for his work on the John Hancock Center and the Willis Tower, where a sculpture depicting his face greets visitors to the Skydeck. But Khan, perhaps the best known Bangladeshi Chicagoan, bequeathed more than buildings to his adopted city.

In 1980, shortly before his death, he founded a community organization called the Bangladesh Association of Chicagoland. In 2012, Feryall Rahman decided to join it. "I was like, 'Oh, if Fazlur Rahman Khan started this, I'm going to go see what this is about,'" she says.

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Megan Marz

Chicago Speaks Mon Jun 16 2014

Chicago Speaks: Portuguese, as Spoken by Film Series Founder Ariani Friedl

chicagospeaks.jpgAs a global city, Chicago is home to many languages besides English. Chicago Speaks profiles speakers of these languages, and shares some of their personal stories along the way.

If you were to hang out with Ariani Friedl, you probably would learn at least one Portuguese word even if you communicated entirely in English. "Mostra," which means "show," is the name of the Brazilian "film series" she founded in Chicago four years ago — a name she chose for both its aptness and its catchiness.

"Mostra became part of their vocabulary very quickly," she says of her American colleagues. Her ambition for Mostra, though, goes beyond the slight expansion of our lexicon.

"The majority of Americans think of Brazil as samba, [soccer] and bikinis," explains Friedl, who in 1964 moved to Chicago as a newlywed from the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. "And all this is part of our culture, but that's not it."

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Megan Marz / Comments (3)

Chicago Speaks Mon May 19 2014

Chicago Speaks: Ukrainian, as Spoken by Ukrainian Catholic Priest Ihor Koshyk

chicagospeaks.jpgAs a global city, Chicago is home to many languages besides English. Chicago Speaks profiles speakers of these languages, and shares some of their personal stories along the way.

Twenty-nine minutes into my interview with Ihor Koshyk, a priest at Saints Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church in West Town, I asked him a question about "the Ukraine."

I had learned -- too recently to master my reflex -- that the English speaker's tendency to insert "the" before "Ukraine" was factually and politically incorrect.

So when I heard the definite article coming out of my mouth, I stopped, rephrased and hoped Koshyk hadn't noticed my slip-up. He had, of course. About 45 minutes later, as we prepared to go our separate ways, he mentioned it. "But you caught yourself," he said genially.

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Megan Marz

Theater Thu Jun 06 2013

North Carolinian Jumps into Chicago Theater Scene

Jim Yost was a pretty big fish--a successful director in a small city pond in Charlotte, NC. After 10 years of directing there, he decided he needed a more adventurous theater scene and "more like-minded people" to work with. After considering a move to New York, he chose Chicago, instead. "New York seemed overwhelming and in some ways unattainable; Chicago seemed more manageable," he said. He packed up and moved to Chicago in 2012, with no job or no theater connections--just a desire to expand his theater horizons and his career. Less than a year later, he directed his first full-length play and merged his company with Interrobang Theatre Project. I talked to Jim Yost to find out what inspired him to make his move to Chicago.

jimyost BareBones2.jpg

Jim, let's start with your background. Tell me about yourself.

I moved to Chicago a year ago from Charlotte, where I had a theater company called Barebones Theatre Group. We produced there for about 10 years. Barebones did work very similar to Interrobang. We did very simple productions, character-driven stories, but challenging to the audience. Not typical theater fare. We built up a following there and had our own venue- a warehouse that we ran for five years.

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Nancy Bishop

Feature Thu Aug 30 2012

Comic Artist Alex Nall: Putting it All Out There

Daily comic 6_28.jpg

Alex Nall is a recent college graduate, an emerging local comic artist and a self-described dork. Nall is impressively prolific -- every day, after coming home from his full-time day job at Lakeview Sport and Fitness, he spends the rest of his night in his studio at his apartment in Logan Square working on his colorful and succinct autobiographical comics. I sat down there with him a couple weeks ago to learn more about what makes him tick and why he chose to take root in Chicago.

How did you get into drawing?

I've been drawing all my life. I guess I got into cartooning and telling stories with pictures in first grade when I made my first book called Alex the Snake's Birthday Party. It was about Alex the Snake, who was green. He wore a red shirt, blue pants, and he had arms and legs. So he wasnt really a snake at all, and basically the entire plot was copied from a Mercer Mayer critter book. So yeah, basically it just came from a love of looking at pictures while reading in school and thinking, 'Ooh I could do this, I like doing it', and as the years went on, most of my school notebook's margins were covered in doodles -- those were the things I ended up studying more than more notes for school. I didn't pursue drawing or art in college. I went to Monmouth College -- a small liberal arts college. I did English and theater mostly and I kept drawing on the side. It wasn't until last year when I went back for my senior year that I started submitting a weekly comic strip to my school newspaper and sending out editorial cartoons to the town paper.

