Artists, community seek alternative to public art funding

Justus Roe Mural: 5625 N. Clark St. (photo/Demetria Mosley)
Justus Roe Mural: 5625 N. Clark St. (photo/Demetria Mosley)

By Demetria Mosley, Dylan Fahoome and Sadé Carpenter

In the city home to the Art Institute, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and numerous galleries, finding art in some Chicago neighborhoods can be as easy as walking a few blocks.

But in others, this isn’t always the case.

General admission to the MCA ranges from $7 to $10, and tickets to the Art Institute are even pricier, at $17 to $23. For an individual making a trip to the Art Institute alone, tickets may be very affordable. Yet, a family of four could spend $80 for the same trip.

“Art in galleries is really great and it’s a great place to find art when you know to go there to look, but I think the idea of putting it out in the public brings it to everyone and makes it really accessible,” said Matthew Hoffman, a Chicago-based artist and designer.

While the Art Institute and MCA provide free general admission to residents on certain days, public art installations provide a budget-friendly alternative to museums and galleries. Depending on the neighborhood, some Chicagoans have more access to public art than others.

Data from the City of Chicago Data Portal shows an abundance of public art located in Chicago parks in the Loop or surrounding area. Further north in Andersonville, city-funded public art is scarcer.


Locations of public art in Chicago parks. Source: City of Chicago Data Portal. (map/Demetria Mosley)
Locations of public art in Chicago parks. Source: City of Chicago Data Portal. (map/Demetria Mosley)

When public grants and private donations fall through, some artists – also grappling with a 2015 budget of just $146 million for the National Endowment for the Arts – have turned to crowdsourcing as a means to fund public art projects.

Matthew Hoffman is one of them. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Hoffman’s “You Are Beautiful” project is making its way to Andersonville.

"You Are Beautiful" sticker in Andersonville. (photo/Demetria Mosley)
“You Are Beautiful” sticker in Andersonville. (photo/Demetria Mosley)

“The notion of crowdfunding is really great because outside of writing grants or private donations, this is a way that sort of everyone can have a hand in it and have a role in it,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman, 35, lives on the North Side of Chicago. He will soon begin construction on the project, which overreached its goal of $5,500 by almost $2,000.

Hoffman teamed up with eco-Andersonville, an initiative of the Andersonville Development Corporation (ADC), which is a non-profit responsible for long-term economic development and planning in the neighborhood. Eco-Andersonville addresses social, economic and environmental sustainability issues.

Eco-Andersonville previously commissioned artist Justus Roe, who created an outdoor mural located on Clark Street.

“Sometimes you do these types of initiatives and you’re not sure if you’ll get any support because a lot of this stuff is challenging and you don’t know if it’s going to connect with people,” said Brian Bonanno, sustainability programs manager at ADC. “It feels good to know people think it’s a good idea.”

The “You Are Beautiful” project began in 2002 as a way for Hoffman to mail out his stickers with the aforementioned phrase on it to people who requested them. The project grew to reach 81 countries and every single continent, including Antarctica. It can now be curated on social media with the hashtag #YouAreBeautiful.

Hoffman said the goal of the project was simply to make people feel better.

“Some people aren’t going to get it; some people are going to overlook it; some people aren’t going to even notice the stickers,” said Hoffman. “[It] won’t change the world, but it does have the power to change someone’s world.”

This map highlights public art and peacemaking locations in Andersonville.  (Map/Sadé Carpenter)
This map highlights public art and placemaking locations in Andersonville.
(Map/Sadé Carpenter)

Bonanno said eco-Andersonville partnered with Hoffman to spread a message of positivity. He also wants to show other communities the importance of public art.

“It has a value in any neighborhood,” said Bonanno. “There are some neighborhoods in Chicago that could really use the improvement, but might not have the tools or the resources or the people to get something like this funded or off the ground.”

“A lot of people don’t know…they look for grants or things like that to do this and you have the resources within your community if you get people and can put together a Kickstarter,” he said. “We wanted to show it doesn’t take the city or it doesn’t take grants necessarily to fund or make positive changes.”

