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TODAY

Saturday, April 20

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Airbags

As an occasional diversion I will feature someone outside of the arts in this column, posing three questions concerning art to someone who services the city and/or its citizenry in one capacity or another.

Jonathan Fine is a community leader, an activist preservationist, and he currently has his own residential architectural practice. From 1999-2001 he served as president of The East Village Association, a local community organization on Chicago's West Side. Under his leadership, the group fought to save St. Boniface Church, which today remains standing at the corner of Noble and Chestnut. The organization was also instrumental in pushing through a citywide residential height ordinance, which became law in April of 2000.

In October of 2001, Jonathan helped to co-found Preservation Chicago, which advocates for the preservation of Chicago's historic architecture. Their first project was a battle with the CVS Pharmacy chain over the historic urban corner located at State and Division Streets on the near North Side. In January 2003, Preservation Chicago was instrumental in pushing through a 90-day demolition delay ordinance after a battle ensued to prevent the demolition of the 17-story Mercantile Exchange Building. Their most recent victory was the preliminary landmarking of the Surf-Pine Grove district in Lakeview and the Arlington Deming District in Lincoln Park. Recently, the organization unveiled its "Chicago 7 Most Endangered Buildings." The purpose of the Chicago 7 is to raise public awareness of the threats facing some of our city's most at-risk architectural treasures.

Most Endangered Buildings for 2007:
1. Farwell Building: 660-664 N. Michigan Ave.
2. Rosenwald Apartments: 4618-4646 S. Michigan Blvd.
3. Archer Avenue District: 2700-3100 South Archer
4. Wicker Park Commercial District: Milwaukee Ave.
5. Julia C. Lathrop Homes: Clybourn and Diversey
6. North Avenue Bridge: Lake Shore Drive
7. Pilgrim Baptist Church: 3301 S. Indiana Ave.

The Preservation Chicago website is a must-visit for anyone concerned about Chicago and its history.

Q: Where do you find art in your work?

Fine: The beauty of living in Chicago is that art is everywhere; it is in our architecture, it is in our politics, and it is within the people who inhabit this great city. Although it is often frustrating to try to save buildings in Chicago, it is never boring.

Q: Should art entertain or provoke? Should art jar one's politics, make one question his or her faith? Or should art just throw politics and faith out the door?

Fine: I have always believed that art should provoke. I also believe that great art, or any great artistic movement, springs from a general dissatisfaction with the status quo.

We, as artists, have an obligation and a duty to continually and forcefully challenge the status quo in all its forms, whether it is political, artistic, or otherwise.

Q: Who's your favorite artist, and how would you explain to this person your first experience with his or her work?

Fine: It would be a real challenge for me to narrow down my single favorite artist. It would even be difficult if I was able to select one person from each different art form. However, I will offer one example and hope it explains how I feel about experiencing art in general. One of the most amazing experiences I have had was walking into Trinity Church in Boston. For those not familiar with the work, it is a 19th Century masterpiece by the famed architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Richardson practiced mostly on the East Coast and has only one building left standing in Chicago, the Glessner House on South Prairie Avenue. It was like walking into a tapestry. The color was so rich and the environment so warm and welcoming that I wanted to move in and never leave. Not being a religious person, and not even being raised a Christian, it seemed odd to me that I could have such a visceral reaction to a building, but I did. Unfortunately, the genius of H.H. Richardson was short-lived. His untimely death deprived the world of other masterpieces. However, the work that he did build did go on to inspire other architects including a young Louis Henry Sullivan and his erstwhile apprentice Frank Lloyd Wright.

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About the Author(s)

John Hospodka is a life-long Chicagoan, and today lives with his wife in Bridgeport. He does not profess to be an expert in anything; he's just a big fan of the arts and is eager to make more sense of them. Direct comments or suggestions for interviews to tqf@gapersblock.com.

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