community building

Creative Chicago and Good Food

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Cultivating Generosity: Pay It Forward

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Cultivating Generosity is an ongoing series of musings that we write in our effort to highlight people that nurture a generous culture that’s more conducive for the survival of the arts.

Pay It Forward is an experimental fundraiser by Tempestt Hazel of Sixty Inches from Center and Andi Crist from Autotelic. They gathered 8 organizations to highlight in their effort raise $10,000 dollars for an inclusive studio community in Logan Square.

Tempestt Hazel, Sixty Inches from Center
Tempestt Hazel, Sixty Inches from Center

We’re honored to be one of the projectss that they’re elevating, along with Johalla Projects, Spudnik Press, Salon Series, Terrain, Revival Arts Collective, Peanut Gallery and Composite. We hope that you’ll join us for the Birthday Bash that they’re hosting at 7PM Saturday, Nov.23. Flats Studio, 1050 W. Wilson Ave.

You can also help the cause by donating online!

There’s been a lot of positive discussion about the arts floating around lately. Most recently, a Wall Street Journal article had an optimistic outlook for people with MFAs. This was mostly full of information that we already suspected; “artists tend to be happy with their choices and lives… arts graduates are resilient and resourceful… the profession they have chosen gives them autonomy.” However, being written on a platform that rarely presents the arts as a legitimate career choice, backed by data on jobs for fine artists and connected to economic research on happiness, means that this is something that could actually have legs outside of our own echo chamber.

Almost 83% worked the majority of their time in some arts occupation, such as art teaching or in a nonprofit arts organization…. Sixty percent of the fine-arts graduates in the survey work more than one job. – Daniel Grant

Another link that came across our feeds was about the contradictory nature of creative people. Matthew Shuler points out 9 contradictory traits from a book of interviews by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, of the Quality of Life Research Center. The blog post reminds artists that they aren’t alone in being both extroverted and introverted, humble and proud or smart and naive. These are all tightropes that artists walk on a regular basis.

Sometimes what appears to be a contradiction on the surface is actually a harmony in disguise… At first it might not make sense, but give me/us long enough, and it will. – Matthew Shuler

How this all relates to Pay It Forward is that Tempestt and Andi are in the thick of whatever change is happening around us.

Andi Crist - Autotelic
Andi Crist – Autotelic

They’re both surviving artist/curators that are working toward real, positive change through crowdfunding. Andi’s vision for Autotelic was born out of another book by Csikszentmihalyi. It was a bit of serendipity that lead me to his ideas right before the end of her fundraiser. She describes the idea behind the space below:

The concept behind Autotelic was to give artists the space and environment where they could feel free to make and share without feeling the pressure of needing to be “successful”. People are still welcome to join our space that don’t consider themselves fully committed “artists” and can be a part of a creative community that is both supportive and active. – Andi Crist

Las Cafeteras in Lake County

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One of my favorite musical groups came to the Midwest this month and we caught up with them for their last stop at College of Lake County. Las Cafeteras is a group of musical storytellers from East L.A. that carry on the tradition of Son Jarocho, an Afro-Mexican style that they learned at The Eastside Café. In spending time with them, I was happy to learn that they see music as their means of storytelling, which is the best tool for their real goal. Hector Flores describes the group as activists first, with backgrounds in community organizing that go back a decade. Fame and fortune are secondary to changing hearts and minds of the people who hear their music.

Live at College of Lake County
Live at College of Lake County

They spread a message that’s in line with ours and were happy to meet people throughout Chicago, Milwaukee and Missouri that are awake and fighting truth to power like they do. Their show had strong cultural, interactive and educational aspects to it, including a song where they ask audience members what they would do if they were President. They invited us all to believe that we could lead the world while also making us aware of the many challenges that we face; the prison-industrial complex, LGBTQ rights and income inequality to name a few. They don’t just lay problems on the table, they also leave audiences with the tools to fix them… It would warm their hearts to know that Illinois passed Marriage Equality while they were in town. Orale!

Leah Rose Gallegos and Daniel French
Leah Rose Gallegos and Daniel French
Annette Torres on Zapateado

They stress the revolutionary significance of their music by explaining that the origins of the Zapateado, a stomping style of percussion, came from a time when drums were banned among African slaves to keep them from transmitting stories. The theme of reclaiming banned stories or taboo traditions is ever-present in their music. Before performing their interpretation of La Bamba, they asked the audience to recognize the full name of the artist that made the song famous, Ricardo Venezuela. This reminded us of his sacrifice, as well as the risk he took in releasing a song in Spanish, something that was prohibited by the record industry at the time.

We stuck around after the show for a workshop that they called Racism: Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That, where they introduced us to catchy ways to communicate ideas that we wrestle with at The CG Project.

Two Worlds, One Hood – This is something we’ve witnessed during moments like Obama’s re-election and through the reactions to Trayvon Martin’s death and the George Zimmerman verdict. It’s a recognition that everyone experiences the world differently. One person’s hero is another person’s villain. We’ve tried to write about this but never achieved the eloquence of those four words.