Andersonville Dala Horse replica. (photo/Demetria Mosley)
Andersonville Dala Horse replica. (photo/Demetria Mosley)

Bonanno said eco-Andersonville is partnering with the Lawndale neighborhood and potentially Englewood. He plans to share art installations and fundraising strategies.

Brother Mark Elder, the muralist behind the “We Are DePaul2” mural on DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus, said public art could tell you a lot about a community in which it resides.

“The power of public art is where the artist is serving a community,” Elder said. “The artist basically works with the community to bring out what is important, visually…so that anybody can see it and get an idea as to what the community is about.”



Small-business owner creates new twist on popular dessert staple

Guilty Pleasurez cocktail cupcakes - vanilla vodka, hypnotize me, Bailey's chocolate and caramel, apple martini and cognac. (Photo/Sadé Carpenter)
Guilty Pleasurez cocktail cupcakes – vanilla vodka, hypnotize me, Bailey’s chocolate and caramel, apple martini and cognac. (Photo/Sadé Carpenter)


By Demetria Mosley and Sadé Carpenter

With the emergence of cupcakes as a mega-trendy dessert in recent years, cupcake shops and food trucks have become a dime a dozen in Chicago. Whether you prefer your sweets from Sprinkles or Swirlz, a tasty cupcake is easy to come by. Although the competition is fierce, one small business owner is making her mark with a boozy new twist on the old classic – cocktail cupcakes.

“We’re not selling alcohol, we’re selling alcohol in the cupcake,” said Tracey Glover, owner of Guilty Pleasurez Cocktail Cupcakes.

Glover started Guilty Pleasurez out of her home in suburban Bolingbrook. She says she wasn’t really taking her business seriously at first, and eventually upgraded to a commercial kitchen. She now rents space from Kitchen Chicago, a shared-use kitchen on the near-west side.

“I consider myself a pastry chef…but I consider more myself as an artist,” Glover said. “I don’t want them [the cupcakes] all perfect because they’re supposed to be works of art…It should smell good, it should taste good and it should look good.”

Glover works full time at an online university (she did not wish to disclose the name) when she isn’t working on her cupcakes. Because of her tight schedule, running Guilty Pleasurez is truly a family affair. Her 13-year-old daughter and 24-year-old son help with deliveries and cake preparation. But, no one in her family can make one of her cupcakes from start to finish because only she knows the full recipes. Glover says one of the reasons she started her business was to provide a secure future for her children.

“I like working for myself and I want something to leave for my children so they will…I will have a legacy,” Glover said. “They don’t have to depend upon other people to give them a job or decide whether they’re going to keep their job. This is something that they can grow and we can possibly franchise out.”

Guilty Pleasurez Cupcakes at America's Baking and Sweets Show. (Photo/Demetria Mosley)
Guilty Pleasurez Cupcakes at America’s Baking and Sweets Show. (Photo/Demetria Mosley)

Glover initially promoted her business by word-of-mouth. She started out going to hair salons, baby showers, weddings and networking events. She says people were initially skeptical, but once they heard “alcohol-infused,” they became more interested. They’re called cocktail cupcakes for a reason, but if you’re expecting them to be as strong as a martini, think again.

“I can’t get anymore alcohol in there. If you want more alcohol you might want to just get a shot,” Glover said. “It’s still a cupcake – it has to have presentation, it has to look delicious. I can’t just pour liquor all over your cupcake and hand it to you.”

While she isn’t shy, Glover says she at first had a hard time going up to people to sell her cupcakes. She handed out many cupcake-decorated business cards, and says they get more exposure than anything else.

“It was challenging for me to promote my cupcakes,” she said. “I felt so insecure and I felt like I was hustling people.”

So far, Glover’s hard work appears to be paying off. Guilty Pleasurez participated in America’s Baking and Sweets Show last weekend, and Glover and her crew will make another appearance at the One of a Kind Show in December.

Glover says the next part of her business plan is to switch to e-commerce so customers can purchase cupcakes online instead of calling or emailing to place orders. She says she would love to make Guilty Pleasurez her full-time job, but the company is still in the growing process.

“Even though we’re bringing in money, it goes right back out.”

This summer Glover hopes to open a food truck that would travel within Chicago and nearby suburbs like Oak Park. She says the majority of her customers live in the city, so the food truck would save them a trip to the suburbs.