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Kelly Reaves / Comments (1)

Sixty Inches from Center Thu Aug 02 2012

Wooden Awesomeness for Weirdos & Perpetual Nerds: The Work of Michael Rea

By Danielle Jackson*


Looking at the idea of failure and drawing from pop culture inspirations, Michael Rea creates enormous wooden sculptures. To borrow from Jeriah Hildwine, he produces a "wooden wonderland for nerds." Remnants of your favorite movie or book are manipulated, altered, and combined in an attractively entertaining way. Last weekend, I caught up with Mike for a studio visit and interview. We spoke about his awesomeness, the progression of his work from painting to sculpture as well as how cinema and humor informs his practice. Mike's work can be seen in Odie Off at threewalls in collaboration with Kelly Kaczynski through this weekend. Additionally, he is curating an exhibition entitled, My idea of fun, at ebersmoore featuring a diverse group of artists such as: Chris Nacka, Zach Meyer, Ethan Gill, John Abbott, Kate Ruggeri, Matthew Hebert, and Kassie Teng Olsen. My idea of fun explores the comical and the subjectivity of the artists.

Danielle Jackson: To start, how would you describe yourself and your work to someone who was oblivious to your awesomeness [laughter]?

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Profile Mon Mar 05 2012

Final Fight Family: A Well-Oiled Creative Machine

My favorite thing about Chicago is the way that we take things into our own hands. When we see a gap, instead of waiting for it to be filled -- instead of writing letters or signing petitions -- we just fill it ourselves. Chicago is full of hard workers and go-getters. And this is the case with Final Fight Family, a multidisciplinary arts & entertainment company focusing on uniting artists in a collective community of forward thinking individuals. Formed by an ambitious but small group of youngins in 2007, FFF provides artists with opportunities to expand their careers via collaboration and collective projects.Then, they showcase the artist's work by organizing events, highlight their daily developments in the media, and seek new ventures for them, to "establish a movement of creators who use their unique visions and perspectives to shape the world around them."

One of the original family members, Jarvis Smith, recently reached out to me to let me know about the FFF documentary, YOUNG, which will be released on April 7. I was immediately intrigued, so I emailed him a few questions about the "family."

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Kelly Reaves / Comments (1)

Feature Thu Jan 05 2012

Chess Records

By Darryl Holliday. Illustrated by Erik Nelson Rodriguez.

Introducing some of the people playing chess at the "Touch and Go Chess Party" on Michigan Avenue.

Click the icon at the bottom right of the slideshow to expand it to full screen; press the esc key to exit full-screen mode

For more comic journalism from Darryl and Erik, visit


This feature is supported in part by a Community News Matters grant from The Chicago Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. More information here.


Interview Wed Jan 04 2012

Rainbows, Yarn and Other Scary Things: a Studio Visit with David Sprecher


Sprecher in his studio

I became aware of David Sprecher and his violently playful work during last fall's East Garfield open studios/art walk event. His studio is on the second floor in the Albany Carroll Arts Building, which also features a majestic garden, not unlike the one in The Secret Garden, except that it's in the middle of the 'hood instead of the English countryside.

After graduating with a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2006, Sprecher spent a few years working at a chemistry lab in New York, saving up money, and then about a year in Berlin (until he ran out of money). When he found a good deal on a studio space in Chicago via Craigslist, he jumped on it and he's been working here since.

Sprecher's work is engaging and accessible, lively and mischievous, but also deeply dark and potentially disturbing -- not unlike a frat house keg party or, for that matter, an African witch doctor keg party. Or an after-hours, staff-only keg party at a Louisiana state fair.

At first glace, Sprecher's work seems like it would look fantastic in a child's playroom, but don't be fooled -- that child would likely rack up therapy bills later in life.

I visited his studio shortly before Christmas to pick his brain.

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Kelly Reaves / Comments (1)

Film Thu Oct 20 2011

The Grid: Move-Tastic!

"Move-Tastic!" is the fifth installment of our short film series, The Grid. These documentaries are posted throughout Gapers Block and compiled in their own multimedia feature section.

Move-Tastic!, "Chicago's premiere athletic moving force," wows customers and employs over 40 Chicagoans on their way to careers in other fields. Read more about Move-Tastic! at Chicago magazine and WBEZ.

About The Grid

The Grid is a series profiling Chicago businesses, subcultures and landscapes. These short, lyrical documentaries aspire to be art cinema, ethnographies and experiments in form. Ben Kolak and Brian Ashby's directorial debut, Scrappers, won Best Documentary at the 2010 Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert's top 10 list of documentary films for that year. Editor Dave Nagel is a recent University of Chicago graduate. Graphic designer Akemi Hong is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

David Schalliol / Comments (1)

Interview Wed Oct 19 2011

Ryan Shultz: People Person (and a Hell of a Painter)


Shultz in his studio

Perhaps if you've got cable you've seen Ryan Shultz on TV -- he was on the first season of Bravo's "Work of Art," a reality television show which, to the dismay of many an artist, attempts to sort out the good from the bad, and decide "who will be the nation's next great artist". And he did pretty well, even though, as he told me, it "destroyed his soul." He's also been featured in several glossy "Barnes and Noble magazines," as he calls them. He scored a full-color, eight-page spread in Artworks Magazine and a feature in Germany's Intro Magazine, where they called him "so drauf!" (Apparently this means "on top of it" or "hip" or something like that.)