Two Ears, One Mouth – Simply put, talk less. Listen more. This is the hardest lesson to learn so they make it playful. Your Creator gave you two ears and one mouth because you should listen twice as much as you talk. Listening is their solution to many of the problems that stem from racism. I couldn’t agree more.

Leah Rose Gallegos, Daniel French and Annette Torres
Leah Rose Gallegos, Daniel French and Annette Torres

The last thing I’ll mention about the content of the workshop is the most crucial. Nobody self-identifies as a racist. It’s important to separate who someone is from what they have done. Telling someone that an action they’ve made was racist is a better starting point for dialogue than calling someone a racist. Furthermore, instead of trying to change racist tendencies in other people, we should acknowledge the prejudices that we carry ourselves and strive to change those instead. That way, you’ll be the pebble that sends ripples across the pond.

Daniel French

They ended the workshop with a writing exercise, lead by Daniel French. Storytelling being at the core of their mission, they wanted to leave us with the power to tell our own stories. The way that they did this was very poetic and it made me think of something I wrote about the cultural renaissance we’re witnessing today. They lead everyone in the room through the process of writing their story and then asked everyone to read them out loud at the same time. This meant that you could scream your story at the top of your lungs and no one would hear it.

In the spirit of Two Worlds, One Hood; I’ll say that the experience could be read both as a cacophony of people blathering about themselves or a catharsis of people liberating their stories. I choose the latter and found the experience liberating. In the spirit of Two Ears, One Mouth; I put my story down and picked up the camera.

I am from an afterthought, cluttered two-car garages and plush chem-lawn grass. I fear stagnation, slowing to a stop and failure. I dream of something I can’t yet imagine, of knowing and believing. I feel most free when I’m where I belong, in transit, with a clear path in sight. – M.Contreras

Root Therapy at Design Cloud

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Rooted Groundedd;cl is an innovative space that acts as a design studio during the day and art gallery at night. Angela Bryant is their new Creative Director and she curated a show called Rooted; Grounded with Diana Gabriel and Benjamin Gardener. Intent on expanding the gallery experience, Angela hosted Root Therapy, a gardening workshop that calls attention to growing your own food, something that’s important to the lives of both the exhibiting artists, by bringing them together with leaders of the Good Food Movement in Chicago.

Fluency between disciplines of art and design strengthen our passions and inspire us. – Design Cloud

Angela Bryant
Breanne Heath (left) Angela Bryant (right)

Benjamin couldn’t make it to the panel because he lives in Iowa but he sent some words of wisdom that attendees could take with them. From plants to sprouts to chickens, he shared research and first hand accounts of how to raise or forage for your own food. He even gives tips on finding out when to shop for certain veggies and ways to preserve veggies for when they aren’t in season. What I like about his approach is that he stresses making changes you can live with.

Small steps are the most productive form of rethinking and reevaluating your eating, purchasing and growing habits. – B. Gardener

Team CG’s contribution to Root Therapy was to speak on a panel with fellow food revolutionaries; Seneca Kern of WeFarm America, Breanne Heath of Growing Home and Keith Weber of Dragon R&D. We each had unique approaches to our gardening practices so audience members heard a diverse range of experiences from the experiential and artistic to the methodical and scientific. Our passions are each testaments to food’s potential to inspire individuals to do incredible things.

Keith (blue bottle) Seneca (yellow shirt)

We spoke briefly about our development as gardeners and how we challenge ourselves by learning new things each year. We talked about our different successes and failures and how each year ends with a new problem to be solved. We also plugged the Cinematic Garden which will start again soon.

The second panelist was Seneca Kern, whom we heard at the Good Food Conference last year, his goal is to get more people interesting in gardening by sharing knowledge and fostering community. He tributes his grandmother, who was a sharecropper, for passing down the family tradition that lead him to gardening. He’s interested in the social consciousness that grows from sharing a gardening experience. WeFarm America even has a bicycle garden that they ride around and let people eat off of during public events. Seneca is a wizard at growing in small, unconventional spaces and he uses this magic to demystify the act of growing. Besides, if he can grow a full garden in a small wagon, you can surely grow on your patio or in your backyard.

Breanne HeathSeneca was followed by Breanne Heath from Growing Home, which focuses on teaching farming techniques to in Back-of-the-Yards through an agriculture and horticulture curriculum that Breanne developed for families to gain job training and access to good food. Her approach is very calculated because of her background in science. Some of her current ventures are “concocting the perfect compost tea recipe” and developing a seed library. She’s also gave us some insight into the planning that goes into growing a rooftop garden, where weight distribution becomes a factor.