Starting a business has been challenging, Glover said, but facing them head-on will ultimately benefit the business.

“You can continue to be uncomfortable and hungry, or you can get out of your comfort zone and try to grow this business.”

Professional stunt performers hone craft in Chicago

Professional stunt performers Chris Nolte and Rebecca Vickers perform a scene in "WaterWorld" at Universal Studios Singapore. (Photo/Facebook)
Professional stunt performers Chris Nolte and Rebecca Vickers perform a scene in “WaterWorld” at Universal Studios Singapore. (Photo/Facebook)

Usually when a person gazes at his image in a photograph, he recognizes the face looking back at him. For Chris Nolte, this isn’t always the case — He once mistook himself for actor Steve Martin.

“I had taken photos of myself with a disposable camera,” Nolte said in a phone interview. “When I got the prints back, I remember looking at a particular photo thinking, ‘when did I take a photo of him?’ only to realize that it was of me. Truth be told, I even fooled myself.”

As a professional stunt performer, it is often Nolte’s job to fool an audience into believing he is someone else. In the 2001 film “Novocaine,” his work as Steve Martin’s stunt double was so convincing, even the producers and director were fooled. Nolte, 43, has been a stunt performer since 1995. He auditioned for a show at Six Flags in his hometown, St. Louis, while studying theater and working as a bartender and waiter. There, he learned sword fighting, general stage combat and gun play for a role in “Robin Hood.”

Because of his size (6’2” and 200 pounds), Nolte is often cast in tough-guy roles – a thug in “Prison Break,” one of the Joker’s henchmen in “The Dark Knight” – for which he won a Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance in an Ensemble in a Motion Picture.

“It’s very nice to be recognized for that,” Nolte said. “It’s probably going to be one of the classics…so to have that be the one to win an award on is a proud moment.”

With the recent increase in movies and TV shows filmed in Chicago – “Batman Begins,” The Dark Knight,” “Divergent,” “Chicago Fire” and its spinoff, “Chicago P.D.,” to name a few – local actors and stunt professionals have more opportunities for work. An industry with so many nuances, Nolte said, is ideal for stunt performers with diverse backgrounds and skills. One job may require specialists in rigging or martial arts, while another utilizes wheelmen with expert driving prowess.

“I wouldn’t say I do everything and I wouldn’t say I specialize,” said Nolte. “Everyone’s got their own story. There aren’t two stunt men that have the same story.”

Though their stories aren’t exactly the same, Nolte’s story is deeply intertwined with another professional stunt performer’s, Rebecca Vickers. After first meeting at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan, they met again while working at Universal Studios, Singapore. The job was for “WaterWorld,” based on the 1995 blockbuster.

When they initially met in Japan, Vickers and Nolte became friends, but were dating other people. In Singapore, they were both single and the timing was right to begin a new relationship. A few years later, they became husband and wife. In April, they moved to Naperville.

“I can’t see it being anything other than destiny,” Nolte said, while Vickers, 34, laughed in the background. “I didn’t marry her because she’s a stunt performer…my wife is many things, she just also has a background in stunts.”

Vickers, who grew up in New South Wales, Australia, started dancing at age 3. At 17, she left high school to attend the David Atkins Dynamite Dance School of Performance Arts. She was working professionally as a dancer and actress at Universal Studios Japan when producers approached her about doing stunt work after another performer was injured.

“It was new world for me,” Vickers said. “I’d never trained with weapons or done any sort of high falls or fighting…you never really stop learning, you never stop training. Every day I go to work I learn something different, either a new stunt, a new way to fall or a new way to get hit by a car.”

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Vickers is currently filming episodes of “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.,” which premieres January 8 on NBC. She said the most challenging thing about her work is not the actual stunts, but the exhaustion after filming all day.

“In a perfect world it would be so good to be in and out in three or four hours, but sometimes they are 14-15 hour days,” Vickers said. “There’s a lot of waiting around. Stuff that we’ve been doing takes 15 hours to do one scene…you watch it when it airs, and it literally takes 20 seconds then it’s over.”