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Kelly Reaves

Art Mon Sep 19 2011

Glass Curtain's CoLaboratory Puts the Art in Your Hands


photo courtesy of Columbia College

Columbia College's Glass Curtain Gallery has taken interactive art to another level with their current exhibition, CoLaboratory. Two artist collaboratives - ED JR. and (f)utility projects have joined forces to create a site specific video installation with moveable screens that, although quite beautiful in its own right, is made manifest by you - the visitor. Visitors are invited to adjust the structures on which video projections are shown, amending and re-forming the evolving images as they move. If that's not enough interaction for you, check out one of ED JR.'s free, public workshops at the gallery (Thursday, September 22, 6-8pm; Saturday October 1, 3-5pm; Thursday October 27, 6-8pm), where you can get your hands dirty and be featured in a video, which will be later projected in the space.

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Kelly Reaves

Culture Wed Aug 24 2011

Five Questions With Joel Craig of The Danny's Tavern Reading Series


The demurely high-polish gem of Chicago poetry and literary culture destinations, The Danny's Tavern Reading Series has hit its ten-year mark of stand-out readings. Front man and tireless lynchpin organizer since its inception, DJ and poet Joel Craig sat down recently to answer a few quick questions about his favorite readings, what happens next with the series, and some of his picks for the best in Chicago's poetry and literary art.

Ten years. What has been your favorite reading of all time and why?

We've had so many exceptional readings, some expected, others surprising in their effect, so naming a favorite is hard. If pressed, I'd have to go with James Tate and Dara Wier. James is one of my heroes. Had I not run into his poetry at an early age, I may not have come to love the art form as I do. He opened a huge window for me. He's such an established name, a Pulitzer and National Book Award winner--he didn't have to come to Chicago on his own dime to read at a tavern, but he and Dara really wanted to. James is not a young man, and he had such a hard time seeing in our darkened space, but he pushed through with much levity. They were both on fire.

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Michael Workman

Interview Wed Aug 24 2011

Not So Starving Artists


A burlesque dancer at "Starving Artist". Photo by Andrew Huff.

The Chicago Artist's Coalition hosted a swanky event last Thursday called "Starving Artist" -- essentially a benefit for the CAC -- where eight Chicago's top chefs and artists were paired up to create a "unique sensory experience," inspired by each other's work. One sixtyblue pastry chef Hillary Blanchard-Rikower was paired with Lauren Brescia, avec's Koren Grieveson was paired with Tim Anderson, The Girl & The Goat's Stephanie Izard was paired with Richard Hull and Province's Randy Zwieban was paired with Judy Ledgerwood.

The results were delicious, both gastronomically and visually. Between finger foods and swigs of champagne, I spoke with each of the artists about their experiences working on this project. (Read interviews with the chefs over in Drive-Thru.)

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Kelly Reaves

Feature Tue Jul 05 2011

The Urban Canvas

guitar mosiac
Music mural at Prescott Elementary School. All photos by Alan Lake unless otherwise noted.

Chicago is well known for dynamic architecture, but many of our public spaces are also transformed by expressive works of art -- some rock for our solid. "Cloud Gate" and interactive video fountains hold court at Millennium Park. Just across Randolph Street, a sound sculpture resides. As the wind blows, so hum long metal wheat-like reeds that sway in a faux field as if an aeolian harp.

Chagall's "Four Seasons" mosaic mural dominates a plaza nearby. Picasso and Miro face off at Daley Plaza while Dubuffet watches from the Thompson Center as Claes Oldenburg bats clean up. The list is long and impressive. Frank Gehry, Sir Henry Moore, Richard Serra, Isamu Noguchi and Frank Stella to name a few.

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Alan Lake

Feature Tue May 17 2011

Co-op Image Group Teaches Kids to Sculpt their Own Art Educations

photo courtesy of Mike Bancroft

There are many ways to a teenager's heart; you just have to know where to start. Co-op Image Group started with a few video cameras and has kept the kids interests by adding stencils, samplers, molten glass and hot sauce.

It all began in 2002 when Mike Bancroft (who was working for Street Level Youth Media at the time) and his sister, Bridget, were working on a project with the SLYM kids called "Post Our Bills." The idea was to use boarded up buildings as exhibition opportunities -- rather than looking at plywood-covered windows, wouldn't you rather look at paintings? Although they didn't get a lot of cooperation from the city, they attracted a lot of volunteers and positive attention from the neighborhood, and before they knew it they received a donated building and a community garden -- now the Campbell Co-op Garden (1357 N. Campbell St.).

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Kelly Reaves

Feature Mon Apr 25 2011

Local Artist Blends History and Culture to Create New Generation Art

This article was submitted by freelance writer Iya Bakare.

