In the spirit of many similar ventures that have taken place across the city since before the days of the WPA in neighborhoods as far flung as Bronzeville, Pilsen, Humboldt Park, Pullman, and Bridgeport, a small group of friends and neighbors came together and converted a defunct cleaners in Buena Park into a temporary home for creative placemaking and arts programs during June and July. Over twenty-five programs were presented and over 90 artists participated in the Buena Park Arts Expo. Pivots Multi-Arts Festival was there from the start.
The initial conversations about an arts space in Uptown started during the winter of 2012 in the context of the participatory budgeting process that took place in the 46th Ward. The arts working group, as we liked to call ourselves, included residents living in different areas of the ward—on Sunnyside, Irving Park, Belle Plaine, Malden—who were interested in demonstrating the positive impact of the arts on quality of life and also wished that the vacant store fronts throughout the Ward could be tapped as a potential resource for temporary art encounters. A multidisciplinary approach was a given. A former dry cleaners building was identified as a possible option, the owner was open to the idea, and before long we had a venue and a lot of serious work to complete before anything could be presented or anyone would want to participate in a program.
We had been looking for Pivot Arts all along but didn’t realize it until a chance encounter with Katy Collins, Pivot Arts Associate Director, at a meeting hosted by the Uptown Chamber back in March resulted in a series of conversations that cemented a working relationship. The idea of the Arts Expo, having incubated for some eight months, evolved into a venue in a matter of weeks thanks to Pivot Arts’ need for rehearsal space as well as its willingness to present avant-garde performance in unusual and community-supported venues.
A dedicated core group of volunteers came together to prepare the space, neighborhood businesses and organizations provided modest financial support to cover essentials, we borrowed chairs, purchased a few folding tables, built a small stage, clipped a few lights onto the rafters, and covered the windows with black foam board. On June 1st we opened. For three weeks that month, Pivot Arts performers rehearsed and presented their original work at the Arts Expo.
Chicago’s creative class is alive and well, and there was no shortage of interest from local artists, musicians, authors, actors, poets, teachers, and enthusiasts to share their talents and expertise. We presented works in an array of disciplines including theatre and performance, visual and literary art, music and sound art, poetry and spoken word, art as meditation, and much more. Word spread organically from neighbor to neighbor, and serendipitous encounters between people who had not met before happened on a regular basis.
Looking back on the journey from wintertime conversation to springtime action to summertime presentation, I continue to draw inspiration from such a rewarding experience. There are empty storefronts in every corner of the city just waiting to be tapped and to be used as temporary venues for the arts. I look forward to working again with Pivot Arts and with new friends and neighbors, businesses, residents, supporters, and creative colleagues of all stripes to make what happened in Buena Park possible across Uptown. We deserve a year-round movable feast of activities that celebrate the arts, strengthen our relationships as neighbors, and encourage creative solutions to breathe life into unused spaces.
Angela T. Spinazze, guest curator