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Chicago Artists Without Borders

Tue, Oct 7, 2014

October as Chicago Artists Month is an opportunity for “Crossing Borders” at 300+ events and changing the way you see your city and the world. It’s an autumn-weather excuse to travel between neighborhoods and nations, to enjoy a mash-up of artistic genres and social scenes.
The 19th annual celebration presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) offers a platform for artists in all media across the city to showcase their work. “Crossing Borders means leaving your neighborhood, your physical comfort zone, to explore the environs of others around you,” according to the Chicago Artists Month website. “It can be liberating, creative, stimulating, transgressive, dangerous or affirmative. Often it is life-changing.”

Checking Boxes, a play at About Face Youth Theatre, is about youth who identify as both queer and undocumented. Photo from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.

Checking Boxes, a play at About Face Youth Theatre, is about youth who identify as both queer and undocumented. Photo from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.

Coming Out Twice

Checking Boxes, a play at About Face Youth Theatre, is about youth who identify as both queer and undocumented. Photo from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.[/caption]On the North Side, Checking Boxes is an original play by the About Face Youth Theatre that explores what it means to be “undocuqueer” in the United States: “coming out” twice, as an undocumented immigrant and as LGBTQIA. The original hour-long play was a world premiere devised by the youth ensemble over a six-month period, which ran for eight performances in four Chicago parks. The Chicago Artists Month version, 7:30 p.m. October 13 at the Jackalope Theatre in the Broadway Armory, 5917 N. Broadway St., is a 30-minute version followed by discussion. This touring production is available to colleges and Chicago Public Schools.

Participants in the youth theatre program, who range in age from 14 to 23 and who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersecting and allies, started writing the play through facilitated discussions on issues important to them, said Ali Hoefnagel, director of the play and of education/outreach at About Face Theatre. During a discussion about safety and approaching police officers, a young ensemble member said that a queer person of color would not feel safe going up to police in certain neighborhoods, Hoefnagel said. Two other ensemble members then spoke up about being undocumented, “which was really something that sparked us to explore more, to rally around them and other undocumented brothers and sisters in Chicago and the queer community.”

The students researched immigrant rights and considered their own experiences as documented or not and as LGBTQIA while they created the play’s eventual protagonist: a young man who flees Mexico to go to college in the U.S. Although Mexican laws are now less oppressive about gay life than in years past, hate crimes still often go unreported, so that an LGBTQIA person might feel unsafe there, Hoefnagel said.

Although most of the ensemble was documented, they united around the issue. “If you talk to any of them, [they would say] ‘this wasn’t anything I cared about until I researched it but now it is a social justice issue that I care about,’ ” the director added.

Besides social justice training and anti-oppression training, the young playwright/actors have been given contracts, full rehearsal schedules – and pay. “We treat them like professional actors because they are, being paid to put on a performance in the greatest theater city in the world,” she said.

Hoefnagel said the undocuqueer movement is a matter of people wanting to be American after living in the U.S. for possibly 20 years. They acknowledge the opportunity to be free here that does not exist elsewhere.

“It took this group months and months to get a grasp on it,” Hoefnagel said. “It does give you pause. As a documented person, I can get on a plane, apply for a driver’s license, get a FAFSA (college financial aid form). If we do anything with this play, it is to plant a kernel in people’s brain to start them thinking about this differently.”

Admission is listed at $10 but Hoefnagel said that pay-what-you-can donations will be accepted.

“Black Eutopia” crosses the borders between work and art in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

“Black Eutopia” crosses the borders between work and art in the North Lawndale neighborhood. Photo from the Chicago Artists Month website.

Barbershop Art

“Black Eutopia” crosses the borders between work and art in the North Lawndale neighborhood. Photo from the Chicago Artists Month website.[/caption]While the West Side is often overlooked, “Being accepted into Chicago Artists Month gives North Lawndale a different visibility in terms of arts and culture,” said Ramara “Rae” Taylor. She is using a real working barbershop for “Black Eutopia,” a discussion about Black labor featuring music performance, visual art, hair styling and refreshments. Inclusion on the CAM website and in its email blasts and social media marketing has helped gain visibility for the event, which will run from 1 to 7 p.m. Friday, October 24 at Carter’s Barber Shop, 3620 W. Cermak Road. Admission is $5.

Carter said in a telephone interview that her choice of venue was only slightly influenced by the Barbershop movies set in Chicago that starred Cedric the Entertainer and Ice Cube. Rather, she grew up with barbershops as a communal space – part business and part art practice — where Black people naturally talked about issues.

“One of the reasons I chose to use the space is that I wanted that direct engagement, I didn’t want to interfere with the normal flow of the day, I wanted their perspective on the conversation,” said Taylor, 27, an arts administrator, DJ and event coordinator who graduated from Columbia College.

Academics have told Taylor that “eutopia” spelled with the “e” implies an ideal venue for these discussions, where she wants neighborhood residents to take ownership over the creation of economic value around them. “If you think the work you do is contributing to a larger goal or if you don’t feel that, you just go through the motions on your day-to-day, then go to work and go home. We really want to open up the discussion to help people see value in the work they do and if they don’t see value, figure out how to create value in what they do.”

Partnering with Taylor will be West Side Art, a small new organization whose goal is to help artists get funding for their projects, she said. The organization will add an archivist and a poet toward the goal of pinpointing more neighborhood art.

Dushun Mosley is an artist and performer in the “Intersections” exhibit at the Bronzeville Artist Lofts.

Dushun Mosley is an artist and performer in the “Intersections” exhibit at the Bronzeville Artist Lofts. Photo from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.

Art Intersecting

On the South Side, the 16-unit Bronzeville Artist Lofts at 440 E. 47th St. opened in June. Its event, Intersections, is crossing borders “to examine the relationships between the spoken word, the visual painter, the sculpture, the performance artists and how they intersect in our art making processes,” according to the CAM website. Intersections will be 6 to 8 p.m. October 11 and will feature Dushun Mosley, a drummer/percussionist with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) who does improvisation and free jazz; also performing will be Shanta, a storyteller and bass player and Kenneth Green, who performs on keyboards and percussion. Members of the Bronzeville Artists Loft, whose specialties include visual arts, photography, spoken word and dance, will also be invited to participate.

By Suzanne Hanney, StreetWise Editor-in-Chief

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