AF- Wall of Heads.JPG

Is Chicago ready for Hebru Brantley's artwork?

Probably not.

Well, ready or not, he's here and said he wants to go as loud as he can to tell stories through his work in a non-traditional way.

"You have to have a home base to blow up," said Brantley. "I've been blessed and fortunate enough to build a base here and now I'm ready to conquer the rest of the world."

The Chicago native said this city is the best place to establish that home base. Brantley said his recent solo exhibition, Afro-Futurism: Impossible View, served as a major stepping stone in his young career, as the first African-American under the age of 30 (at the time) to be featured at the Zhou B. Art Center in Bridgeport-- not far from his stomping ground of Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood. In this exhibit, his illustrations depict stories surrounded by his creation of a superhero named Flyboy and other goggle-eyed creatures--children specifically--and their emotions from today's socioeconomic times and a group of World War II unsung heroes-- The Tuskegee Airmen.

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Fashion Thu Apr 14 2011

The Grid: Textile Discount Outlet

Textile Discount Outlet, located at 2121 w. 21st Street, has helped sustain Chicago's creative classes with discounted fabrics and inspiration for over 30 years.

About The Grid

The Grid is a series profiling Chicago businesses, subcultures and landscapes. These short, lyrical documentaries aspire to be art cinema, ethnographies and experiments in form. Ben Kolak and Brian Ashby's directorial debut, Scrappers, won Best Documentary at the 2010 Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert's top 10 list of documentary films in 2010. Editor Dave Nagel is a recent University of Chicago graduate.

David Schalliol / Comments (1)

Profile Mon Mar 28 2011

Jen Bosworth & Stories at the Store

This profile was submitted by Megan Fulara.

Bosworth.jpgGrowing up in Evanston, IL, Jen Bosworth had an upbringing similar to many of today's suburban youth. The daughter of Ines and Chuck Bosworth and sister to Cecily, Jen attended Evanston public schools and eventually made her way to DePaul University where she auditioned and was accepted to the Theater Conservatory. Not exactly sure which career direction she wanted to go in life, theater seemed as good a path as any. After graduation Jen was cast as the lead actor in the Steppenwolf Theater's production of The House on Mango St. Following the success of her public stage debut, Jen continued acting, starring in the television series "ER" and "Early Addition"-- both filmed and produced here in Chicago. Seeking a life of greater fortune and promise, Jen abandoned her local fame and headed west to L.A. where she promptly quit acting.

Dumping her trained skill in the land of the silver screen where actors are born and careers are launched wasn't exactly planned as Jen describes her cross country move.

"I'd come all this way to find what I was looking for and was surprised when acting wasn't it!"

That's when she began writing.

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A/C / Comments (3)

Feature Thu Feb 03 2011

Deciphering the Chicago Look


All photos by Isa Giallorenzo, used with permission.

It's all about the details. A great outfit is comprised not only of fashionable, quality clothing, but also the personal touches-- a perfectly folded cuff, a slew of gold buttons-- that distinguish one pretty young thing from the rest. On her popular street style blog, Chicago Looks, Brazilian-native Isa Giallorenzo hunts down the stylistically distinguishable Chicagoans roaming the galleries, music festivals, and vintage fashion sales that litter the neighborhoods. In one photograph, a young Black man's hair is wrapped and tied in a brown turban. He leans against a stone wall, hands stuffed within the pockets of loose army green pants as his chest, covered in a salmon pink t-shirt and thick suspenders, is thrust out proudly. In another snapshot, a twenty-something woman stays warm in a dramatically long blue coat seemingly cut to compliment the white-blonde bangs that nearly cover her eyes. Each photograph is a portrait of Chicago, a moment of time documenting one person in a city of millions.

Giallorenzo works not unlike a documentarian. She takes not only full-body shots but also close-ups of the little details that make an outfit pop. It is no surprise then to learn that the photographer comes from a journalism background. The role of a street style photographer entails investigating a look. The image is a form of storytelling as well as the answer to an abundance of questions: Why does this outfit work when others don't? Does the person make the style, or vice versa? Can anyone really pull off that look?

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Britt Julious / Comments (1)

Feature Fri Jan 21 2011

Strike a Pose: Chicago's Thriving Underground Ball Scene

This story was submitted by Rachel Rabbit White. All photos by Edmund X. White.


It's a snowy December night on the South Side and the ballroom has filled up quickly. There are guys in tailored suits, girls in red-heeled Louboutins. There are pop-gothy capes and futuristic glasses. The crowd is gathered around a catwalk -- and everyone is young, black and queer.

This is a ball. An underground LGBTQ contest where participants compete by "walking" -- showing off themed outfits and voguing -- a stylized house dance that continues to evolve. They are competing for trophies and the hope to become "legendary" -- famous not only in Chicago but the entire community, which now spans the globe. Balls found fame with Paris is Burning, a documentary about the New York scene, but Chicago's had its own ball circuit for as long as New York -- one that has its own trends, culture and history. And as the Internet popularizes the community, Chicago is seeing another wave in the resurgence of balls.

