So is the city of Chicago the problem? Sounds like a joke, but it isn't. The city is working like crazy to keep artists here and happy. That's why we have Chicago Artists Month. The city has a business wing that interviews artists to find out what our needs are. Art is vital to a thriving, civilized community and they know it. Architect Ed Uhlir had the city spend a bundle to get Frank Gehry to come up with the artful bandshell and bridge and the CloudGate by Kapoor.
But are there problems for artists despite the programs in place right now?
Are the city programs geared to placate artists but not push them to a higher level of recognition?
Before you answer let's get a very brief background on how NYC became the center of the art universe. During and after WW II, European artists migrated to New York! The Nazis, the devastation, and perhaps the lure of New York art dealers were in play to cause the migration.
So the Abstract, Abstract Expressionists movements continued and thrived in New York instead of Paris.
As Dawoud said in his post Chicago had the Hairy Who and Imagists; Suellen Rocca, one of the members, is the gallery director at Emlhurst College. As far as black artists go the artists from the Harlem (New York) Renaissance period, including those who were not in Harlem such as Chicagoan, Archibald Motley, Jr. seem to be the most famous group. These artists were mostly sponsored by white patrons.
James Porter, Lois Jones and those artists who were in the Harmon shows as well as Chicago artists Marion Perkins and others affiliated sometimes with the South Side Community Art Center remain well-known, but not part of a group in one city who fed each other's art. Of course Perkins became famous when he won a prize for sculpture in the, now non-existent, Chicago and Vicinity show at the Art Institute. Some artists swear the show was ended so black artists could remain out of the museum.
It seems that African American artists were strewn hither and yon. In Chicago Margaret Burroughs gathered artists together and talked about history and art. Anna M. Tyler is a product of those meetings. They had galleries. Afam is the name of one I heard about run by black artists. Allen Stringfellow started the Wells Street Art Fair. A lot of the artists such as Calvin Jones, Al Tyler, of course Richard Hunt attended the Art Institute (S.A.I.C.)
The only "famous" group from here that I know about is Afri-Cobra. They extended past Chicago to D.C. and Atlanta and perhaps beyond, with Murray DePillars, now in the south, as well as Michael Harris in Atlanta and Akili Ron Anderson in D.C.Jeff Donaldson is deceased. I heard Kerry James Marshall say he was a part of Afri-Cobra. Would like to hear more about that, wouldn't you?
There was another group in New York. In 1963 Spiral included Romare Bearden, Emma Amos, Hale Woodruff and others, maybe William T. Williams. I heard Richard Mayhew, also a member, talk about the group at N'Namdi Gallery and Emma Amos at the Bearden Symposium that Dawoud brought here last year.
My group, Sapphire and Crystals has been making our own exhibitions in Chicago for the last 20 years. I curated Sapphire and Crystals: In Black and White in honor of Spiral.
Latino artists started Polvo.
The women had Artemisia (closed), ARC and now, Woman Made. ARC is about 34 years old. They all embrace all women, although they are predominantly white. The Women Caucus for the Arts is also active here.
Chicago Artists Coalition invites all artists.
There is the African American Arts Alliance. They support all the arts. I know I have left something out.
Haki Madhabuti is involved with a group of artists, a national group that has a Chicago wing.
Anyone can submit ideas for panel discussions to Barbara Koenen at the Department of Cultural Affairs for the Artists at Work forums. www.chicagoartistsresource.org. Maybe a discussion called: African American Artists: Mainstream vs. Tributary? (ok, that's just silly!)
But, seriously, what do you think? What can we do to move it forward?