Five Questions with President Kate Lorenz
Hyde Park Art
by Camilla Mikolajewska
“I used to say “we do everything except give money away,”—but now we do that too!
This week we are distributing $560,000 to working artists using their homes or
their studios to welcome
by Kalya Ramu
2020 was a transformative year for many in the art industry. However, people have reacted to this pandemic situation in creative and inspiring ways. For Kate Lorenz and her team at Hyde Park Art Center, that transformation resulted in tremendous generosity. From granting $560,000 to artist-run centers, to creating accessible online classes, they are seeking to revive Chicago’s art-scene one project at a time. Hyde Park Art Center has always been recognized as a welcoming communal space, for artists and activists alike. I had the opportunity to meet with Lorenz, to discuss her organization's mission on diversity, inclusion, curation, and their plan for community outreach. The Hyde Park Art Center is an institution that organizations inside and outside of Chicago can look up to as a model for change, and post-Covid recovery.
What actions will Hyde Park Art Center be taking to advocate for equity and diversity in the arts?
Will be or have been? That’s what we try to do everyday and 2020 really highlighted that. When 2020 happened, our reflex was around how we can continue to offer the support people are used to having from us. We have an audience of 45,000 people a year, from a wide variety of artistic backgrounds. These people use the space as a neighbourhood hub; a place to be. We nurture about 150 creative high school students in developing as artists and activists. Our teams have been very active in the activist movement and used this as a platform to speak up about the issues of inequality.
Does the Hyde Park Art Center have a plan for reaching youth in low-income neighbourhoods with their programming?
It’s been so traumatic for students and families to not have in person school for so long. We’ve been able to continue our teen programs throughout the pandemic, virtually and as a result have been able to run everything as we did before. About 1200 students participated and a third of them didn't pay a dime. This helps with their mental health and allows them to participate through the loss of jobs, or difficult situations to begin with. What suffers the most are the things that require equipment and studios, we’ve had to get very creative. One student collected art supplies which she delivered to artists and students who don’t have access to such things. Another hosted a public community day with lots of activities that happened in an abandoned school building nearby. We have also been working with students K-8 in the Southside of Chicago, doing virtual programs with them, and trying to support them with what they need the most during this time. I used to say “we do everything except give money away,” but now we do that too. This week we are distributing $560,000 to working artists, particularly those who are working inside of their homes. The “Artists Run Chicago 2.0” exhibition highlighted artist run activities in Chicago with 50 artists participating . We were able to get support to actually give them cash to do their work and weather the storm. So each person who participated in this will receive $8000 in order to do their work and the remaining funds will allow 20 more artists to receive the same amount. The second round of Artists Run Chicago Fund grants will prioritize artists who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of colour; women; LGBTQ+ artists; and artists with disabilities. In total 70 spaces will get $8,000 grants which allows them to do a lot of incredible things.
I can’t help but notice the diversity of your staff members, was there a conscious effort from leadership to achieve this diversity?
We have a long way to go. Yes it has been a conscious effort, but it also makes our work better period. It’s very simple. We have a lot to do, you never finish, you’re always working at it. You have to be able to make it a core value and part of your culture, then it can follow. This is not something that lives with one person or one department, it’s an organizational value, and we learn from our mistakes and try to do better. Part of where it can fail is when it’s a checkbox. Instead we need to build an environment and culture where people can thrive. Our board is about 40% leaders of colour. Hyde Park Art Center is very racially and demographically diverse. We aim to be a literal community hub, and to support the artistic ecology city wide. Our audience demands that kind of diversity, it’s who we are, who uses us, and who wants to come and claim the space. It grows organically from there. We want to have a board that can understand the experience of our artist and of people from the community. We are situated in an old building in the University of Chicago, which historically was a white led institution in a very diverse community. Our intention and effort to live our values of inclusivity moving forward is more important than ever.
When going through artist submissions to curate an exhibit, what are you looking for?
Our primary focus is on Chicago-based artists but we also have an International Residency program where we allow international artists to live and work in Chicago. We are also able to create exchanges for our Chicago artists to live and work internationally in order to gain international experience. Our space is quite large so when looking for new work by
Chicago- based artists, we are looking for artists who can take on very bold projects. Essentially we want to provide a platform to offer a pivotal moment for artists to allow them to do something they’ve never been able to do before. Our newest exhibit will feature Cecil McDonald, a Chicago-based artist and educator, who uses photography, video, and text to explore intersections of masculinity, ancestry, and the artistic and intellectual pursuits of Black Americans. Cecil already has a very successful career and is widely known, here he’s getting a chance to do something very experimental that he’s never had a chance to do before.
We also have a large 2-story 2500 square foot gallery space with a garage door allowing the gallery to become a public plaza. About once a year we invite an artist to take that whole space over and create a solo show to invite people in from the street. Very interesting projects have come from this. The next artist we will be hosting in that space is Faheem Majeed who will have performance, video, sculpture, and mentoring for young artists. Our curatorial team has a very diverse background in art, allowing them to seek out artists from all over Chicago. We also have an open submission program for artists to submit their work for the review of our curatorial team.