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A/C / Comments (5)

Feature Tue Dec 28 2010

Casa Aztlan Means More than Home

This article was submitted by Iya Bakare.

Casa Aztlan 010.jpg
photo by Iya Bakare

On Chicago's Southwest side stands a community enriched with Mexican influences from its restaurants, businesses and well-known art district. Through efforts from its community, Pilsen showcases its cultural pride and works to assist neighbors and new residents from Chicago and the surrounding areas. Casa Aztlan, a community center and nonprofit organization in the heart of the neighborhood, at 1831 S. Racine Ave., offers those services to help residents in the area and people who relocated to the United States from another country.

Carlos Arango, executive director of Casa Aztlan, said although the center focuses on the Pilsen community and the Southwest side of the city, some residents travel from all over the state of Illinois and as far as Indiana for services. The organization helps about 12,000 people year in various capacities, said Arango.

Casa Aztlan is an established figure in the Pilsen community that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and is one of the oldest organizations that fights for social justice. Its roots stem from 1970 when Mexican immigrants migrated in large numbers and settled in Chicago. Originally, Casa Aztlan served as a Bohemian settlement house in the late 1800s. From the Howell Neighborhood House to the Neighborhood Service Organization, the community organization made a shift and changed its name to Casa Aztlan, reflecting a part of the community's Mexican and Aztec heritage.

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A/C / Comments (3)

Feature Tue Dec 21 2010

The Maxwell Street Market: Fading Chicago Landmark Fights Recession on Economy's Front Lines

This story was written by Ben Craig, Len Kody and Nicholas Moroni.


Audio Slideshow: Visit the Maxwell Street Market

Bobbie Henry, of Chicago, began selling handmade jewelry and art pieces at the original Maxwell Street Market in 1976. She relocated to the new Maxwell Street Market, on Canal, in 1994.­ Today, she has a booth on a prime spot at the market's latest location, on Desplaines, just north of Roosevelt.

Henry's next move is a commentary on the market's current, diminished state and its uncertain future.

"Another thing that's fading me out of this," Henry explained, "is I'm going on eBay with most of my art."

The present Maxwell Street Market is open Sundays, from 7am to 3pm, on a short stretch of Desplaines Street north of Roosevelt Road. But many of the people who bought and sold goods at the original market say that its current incarnation, sanctioned and organized by the City of Chicago's Mayor's Office of Special Events, hardly measures up.

"I was selling leather clothes and bags [on Maxwell, and on Canal]. I would make $3,000 every Sunday." Henry said, "Now, I only make $200 or $300."

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A/C / Comments (4)

Feature Tue Nov 30 2010

Toy Story

This article was submitted by Michael Moreci

It's the mid-nineteenth century, Normandy, France. Claude Monet is still just a young boy with dreams of being a singer when one day, he happens upon a swirling cluster of water lilies. Maybe he doesn't realize it then, but the moment marks him in an indelible way.

Jump 130 years later. Ben Spencer is an average American kid, growing up on a steady diet of cartoons and action figures. He, too, doesn't realize the impression that will inspire him years down the road, how He-Man, Thundercats, and Go-Bots are shaping his sensibilities.

The point here is that, at times, part of the enigmatic process of creating art is a reflection of the culture one grows up in. Claude Monet grew up to create a series of water lily paintings; Ben Spencer just recently designed his first toy, Galaxxor, a figure that blends Spencer's love of early-80s toys with his own design aesthetics. Yet the gap between the two sensibilities-French Impressionism and toy design--and how they are perceived as art couldn't be wider.

an illustration of Galaxxor by Steve Seeley

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Feature Mon Oct 25 2010

What We Do Is (Unintentionally) Secret


Beidler Elementary students performing at the "Forms of Spectacle and Solutions to Vacancy" Unveiling Ceremony. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Everyone knows the story of gentrification. Artists and other progressive people move to low-income neighborhoods looking for a good deal on a big space in the city. This attracts investors and developers, and the next thing you know, the original occupants of the neighborhood — including small businesses, families and even the artists themselves — are priced out of their homes to make room for culturally bankrupt replacements. The charm of the neighborhood is beaten out of it.

Because of the housing market crash, along with foreclosures, the gentrification process has pretty much come to a halt in many parts of the city. A classic case of this in Chicago, for better of worse, is Garfield Park. Real estate in the neighborhood was highly sought after during the real estate boom because of its proximity to downtown and to the CTA and Metra trains, as well as the beloved Garfield Park Conservatory and the sprawling park itself, but has since been given up on by many developers. Now it is home to clusters of vacant lots and buildings, but what a lot of people don't realize is that a surprising number of the buildings that are occupied are occupied by artists. Not just any artists, either. Artists who aren't afraid to take risks, who dance to the beat of their own drums, who make some of the most engaging work and eclectic work around.

