Inheriting The Grid #1

AREA Begins

In the mid-spring months of 2005, I started meeting regularly with Jim Duignan, an artist and educator who has been initiating a wide range of collaborative projects under the name of the Stockyard Institute for the last ten years. I had been looking for an opportunity to collaborate with Stockyard for some time, and now, our discussion shifted to Jim’s longtime goal of doing a publication project. We talked about how a publication might come together that would both complement and look beyond the scope of other local publications featuring local art, education and activism–the three broad areas we had chosen for the framework of our publication.

At the same time, Jim and I were visiting students and staff at the Howard Area Alternative High School (HAAHS), having early discussions and planning meetings to try to develop a new collaboration between the school and the Stockyard Institute. The ideas for projects were going to lead to the creation of a more permanant space in the North Rogers Park/ Howard Area neighborhoods that could link arts education at HAAHS with ARTSLab, the new experimental school of the Stockyard Institute. In order to get the ball rolling, we were discussing smaller projects, like a radio station and a publication project. While the inter-school collaboration, the radio station, and the ARTSLab are still in their early stages, it was during a student meeting at HAAHS in May that the name “AREA” was initially proposed.

With a name, a rough framework for our project, and the support of the Stockyard Institute, we decided that I would edit the first several issues while developing an infrustructure to make AREA a sustainable, long-term publication. The first step was to convene a group of artists, activists, and educators from different projects and groups in the city whose work we respected, in order to talk about how to make AREA a publication that would be relevant to the diverse ideas and challenges that Chicago’s cultural and social justice communities are engaged with. This was the first meeting of the AREA Advisory Group, a rotating committee of individuals who will assemble during the early stages of each issue to develop the themes, content ideas, and structure of the publication. The Advisory Group’s first meeting, held at the West Town office of the media collective Video Machete, included members of a range of groups and projects, including Video Machete, Street Level Youth Media, Pilot TV, Temporary Services, Mess Hall, Journal of Ordinary Thought, Ha Ha, and Chicago Drag Kings, along with several critical artists and educators from public schools and colleges throughout the city. Our meetings led to a clearer articulation of AREA’s goals, and we began circulating calls for contributions via flyers, email announcements and word-of-mouth to a wide range of Chicagoans whom we imagined would be interested. We were excited by the scope of responses for such a new project, and we expect even more contributions and exciting collaborations to come after the first issue spreads around the city.

What is AREA becoming?

On one level, AREA is an investigation into movements of resistance and creativity that are gathering force in Chicago. On another level, it is a social networking project: within the pages of the publication, through the interactions and encounters at our public events and meetings, and in the very distribution of ideas throughout the city. We hope that the graffiti art, protests, critical writing, reflections, and projects that appear in these pages will inspire our readers with suggestions of the many ways in which a citizen can inherit a city on one’s own terms. In a local context where official politics are bankrupt and institutionally corrupt, it becomes our responsibility to create spaces where the micropolitics that we desire can be imagined and created. In a place where faulty urban planning and commercial interests dictate the shape and feel of the city–our space reclamations, urban gardening, and public projects connect us to a to our own agency to create the city. In a city where economic and social precariousness is the status of so many citizens, the experiments in resource-sharing that occur can provide stability and support. As Michel Foucault formulated the problem when discussing revolution and popular justice in a still-relevant 1972 discussion with Maosts,   “[…] the forms of state apparatus which we inherit from the burgeois apparatus cannot in any way serve as model for the new forms of organisation.” As engaged citizens, It becomes our responsibility to re-imagine what we inherit, and to create new models.

AREA is not concerned with “representing” Chicago arts, education, and activism. The goal of this publication is more focused on self-representation and on documentation for the purpose of celebration, critique, historical preservation, and community building/strengthening. The project will work only with involvement from a diverse range of interested bodies involved in cultural resistance, youth media, critical pedagogy/education, and all the spaces in between. Chicago has long been a hub for exciting hybrid events–from activist conferences like Active Resistance (1996) and Color of Violence (2002), to collective art actions like the Department of Space and Land Reclamation, to annual events like the mixed media Version Festival and the youth poetry slam Louder than a Bomb. Events like this–and the groups and individuals who organize and attend them–have generated a lot of material for local activists concerned with the intersection of culture and politics to contemplate, work with, and respond to. Chicago has also been the birthplace of groups and projects who have taken up the call for self-education and youth empowerment by creating alternative schools, youth media projects and discussion groups. Local publications like Nitty Gritty News and the Journal of Ordinary Thought provide models for connecting disparate parts of the city within their contents as well through their modes of distribution. With all of this exciting and vital work happening locally, AREA will aim to be a shared space to fuel, debate, refine, express and implement our collective goals for a more desirable and livable Chicago and world.