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Chicago Life #5 (8/14/05)

Published in the Chicago Life supplement of the Sunday New York Times, August 14, 2005.

The Chicago Art Foundation – A Museum in the Making

Starting a museum from scratch is a beautiful challenge. The vision is the easy part. It’s the logistics that are difficult.

When we last visited this subject, I was discussing the need for a Chicago museum that looked at the substantial aesthetic talent that exists here.

The genesis of the Chicago Art Foundation grew from the minds of numerous artists last winter. With their seminal participation, literally hundreds of artists participated in numerous discussions. Members of the business community got inspired and offered to help make the vision a reality.

The art-making in this city goes hand in hand with the building of this city. The Chicago Art Foundation is about the unique relationship between art, in all its glorious forms, and civic pride; a response, if you will, to globalization, homogony, and sameness, and an effort to examine the differences that make where we live unique.

To do that we need to educate about the past, showcase the present, and build for the future.

Daniel Burnham and Louis Sullivan built our buildings. Carl Sandburg wrote our poems. Nelson Algren brought us home. And Chicago artists painted, drew, and sculpted our experiences in this great place.

Chicago has a rich history of innovation and substance in the arts, literature, architecture, music, poetry, and theater. And yet too many of my contemporaries cannot place Manierre Dawson into context or know about the challenges he faced in America and Chicago. To know Dawson’s challenges and to realize his accomplishments eases the journey for those artists who walk in his footsteps. The Chicago Art Foundation will be a collecting institution and will present historical exhibits and critical discussions to educate the artist and the public about our artistic legacy so that we may learn from our past.

To illuminate today’s visual artists who call Chicago home is to honor and nurture them in appreciation for their gift. Artists like William Conger, Sabrina Raaf, Juan Chavez, Bernard Williams, Ai Kijima, and so many more walk our streets and see Chicago in ways that I and others can only begin to imagine. If we can begin to grasp but a small portion of their vision we are unequivocally better for it. For each artist and citizen that engages our town there is a different Chicago. We want as many Chicagos as is humanly, communally, and artistically possible. That we may enhance and grow our artists’ careers, that they may improve ours, is within our grasp.

The future well-being of Chicago and our artists is dependent upon enabling others to experience and appreciate the efforts of Chicago’s artists, both in Chicago and out of town. We will invite international curators to come to Chicago and encourage them to visit artists’ studios and our galleries in search of content for shows, and by so-doing enable them to identify art they can take back home. We will export as many exhibits of working Chicago artists as we present, to other American cities and globally. We will encourage Chicago artists to identify international artists they would like to exhibit with and invite those artists to exhibit in two-person shows at the Chicago Art Foundation. Though this museum is clearly about Chicago, the dialogue is global, broad, and timely.

Part of our history is missing – the efforts of 150 years of Chicagoans have evaporated, and continue to disappear. By extension, some of today is missing, too. So immersed in our own life, we lose sight of our place in history, our relationship to the bigger picture, life on our block, in our neighborhood, beyond, beyond, beyond. We strive to build an institution that the citizenry can see itself in – a home for all of us, diverse, multi-faceted, engaging, relevant, meaningful and fun; an institution that not only reflects and reveals who we are, but adds depth to our life, context to our past, breadth to our present, and possibility to our future.

This is a museum without precedence: from the many – for the many. Not about collectors sharing their acquisitions – it is about art and artists sharing their vision, defining and illuminating our existence, making art and ourselves accessible. And it’s about pride.

Not only will this institution be for all, it will come from all. Whether you paint or sculpt, police our streets or wait tables, work in a high rise, own it or clean it, you have a stake in our vision. It is about what each of us can contribute to make a difference. It is about helping each of us help ourselves. It is about bringing Chicago home.