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Kelly Reaves / Comments (4)

Business Tue Oct 19 2010

Inkling Makes East Lakeview a Little More Colorful


All photos of the shop are by the author

On an eclectic strip of North Broadway St. in East Lakeview sits a new(ish) store called Inkling, where Stephanie Keller sells her wares-- from hand-printed wrapping paper and greeting cards made by local artists to wacky porcelain knickknacks she's collected at antique stores and estate sales over the years. It's like Etsy, but you get to touch stuff.

The store oozes cozy creativity and smells really good, too. There are so many interesting objects packed into the space that a fair viewing will probably require a good half hour, at least. Take your time. I would recommend bringing a coffee to aid with digestion and a few bucks, because you're going to want to buy something. Luckily, though, a few bucks are all you'll need because the prices are surprisingly low, especially considering that many of the items are hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind pieces. $5-$10 will get you a quirky, thoughtful little birthday/housewarming/baby shower gift for someone and $20 will get you an original screenprint.

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Kelly Reaves

Feature Wed Sep 01 2010

Chicago Avenue: A 'Hood in Limbo

This feature was submitted by freelance writer J.R. Williams. All photos are by the author, unless otherwise noted.

Chicago Avenue used to have it all -- shops, theaters, department stores and restaurants. People used to hang out on the stretch of road between Damen and Ashland to catch dinner and a movie and to do some shopping afterward. It was a 1960s urban oasis if you will.

Over the years, the area began to change. Businesses closed down, residents moved out and condos moved in. In a sense, it was like a death to the 'hood. But there is still a strong presence, a scent in the air that smells like a mix between leisure and fun with a hint of old school hard work. This is an area in limbo, trapped between beauty and grit, between no money and new. There's an evolution going on. And you can see it, in the eclectic shops and eateries that stand in the shadows of deserted storefronts and rundown brick buildings. But like many neighborhoods in the city, its charm lies in the unchanged.

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A/C / Comments (7)

Feature Wed Aug 18 2010

Good Deeds in The Back of the Yards


The Back of the Yards Fiesta last June. Photo courtesy of

If you haven't been to the Back of the Yards neighborhood, then you should visit it, not because it's fancy, but because it has a long history, most famously described in Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle (you can also read the entire book here), which linked the area to the grim stockyards. It's a dynamic area where various immigrants have lived, and currently houses a largely Latin American population. Most of the people are from Mexico, and many other residents are from Central America, including Honduras and Guatemala.

But the neighborhood that's been described in various books and articles throughout the years looks different today. It's not a grimy, dirty neighborhood, but has a lot
of space, wide streets, houses, and even trees. The main commercial area is 47th street, where you can go to discount food stores, chain stores, and get fast food. (The larger area is called New City, which includes Canaryville). There are a few gangs and people who are struggling to pay their bills, but it's not an entirely sad, hopeless place.

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Margaret Larkin

Feature Mon Jul 26 2010

A Creative Refuge for Girls

[Editor's note: This article was submitted by freelance writer Michael Moreci.]

All photos courtesy of Ag47

Reaching out to children, as a mentor, is never an easy thing. But the difficulty of finding a common ground works both ways. Often, children have trouble communicating fully with adults; they feel that their voices aren't heard, their opinions not appreciated, or they simply aren't comfortable opening up in the first place. The women who run Ag47, a Logan Square arts mentorship program catering to pre-teen and teenage girls, never take these communication gaps for granted.

"All the girls come because they love the idea of being listened to, being heard by an adult," Executive Director Virginia Killian Lund said.

Ag47 is more than a mentorship program. The foundation of reaching out to children on a creative level is what fosters an environment of expression and the idea that everyone has a story to tell, everyone has a unique perspective on the world. Having just wrapped up its first six-week session, the program is off to a quick start. And the result of this inaugural run? An inspiring collection of photographs, paintings, and poems that is currently touring the city.

The women who started Ag47, including Lund, had all worked together before, with a different mentorship program. When that program closed, the big question was, what next?

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Feature Mon Apr 26 2010

Outsider Art on Milwaukee Avenue

intuit copy.jpgJust south of the intersection of Ogden and Chicago is a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue where, if the wind blows just right, you can smell the chocolate being made at the Blommer Chocolate Company a mile or so to the east. Located across the street from CVS, behind a green door at 756 N. Milwaukee is a gallery that you'd walk right past unless you were looking for it -- Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. This morning Dan Galemb, a local artist and sculptor, is leading a workshop entitled Build Your Own Treasure, part of a series of lectures and workshops based on the current exhibit: The Treasure of Ulysses Davis, which includes over 100 pieces of wood sculpture made by a self-taught barber and sculptor who lived in Savannah, Georgia. "I like to stand around and pontificate, but I wouldn't call myself an art history teacher," Galemb said when asked if he was an art historian.