Despite the long days, Vickers said she loves her work and would love to say she’ll never stop taking stunt jobs. Emmanuel Manzanares, a 27-year-old stunt performer, shares her passion. He said he’d like to work for as long as he can walk.

“I’d love to perform as long as I could perform safely and adequately and then beyond that, I’d love to keep filming and creating until my body says no more,” Manzanares said in a phone interview. “To me, the biggest gift I can hopefully give is to help other people get to where they want to be, and help the community learn and grow as much as the community has helped me.”

Nolte recently got Manzanares a job working on “Chicago Fire” under veteran stunt coordinator Rick LeFevour. Manzanares, who specializes in Okinawan Goju-Ryu karate, Muay Thai kickboxing and general fight choreography, founded LBP Stunts Chicago in 2006, and now splits his time between Los Angeles and Chicago. He said being a stunt performer is much more than knowing how to fight.

“Let’s say you have a black belt; it means you’ve mastered the basics,” Manzanares said. “So, you should have a fundamental background and you should be able to control what you know. But, let’s say you only know how to fight and you only take that mentality onto a production, that’s not necessarily how it’s going to work…you have to learn how to adapt that training to what’s necessary for the production.”

Manzanares said one of the things he loves most about the stunt profession is the art of creation and getting to work as a team. He feels positive about the rise in job availability in Chicago.

“I think it’s a great-looking city…it’s a market that hasn’t been completely tapped,” he said. “It’s clear that the movies and TV shows that have been well done and shot in Chicago look great…the city just has a really natural look that you can’t get in the studio…It definitely gives a lot of the locals work to look forward to and it gets to show everyone else in the industry that we have something to offer.”

“SHIFT” – A New Media exhibit by Luftwerk at the Chicago Cultural Center

This is "Spectrum," the second installation in the three-part work "Shift," by Luftwerk./Photo credit: Sadé Carpenter
“Spectrum,” the second installation in the three-part New Media exhibit “Shift,” by Luftwerk./Photo: Sadé Carpenter

A myriad of colors and sound collide in “Shift,” the compelling media exhibit now on display at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Created by Luftwerk, collaboration between artists Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero (both School of the Art Institute of Chicago alumni), the intriguing exhibit features three separate installations that stimulate visitors’ senses while encouraging interaction with the piece.

Upon entrance into the first room “Spectrum,” viewers face a wall featuring a mosaic of 529 different colors, each blending and shifting to form new tones and hues. Though the colors are bright and fresh, the darkness of the remaining space and fluid color transitions provide a tranquil ambience. The panel may remind some of a painter’s palette or beautiful stained glass in a church.

Participation is central in the next area, “Synthesis,” where shadows are cast in different colors depending on where the exhibit-goer stands on a large white rectangle covering the floor. Subtle bell tones – courtesy of sound artist Owen Clayton Condon – are almost unnoticeable initially, but once heard, are reminiscent of a sweet lullaby.

“Threshold,” the final component in “Shift,” jolts the viewer out of the peacefulness of the previous installations, stripping the piece of color in its sharp display of black and white lines. This room also serves as contrast to the softer, more muted color in “Synthesis.” Two mirrors are angled together between two walls, forming a prism. The lines travel across the wall, producing shapes until suddenly they flat line, perhaps signaling the end of the experience.

SAIC Alumni Profile, Luftwerk: Sean Gallero & Petra Bachmaier (BFA 1999) from SAIC on Vimeo.

Location: Chicago Rooms Gallery, (2nd Floor North) – Chicago Cultural Center 78 E. Washington St. Chicago, IL 60602

Exhibition date: open now through January 5th

Exhibition hours: Mon.-Thurs., 10am-7pm, Fri. – Sun., 10am-6pm

Closed holidays

Admission: FREE

Chicago area entrepreneurs plant seeds in photography, fashion

Wake up at 5 a.m. Shower, eat a small breakfast (if there’s time), then drive to O’hare International Airport to start a 7:30 a.m. shift. Clock out at 2 p.m., drive home for shower number two then change clothes and head to Verizon Wireless. Work a few hours, clock out and go to class. Get home by 11 p.m. Sleep. Repeat.

