Art Communities Near McCormick Place

Monument to the Great Northern Migration at 25th and King Drive (Image: Zol87 CC by/sa)

By Curtis BlackA short walk north on King Drive from McCormick Place brings you to Bronzeville’s Walk of Fame. It’s a cultural expression of Chicago’s historic black community and a prime example of what’s distinctive about Chicago’s art world: its rootedness in the city’s diverse communities.

The authorCurtis Black has edited Newstips at Community Media Workshop since 1998, bringing attention to undercovered stories from nonprofits and community organizations, connecting journalists with nonprofit sources. He also plays trumpet with his own jazz group.

curtis@newstips.org

At 26th Street there’s the Monument to the Great Northern Migration, a 15-foot bronze sculpture by Alison Saer. Heading south there’s a series of “recognition panels” by sculptor Mary Brogger with icons representing professional, intellectual, and artistic achievements.

You’ll also find 24 sculptural benches by local artists; 91 bronze plaques commemorating notable Bronzeville residents, from Jack Johnson to Mae Jemison, designed by local painter and sculptor Geraldine McCullough; a 14-by-7-foot bronze map of historic sites in the neighborhood; and at 35th Street, a 1927 monument to African-American soldiers in World War I.

After a community mobilization around the expansion of McCormick Place in the early 1990s– part of a larger effort to recapture the economic diversity of mid-20th century Bronzeville — the convention center authority provided $10 million to develop a gateway to the community, and the Walk of Fame was created through a community planning process.

The DuSable Museum of African American History (Image: Sumi-I CC by/sa/nc)

Today Bronzeville is a thriving artistic community with a number of galleries, which you can tour them on Gallery Guichard‘s trolley during warm weather. It’s anchored on the south end by the DuSable Museum, founded in 1961 by artist Margaret Burroughs in her home and located in a Chicago Park District facility since 1973. The DuSable is the nation’s first and oldest museum dedicated to African-American history, culture and art.There are smaller institutions old and new, from the South Side Community Art Center, the only extant arts center founded under the New Deal’s WPA, to the arts education center Little Black Pearl, housed in a beautiful new facility.

One of many driving forces is the Black Art Collectors Network, founded out of the Black Arts Movement of the ’60s to support black artists from the community. Local collectors hold events to promote individual artists and conduct tours of collectors’ homes; it represents a grassroots counterpart to the mainstream art market, argues Diane Grams, author of “Producing Local Color: Art Networks in Ethnic Chicago.”

It all adds up to a different kind of artistic identity, according to Grams. While a modernist vision promotes major art institutions as evidence that a place qualifies as a “global city,” (“we have Impressionists; we have modern art”), Chicago is distinctive among American cities for having a widely dispersed art scene deeply rooted in the fabric of its neighborhoods, reflecting the many cultures found in the city, she says.

Grams’s book looks at Bronzeville, Rogers Park, and Pilsen, a Mexican-American and gentrifying neighborhood just a couple miles west of McCormick Place.

In Pilsen as in Bronzeville, there’s a strong public art presence: several decades’ worth of colorful murals can be found throughout the area. And as in Bronzeville, there’s a major institution with national prominence reflecting the neighborhood’s ethnic wealth: the National Museum of Mexican Art, which marks its 25th anniversary on May 4. The only accredited Latino museum in the nation, NMMA’s exhibits have toured the world.

Casa Michoacan, housing a federation of hometown associations for immigrants from Michoacan state in Mexico, serves as a cultural center, and Pros Arts Studio is a community-based arts education program.

Pilsen has its galleries and coffee houses, too, but it’s a somewhat bifurcated scene: East Pilsen is home to largely white artists while West Pilsen is mainly where Latino artists live and work. That’s reflected in two studio tours held in the fall, the Pilsen East Artists Open House and the 18th Street Pilsen Open Studios.

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