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Omphaloskepsis Blog

necessary & sufficient placemaking in Chicago

Aug 24, 2020

It’s been a while since I last posted. We are living through something big, and puzzling, and strange. So my life and art reached an unexpected but perfectly logical turning point. Please give me a minute to catch you up, and then tell me about you. 


What is placemaking? For the past several years I have been working on a long-term placemaking in art project, even though the jury is still out on the full meaning of that extensively researched term.  


Let’s look at placemaking in this context. I’ve taken over a commercial space in a diverse neighborhood where the other commercial spaces are either unoccupied or abandoned or simply not used for their intended purposes. That was already an opportunity for placemaking – to create something that would feel characteristic where there had been nothing.


In the entry to my art-making space, I’ve built a tiny café and take-out window business. My purpose is connecting diverse community members over a common interest so that they may see their neighbors as they see themselves -- as complex humans.  


My mission since my studio art days is unchanged: to use art to connect people and help them wake up. My metaphor in this endeavor is rather blunt - coffee is literally a vehicle for waking up.  


Rehabilitating the space, interior and exterior, has changed the tone and the energy of the two-block business district in which it’s located. I employ 6 baristas who live in this community and come from diverse backgrounds that reflect the community. Was the pandemic a curve-ball? Of course. I’ve had to build new skills, and learn to operate the business so that I can continue to remain open and provide a living wage to those I employ.  


What does it mean to congregate during our present local and global predicament? It’s quite a puzzle. I am working with a creative landscape architect to consider the greenbelt where I once planned a sidewalk café. Now I reimagine it as a calm respite for our guests. One that provides seating without face-to-face. We became fantastically cooped up and isolated, and need safely distanced seating outside the home to inhabit temporarily. We may need that for some time. I see this as the new model for outdoor seating in the evolving pandemic era.  


This work has been all consuming, exciting, immensely challenging and frustrating. Most recently, I’m receiving direct feedback from community members that the project is successful in its aims to connect neighbors to each other in a low-barrier, non-threatening, community-building way.  


Immersing myself, I have a new understanding of stereotype-based interference, and of how seemingly disparate parts combine to create new and useful connections, both to ourselves and one another.  


I’ve missed the back and forth with you. I’ve come up with something I’d really like to tell you about. Next time.  

Tags: placemaking
Category: Arts & Culture
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