It is this disarmingly un-stuffy approach to art that makes Intuit so accessible. Exhibitions in recent years have included Least Wanted: A Century of American Mugshots, The Mark Michaelson Collection, which covered the walls of the entire space in mug shots dating from the 1870s to the 1960s; Freaks & Flash, an exhibition of archival tattoo art; and on permanent display are the mantle, objects and Vivian Girls portraits from Henry Darger's room at 851 W. Webster, where he lived as a recluse and created copious amounts of art detailing the fantasy world in his head.

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J.H. Palmer / Comments (1)

Literary Tue Mar 30 2010

The Story Behind StoryStudio Chicago


Image courtesy of StoryStudio

Jill Pollack is proud to say she hasn't had a boss since 1991. When she turned 40, she left behind the "soul-sucking" Internet consulting business she started and sought out something more meaningful. Having a background in theater and writing, she decided to teach a creative writing class at Columbia College . But when that program was shut down, she used her entrepreneurial spirit to start StoryStudio Chicago, a center for writing and related arts.

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Whitney Stoepel

Art Thu Mar 25 2010

Fresh Meat

charliebanner.jpgMeet Charlie Megna. He is one of the multitudes of artists who have studios in the Flat Iron Arts Building in Wicker Park, but he's one of the scarce few who are always there. He got his BFA at Lewis University, and now he spends his days at work at Genesis Art Supply and his nights painting like a madman.

Right now he's preoccupied with painting bricks. Not the mortar, as most of us would draw, but the bricks themselves. This way, he has to randomly pick and choose which bricks should go where-- an activity he described as cathartic as he painted them, and I watched, in his studio yesterday. He likes making the rapid, random decisions of placement. "They represent choices," he said to me.


a new painting of Megna's, not yet titled

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Kelly Reaves

Feature Mon Jan 18 2010

A Fever Dream Come True: Chicago's Dream Theatre Company Finds Its Audience

dreamtheatre.jpgMost theater companies define themselves by what they want. Jeremy Menekseoglu, artistic director of Chicago's Dream Theatre Company, knows exactly what he doesn't.

No fourth wall. No superfluous roles. No poor roles for women. No living rooms. No boundaries of realism. By articulating these rules, Dream Theatre is more efficiently able to arrive at what it is they do desire, a destruction of the barrier between actor and audience.

It began in Russia. As students at the Moscow Art Theatre in the late 90's, Menekseoglu and three friends started the company to explore this tricky relationship.

"We wanted a theatre in which the audience became a part of the story," Menekseoglu says. "A real part."

Originally dubbed the Theatre for Humanity, the company was interested in personal psychology over politics. In the midst of his struggle to find a common ground, a place where everyone could relate, Menekeseoglu had a dream. It turned out to be his revelation. "No matter who we were or how different we were, we all could relate to one another in our subconscious."

So...Dream Theatre. It begins.

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Randall Colburn

Art Tue Dec 22 2009

The Blues on the Streets

VG1.jpgI met street artists Viking and Goons for an interview a few weeks ago at a dive in Logan Square that is adored by loyal locals for its warm, Cheers-ey spirit. Viking is probably best known for his skulls and anthropomorphized wind-blowing clouds. Goons is known for his stylized, teethy portraits. Their work is scattered all over the city, much of it rather large and very detailed. Viking and Goons are sort of second-generation street artists, hailing from a tradition popularized by the likes of Basquiat, a grassroots art movement, not to be confused with graffiti. Grafitti is more complicated in the sense that it involves more street politics and violence, and less complicated in the sense that it is basically a spray-painted human version of a dog peeing on a fire hydrant.

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Kelly Reaves / Comments (6)

Architecture Mon Jun 29 2009

24 Great Walks in Chicago: Interview with Author Max Grinnell

Max Grinnell knows if there's one thing that makes a city great, it's its walkability. An urbanologist and Chicago historian (he literally wrote the book on Hyde Park), his latest book chronicles 24 of Chicago's greatest walking tours -- and it's not just for tourists. I asked him recently about how he chose the walks in his guide, how walkability can be measured, and what Chicago's greatest neighborhood is.

24greatwalkscover.jpgHow did you go about selecting the routes that appear in these walking tours? What makes a "great walk"?

I knew I wanted to take people into some of the city's less well-known neighborhoods, and I wanted people to have a sense of the historical and architectural milieu in each place. More than a few travel books consist of the well-worn troika of "Buy This," "Eat Here," and "Go to Hackneyed Attraction That Everyone Else Has Already Seen And Buy The Same 'Made in China' Schwag I Could Find Back Home." Pretty formulaic stuff for the most part, and I can imagine that 100 gibbons punching away on laptops could come up with the same stuff, provided they had access to the Internet and strong coffee to stave off utter boredom. This I knew I could not do.

To answer your second question, a great walk is pedestrian-friendly, first and foremost. Two of America's greatest walkers, John Muir and Henry Thoreau, didn't have to contend with these details, as neither of them were big fans of cities. These days, a good sidewalk with relatively few concessions to strip malls (which don't belong in cities in the first place) and high-end condo owners who must have their cars close by at all times, is a must. Jane Jacobs, chronicler of the urban condition and contrarian spirit, always championed this in her books, and she liked to talk about the "ballet of the sidewalk."

