Pilsen Open Studios: When Art Scenes Say “We”

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #3 in September 2006]

When Art Scene’s Say We: Pilsen Open Studios

“Pilsen Open Studios is an artist-run art fair that takes place the third weekend in October. Each year artists, galleries, spaces and cafes open their doors for special hours during this weekend. If you are an artist and would like to participate, email us if you live between Racine/Western and 16th/Cermak.”http://www.subaltern.org/pilsen.html/,

What is the formation you have assumed with Pilsen Open Studios? A non-profit organization, coalition, network, trade association, collective, party, or flying V?

I guess the Pilsen Open Studios is more a network/ group of artists who live in Pilsen and once a year organize this artist-run art walk. This began in the fall of 2003 when artist Hector Duarte and wife Linda Lutton emailed a bunch of artists from Pilsen to get together and begin this—one of the reasons being the lack of representation within the art community of artists living west of Halsted St.

Here in Chicago you have predecessors in the visual-art world with the model of the 1990s Uncomfortable Spaces project, which was a similar resource-sharing network of art spaces that eventually morphed into the spaces.org art-openings aggregator project, and now artwalks abound all over the city—there are still interesting models like West Town Gallery Network and umbrellamusic.org. What other models (from music groups to galleries, political parties and social clubs) inform how you are organized or want to organize this group’s collaboration?

Yeah, over the years there have been many collaborative groups/networks that have come and gone that influence me aside from Calles y Sueños and Axe St. Arena. I remember during the late 1990s and early 2000s there was a thriving art scene in East Pilsen with artist-run spaces like Drive Thru, UnitB, Bucket Rider, Dogmatic, 7/3 Split, Jesus Chrysler and Apartment 1R. Event though most rented spaces thru the Podmajerskys they were showing some very cool contemporary art and all have since either closed or relocated. Nowadays what is shown in that Halsted/ 18th area seems bland and uninteresting.

Area typically focuses on explicitly defined artcollectives, art-activists, and more hybrid cultural spaces that host an equal amount of lectures, festivals, screenings, exhibitions, meals and parties (e.g. Mess Hall, the now defunct Buddy, Experimental Station, and the ’80s–’90s spaces Axe Street Arena, Calles y Sueños, and Randolph Street). Do you follow the activity of these spaces, have an interest in how they work or want to collaboration with them in the future? What can Pilsen Open Studios borrow from these examples?

What’s interesting about the Pilsen Open Studios is the participation of galleries, cafes and individual artists with no corporate funding (which reminds me of the beginnings of early 1990s Around the Coyote). We are aware of all these other groups across the city, but since this art walk is only for artists living in Pilsen, we have not discussed doing any projects or events outside of this once-a-year event. But perhaps in the future …

Any suggestions for folks engaging in or starting up collaborative projects?

Make sure you all get along.


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