For Brian Flynn, 32, this is a typical Monday. A part-time digital photography student at Harrington College of Design (where he also works in the equipment cage), Flynn juggles three part-time jobs, school and his true passion, capturing images.

Photo Credit: Brian Flynn, B Flynn Photography
Photo Credit: Brian Flynn, B Flynn Photography

“[The challenge is] having enough energy to keep up with doing everything that I do, said Flynn in a phone interview. “I’m probably a very crazy individual at this point because I do so much, and there’s simply not enough time in the day to accomplish everything.”

If he has the weekend off from his ramp services job at United Airlines, Flynn starts his Saturday around 9 a.m. with a photo shoot or editing in his shared studio space. In his last semester at Harrington, Flynn said he is ready to focus more on his company, B Flynn Photography. Still, he is nervous about putting himself out there as a full-time photographer.

“It’s a little scary because there are so many ups and downs between how often I have paying clients,” he said. “I still need to work, still need a steady paycheck.”

Laid off from Blue Cross Blue Shield last November, Kylisha Alsberry, aspiring fashion designer and creator of online boutique Haute Sheek, knows this fear all too well. Though given the option to stay at her company, she said she opted for a severance package and invested nearly $5,000 in her own business.

“When I finally decided to step out and call my own shots…there’s nothing like it,” Alsberry said. “I was meant to be a boss; I have to be a boss.”

Continue reading Chicago area entrepreneurs plant seeds in photography, fashion

Singer-songwriter Kaye Fox

Singer-songwriter Kaye Fox.
Singer-songwriter Kaye Fox. (Official website

By Sadé Carpenter

At age 7, Kaye Fox already knew what she wanted to be when she grew up – a singer. What she didn’t know though, is she would end up singing background vocals for mainstream artists Nas, Common, Rick Ross and Kanye West.

Fox’s foray into music began at west side school St. Malachy. Overheard in music class, she was asked later to sing at Sunday mass.

“I had to stand on a stool to sing and the response was so, so overwhelmingly good,” said Fox. “I instantly felt like, ‘this is probably what I’m supposed to do.’”

Now 27, Fox is pursuing her passion. Born Kim Jefferson in Charleston, S.C., Fox’s family moved to Chicago when she was 4. She grew up listening to gospel, mimicking her favorite artists to teach herself how to sing.

Fox sang in her church choir as well as gospel and concert choirs at her high school, Proviso West in Hillside. She said she is grateful for being able to attend a school with a diverse performing arts program.

“That was key to giving me an expanded knowledge on music,” Fox said.

Continue reading Singer-songwriter Kaye Fox

Chicago actress embraces diversity, imperfection onstage

Chicago Actress Niccole Thurman. Photo courtesy of
Chicago actress Niccole Thurman. Photo courtesy of

By Sadé Carpenter

Second City alumna Tina Fey hosted the premiere episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL) last Saturday, now in its 39th season.  As she introduced the six new cast members, it was hard not to notice one detail – all of them are white, and only one is female.

Following the episode, media outlets raised questions about the show’s absence of color. In an interview with theGrio, Jay Pharoah, one of the two black cast members, shared his opinion that SNL should be more diverse, and could start by hiring a black woman.

Niccole Thurman, a biracial actress, singer and improviser based in Chicago, can relate. Featured in “What the Tour Guide Didn’t Tell You: A Chicago Review” at The Second City’s UP Comedy Club, Thurman says it is noticeable when a multiracial society isn’t reflected onstage.

“It can be challenging to be a woman in comedy, it can be challenging to be a minority in comedy,” she said. “My parents are black & white – why can’t we represent that onstage or onscreen?”

There should be more diversity in theater, Thurman says, but not solely in an attempt to fill a quota. Drawn to roles that allow her to highlight a person’s imperfections, she says she embraces her differences and believes they help her stand out when she auditions.

Continue reading Chicago actress embraces diversity, imperfection onstage

Chaos is the nature of the universe

Edgar Blackmon and Ross Bryant after performing their "Struggle Rap." /Photo by Clayton Hauck for Second City
Edgar Blackmon and Ross Bryant after performing their “Struggle Rap.” Photo by Clayton Hauck for Second City

VIENNA, 1918 – A young woman arrives late to her music lesson and is immediately scolded by her cantankerous music teacher, who she secretly loves. As he lectures her on the importance of being punctual, she slowly removes her broken violin from its case in preparation for the lesson.