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Katherine Raz / Comments (3)

Architecture Mon Jun 15 2009

Attention to Detail: Furniture Designer Suzanne Trocmé at NeoCon

Think you could fill a Soldier Field-size stadium with people interested industrial furniture design? Well, you can. For the next three days more than 50,000 people will be descending upon the Merchandise Mart for NeoCon, the National Exposition of Contract Furnishings. It's the largest exhibition of "contract furnishings for the design and management of the built environment" in North America. In other words, a trade show for people looking to furnish (mostly) public spaces.


And it is massive. With over 1200 exhibitors featuring everything from readymade classroom murals to hospital waiting room chairs, the conference will occupy 1.2 million square feet inside the Mart from Monday the 15th through Wednesday the 17th.

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Katherine Raz / Comments (5)

Publication Tue Apr 21 2009

Chicago Girl Done Good

Colbert Report head writer and executive producer Allison Silverman is interviewed by Stephen Colbert in this month's Elle. Silverman was a Chicago comedy kid, performing at iO and Amsterdam's Boom Chicago, then she moved up the ranks and wrote for both The Daily Show and Late Night with Conan O'Brien before moving to the Colbert Report. (It's worth reminding everyone that Stephen Colbert started out as a Chicago comedy kid himself.) Allison Silverman has done a lot of comedic ass-kicking, winning both Emmy and Peabody Awards for her work on these shows, and in this month's Elle Stephen Colbert sings her praises as part of a series of interviews with smart women.

Dyan Flores

Art Thu Jan 22 2009

The Social Force of Art: Q&As with Local Artists

AREA Chicago recently connected with dozens of mover/shaker artists in Chicago to discuss socially engaged art, and pinpoint where art and politics collide to form action. Check out in-depth interviews with folks from Mucca Pazza, Theater Oobleck, threewalls, Experimental Station and more.

Lindsay Muscato

Profile Fri Oct 24 2008

Matthew Golombisky and the ears&eyes Festival

One night in the winter of 2006, musician Matthew Golombisky had just finished playing a show with The Other Planets at Sylvie's Lounge. Golombisky is a composer and a jazz bassist, with dual clef tattoos spanning the length of both of his forearms. As he and his band mates, all natives of New Orleans transplanted to Chicago when Hurricane Katrina tore through their city, packed their equipment into their van, one of his musician friends was casually drinking a can of beer on the street outside of the lounge.

In New Orleans, the city of Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras beads, laws concerning open alcohol containers aren't quite as strict, but Chicago police don't take kindly to such activity. Accordingly, a police officer slapped Golombisky's unsuspecting band mate with a $250 ticket that landed all of the musicians in a financial pickle. Thanks to quick thinking and an offer from Sylvie's to play a fundraiser show on December 10th to recoup the fine, Golombisky's annual ears&eyes Festival was inadvertently born.

With two and a half weeks to plan and an ambitious mixed-media goal in mind, Golombisky slapped the festival of friends, musicians, and artists together. In the process, he cemented an artists' community that had rotated around the eyes&ears record collective. Musicians from all over the nation play in a lineup that increases each year; meanwhile, visual art is projected on the walls throughout the venue. In bringing together musicians who know one another and play together in varying arrangements, while also meshing aural art with visual art, the eyes&ears Festival's themes of convergence and connectivity set the tone for the festival -- not to mention the eyes&ears recording collective.

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Laura Mayer

Art Fri Jun 27 2008

Genovese's Pedway Project Ending This Weekend

Homeless bodybuilders, high school students, heroin addicts, newlyweds: Since May 1, artist Mike Genovese has given all of them, and many others, opportunities to participate in his artistic process through his in-studio project, a program of the Chicago Cultural Center. (And you, dear reader, can also participate by stopping by Genovese's studio today for a special Gapers Block happy hour from 5-7 p.m.; 78 E. Washington St.) By working seven-to-nine-hour days, six days a week -- and accepting help and contributions from the public -- Genovese has nearly completed four projects:
• Black, red and white aluminum panels coated with enamel, upon which he has engraved his own designs, then invited others to contribute their own drawings and messages.
• Elotes carts that he fills with fruit, candy and snacks, then offers to a random street vendor in an intimate negotiation process that he documents through photographs.
• A giant sign featuring the Zora Neale Hurston quote, "All My Kin Folks Ain't All My Kinfolk," done up in Mexican black lettering (created at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, the piece will be installed on the South Side as public art).
• And, to advertise his in-studio, green "showcards" designed to look like the city's bright "no parking/street cleaning" signs. Genovese asked the Department of Streets and Sanitation's vendor to print up the signs, which he then tied to poles across the city using the same type of twine and knotting style used by city workers.

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Lauri Apple

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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