The South Side Community Art Center is planning for a forthcoming exhibition in 2024, titled "ReSOURCE: Art and Resourcefulness in Black Chicago." This exhibition will explore the historical resourcefulness of African American artists and cultural creators in mid-twentieth century Chicago, whose creative practices foregrounded working with found objects, in connection with contemporary artists in Chicago working in an under-recognized tradition of creative genius that “makes do,” recycling materials, repurposing skills, and building on personal and community resources. While the West Coast and rural South are most often foregrounded in historical analyses of African American vernacular art traditions, “ReSOURCE” places Chicago at the center of continued legacies and new directions in Black artists’ repurposing, reclaiming, recycling, and revitalizing traditionally devalued materials. These attitudes and practices of resourcefulness operate along individual and community-oriented trajectories as acts of creative exploration, self-determination, social critique. We believe they also have vital importance for the ways that art can address urgent concerns about the environment and teach us about sustainable relationships with our communities and the planet.
This exhibition will also focus on connections between artists’ creative reuse practices and Black-led urban gardening initiatives that repurpose and reclaim disinvested city space into resources of communal health, growth, and knowledge. “ReSOURCE” highlights how in the context of Chicago, a city with a deep history of spatialized racial oppression, these ongoing practices of resiliency are transforming communities.
As our project team has worked toward a 2024 exhibition, ReSource: Art and Resourcefulness in Black Chicago, we have been seeking to get a better understanding of how both creativity and tradition inform agricultural practices in Chicago’s South and West Side neighborhoods. We imagine shared ecologies and companion practices of art, agriculture, and community. As individuals, communities, and organizations regenerate devalued land as a place to grow food and strengthen social bonds, so too do artists transform found objects and discarded materials into beautiful works of art.
This symposium brings together artists and academics, agricultural practitioners and community organizers, to learn from one another’s ideas and practices. A private portion of the symposium will allow participants to convene in a smaller group to discuss plans for the exhibition and associated programming with the goal of ensuring the project is shaped by input from people representing a range of community organizations as well as artists, curators, and researchers.
The South Side Community Art Center, located in the dynamic Bronzeville neighborhood, is one of the oldest African American art centers in the U.S. With the disenfranchising system of segregation leaving them few places to exhibit their artwork in Chicago or the country in the 1930s, a group of Black artists-including founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History Margaret Burroughs, Archibald Motley, Eldzier Cortor, Charles White, Bernard Goss, Joseph Kersey, and William Carter- organized fundraising efforts to open an art center. The center opened in 1940 with support from the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project and it is the only WPA institution still operating in its original location. Since first opening over 80 years ago the South Side Community Art Center has hosted numerous free art classes for both adults and children, community gatherings, exhibitions, social events, and cultural celebrations. Over its long and rich history, and with a collection of more than 400 artworks alongside historical materials, the center has developed into a hub of Black creativity and community-led determination in Chicago. A diversity of Black artists and cultural creators have called the center home or developed strong connections to it, including AfriCOBRA artist Barbara Jones-Hogu, singer Nat King Cole, novelist Richard Wright, and poet Gwendolyn Brooks. The Center’s mission is to conserve, preserve, and promote the legacy and future of African American art and artists while educating the community on the value of art and culture.
Welcome and opening remarks
10:30-12:00 | Panel One
Transformative Practice: Creativity In Black and Indigenous Relationships to the Earth
Dr. Chelsea Frazier, Black feminist ecocritic and Assistant Professor of African American Literature and Culture at Cornell University
Mekazin Alexander, founder of Earl’s Garden Mae’s Kitchen in Englewood
Fawn Pochel, co-founder of the First Nations Garden in Albany Park
Moderator: Ashleigh Deosaran, PhD student, Department of Art History, Northwestern University
This panel explores the world building and transforming capacities of Black and Indigenous relationships to the earth. It also addresses the integral role that community gardens can play as dynamic social and culturally-affirming spaces where nourishment happens not only through food but also through folks gathering together and reclaiming space in their neighborhood. Panelists will share practices of community building and pathways of healing that emerge from the intersections between art and the natural environment.
1:00-2:15 | Panel Two
Local Knowledge, Community Resources, City Spaces: Examples from Englewood
Anton Seals Jr, Lead Steward of Grow Greater Englewood
Taryn Randle, co-founder of Getting Grown Collective in Englewood
Moderator: Alexandrea Keith, PhD Student, Department of History, Northwestern University
These panelists discuss the process of converting vacant city lots in Englewood into community gardens and farms. The panel highlights the significance of reshaping disinvested city space in Black neighborhoods into spaces of community nourishment and growth. Taryn and Anton will address how concepts of resiliency, mobilizing existing resources within their communities, and intergenerational collaboration show up in their practices. This discussion explores the challenges and successes of transforming local food systems on Chicago’s South Side into more equitable networks.
2:30-4:00 | Panel Three
Reclaiming Ancestral Knowledge, Dismantling Structural Racism
Erika Allen, Co-Founder & CEO of Urban Growers Collective
Rashad Shabazz, Associate Professor in African American Studies and Geography at Arizona State University
Seitu Jones, multi-disciplinary artist and community organizer
Moderator: Gervais Marsh, PhD Candidate, Department of Performance Studies, Northwestern University.
This panel addresses Black farming and gardening as the reclamation of ancestral knowledge and vital practice of Black futurity. It explores how urban agricultural practices can create conditions for justice-oriented community growth by working to dismantle structural racism. Panelists discuss the particularities within an urban environment of sustaining farms, community gardens, and their capacity to sustain health and materialize healing. Together these speakers engage the radical capacity of community building alongside issues of environmental and food access justice.
On Saturday we hold a closed-door session for symposium participants and other stakeholders with site visits, short talks by artists and curatorial researchers, and a brainstorming session about exhibition plans.