Blind, the music teacher doesn’t know her instrument is ruined until she attempts to play. He quickly catches on, and also begins to see that she is in love with him. “He’s like my salami – a mystery inside,” she sings sweetly, drawing the bow delicately across the violin’s severed strings. “Play on, my love!” he belts out, revealing his mutual affection.

The Second City’s 101st Revue, “Let Them Eat Chaos,” is filled with humorous yet unexpectedly sentimental sketches like these. Played by Ross Bryant and Nicole C. Hastings (filling the roles normally played by Holly Laurent), the Austrian teacher and student are just one odd couple among many used to illustrate the show’s running theme, “you’re always someone to someone.”

“Let Them Eat Chaos” opens with the entire cast – Bryant, Hastings, Edgar Blackmon, Steve Waltien, Niccole Thurman (in the role normally performed by Tawny Newsome) and Chelsea Devantez (her role is normally played by Katie Rich) – appearing onstage and taking a suggestion from the audience. An audience member shouts “turtle,” and the ensemble immediately begins to improvise scenes revolving around the word. From this point on, the actors segue seamlessly from one sketch to another.

Continue reading Chaos is the nature of the universe

Shops and Lofts at 47: Transforming Bronzeville or an Unlikely Solution?

Shops and Lofts at 47, Cottage Grove, 47th Street, Chicago, Bronzeville
This commercial and residential construction project, The Shops and Lofts at 47 in Bronzeville, is expected to be completed in 2014. It will feature a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market and mixed-income housing units. (photo/Ali Trumbull)

By Ali Trumbull and Sadé Carpenter

After seven years of changes and setbacks, The Shops and Lofts at 47 at the corner of 47th Street and Cottage Grove in the Bronzeville neighborhood have broken ground.

The project should be finished sometime in 2014 with a 41,000 square-foot Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, 14,000 square-foot local retail space and 96 rental apartments.

An effort to improve and transform the Bronzeville neighborhood, the rental apartments will be mixed-use with 28 units receiving both Chicago Housing Authority and Low Income Housing Tax Credit subsidies, 44 units receiving low-income tax credit subsidies, and 24 units will be market price.

“From a community perspective the deeper question is, was there or is there a community benefit from the agreement that in fact empowers the lower income community from a bottom-up perspective,” Harold Lucas, the President and CEO of Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council said. “I assure you that was not there.”

Lucas is also the Director of the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center. He’s thankful that something is happening to improve the Bronzeville neighborhood’s housing and retail options, but does not think this project is empowering the lower and middle class.

“For the city of Chicago to put an anchor project on Cottage Grove that doesn’t tell us how it fits more broadly with the other things that are happening west of there, it is to me like putting a Trojan horse into a community and taking that community over,” Lucas said.

Continue reading Shops and Lofts at 47: Transforming Bronzeville or an Unlikely Solution?

Riders React to Red Line El Closure

CTA, Red Line, Chicago, Sox-35th
Terrence Woods, 16, and Frank Lewis, 14, arrive at the Sox-35th stop. They use the Red Line daily. (Photo/Sadé Carpenter)

By Sadé Carpenter

Red Line El riders are concerned about long travel delays and safety as the May 19 South Branch Reconstruction Project start date approaches.

Several riders said they fear a more chaotic commute, and some worry that additional bus and shuttle services won’t be enough to avoid a considerable inconvenience to Red Line passengers.

Frank Lewis, an Uplift Community High School student from Armour Square, takes the Red Line daily from Sox-35th. He said he travels to the Wilson stop to get to school. Lewis said he heard a month ago about the closure on the news, and is upset about the construction, he said.

“I feel bad for people who work far from home,” Lewis said. “How will they get to work?”

The Red Line Dan Ryan branch – Cermak-Chinatown through 95th/Dan Ryan – will be closed for five months, beginning May 19. During the closure, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) will completely rebuild the tracks and drainage systems in order to provide speedier and more reliable service, according to the CTA website.

Continue reading Riders React to Red Line El Closure