Keith Weber, of Dragon R&D, brought a different vibe than the rest of us. He’s a DePaul student and an aquaponics enthusiast… Hope I got that right. One of his pet peeves is that the terminology used in hydro/aqua/aeroponics is redundant, confusing and ultimately off-putting. His breakdown of the words and proposal on how to simplify them remind me of something I’ve heard a lot about on NPR, Code Switching. As our world grows smaller, cultures and languages converge. Ways of communicating expand as part of the process. What Keith found is that having too many terms for similar growing techniques leads to confusion, bad yields and wasted money so he wants to simplify the terms so that everyone knows what they’re talking about.

Photo by Paul Dinh
Photo by Paul Dinh

Keith’s crusade touched on an idea that all the panelists connected with. The language of hydro/aqua/aeroponics can be daunting and it gets in the way of us learning anything about the subject. The same thing happens in art. There’s always an overpriced art kit for the new medium you want to try, so you shop around and find that each store has their own kit with slightly different ways of describing the ingredients. Not wanting to commit $100+ to an experiment, you struggle to put together a kit with loose items and refills. You think you saved a bunch of money but it turns out that the ingredients don’t match. Maybe one is water based and the other is oil, maybe the sizes don’t match up. Whatever it is, it sours the experience and you never try it again. Your money and time were wasted; you’ll always wonder, “What if I’d just bought the kit?”

SucculentsLet’s say you were curious enough and could afford to buy the kit. Not only do the ingredients and sizes of all the materials match but there are booklets or DVDs to guide you through the process for that specific kit. If it doesn’t go right, you shove it aside and never speak of it again. If it does go right, you’re fluent in that company’s language of that medium so any advice you give to friends will carry that brand’s lingo. Your friend then mixes advice from you and someone using another brand and gets all confused. In the world of hydro/aqua/aeroponics, where kits cost thousands of dollars, the sticker price keeps many of us from even considering this kind of experimentation. Keith wants to make the break down that barrier by uniting the dialects instead of further dividing them.

Everyone on the panel was working toward their own kind of open source collection of resources. Good Food and Art are both dependent on the free exchange of ideas and knowledge. At their best, both movements serve the common goal of liberating people from constructs that keep them disconnected from one another. Finding ways to monetize knowledge and experience while remaining inclusive is a huge challenge we both face and the answers to it are constantly evolving.

If there was one topic I’d liked to have heard more about on the panel, it would have been permaculture. Some of us spoke abstractly on the idea but it would have been nice to bring some facts about the practice and its benefits to the ecosystem. My limited understanding of the practice lead me to suggest that we’re experimenting in art permaculture now. Meaning that individual artists and collectives identify deficiencies in the current art scene the way farmers diagnose problems in a garden or farm. In this case, Angela Bryant had the idea an art gallery was a great place to get dirty and sow some seeds.

Design Cloud sent us home with a succulent terrarium and some lettuce seeds to grow at home. The beauty of succulents are that they are hard to kill. I was given an aloe vera plant by an old friend, which I kept alive for years before we ever started growing food. They’re a great intro to gardening.

Photo by Paul Dinh
Photo by Paul Dinh

Good Food Fest 1013

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We had a great time at the Good Food Festival last weekend. This was our second year covering the event and my sisters, Grace Kozlowski and Luza Tatgenhorst joined us this time. Grace came for info on growing her own food. Luza went back to eating vegetarian so she was curious about recipes and things. Diana and I were thrilled that they made the long trek out to the UIC Forum because it’s proof that there’s a food revolution happening in our family… or they just wanted to see this guy.


We were all excited to see Rick Bayless and had to scheme to try his spinach salad with mushrooms and chorizo. It was delicious but Luza couldn’t try it cause of the chorizo.

We ran into some friends there. Jeff Spitz was doing outreach for Food Patriots. The chicken lady from Mary Horan’s documentary brought one of her hens. A former CTVN instructor, Nathan, had samples of his North Coast Organics products and our new acquaintance, Chad Rubel, talked to folks for his food blog. It felt good to see so many people working toward sustainability in their own ways. There were a lot more people than last year, lines at most of the vendors and much less room to walk. There were also rotating presentations in the hallways with entertaining information on a variety of topics, including fermentation and compost.

Via Good Food Festival & Conference
Via Good Food Festival & Conference

This year we spent most of our time in the trade show. We brought home some ancient heirloom popcorn and pine nut pesto that we both enjoyed last year. Luza found some hot pepper jelly, salsa and who knows what else. Grace made a bunch of new friends and potential collaborators. Diana also got a sample of NCO’s Minty Vegan Lip Balm. She’s likes it because it’s a little grainier than other lip glosses and it stays on for a long time.

There was some worry last year that the drought would discourage farmers, gardeners and other Good Food Revolutionaries but that wasn’t the case. Caring about food and nutrition is now mainstream. Rahm Emmanuel is even using food initiatives to cover up the fact that he’s gutting public schools. The idea is taking root. A new economy is emerging from the rumble of our last financial collapse. Solutions are all around us and they’re taking hold. I’ll leave you with this video about the future that is at our fingertips.