New festival addresses value of artistic labor

By Brianna Wellen

Crowd members interacted with a large-scale performance as it paraded through the streets of the Logan Square neighborhood. They followed the procession from Voice of the City, 3429 W. Diversey Ave., to Elastic Arts Foundation, 2830 N. Milwaukee Ave. Logan Square boasts an abundance of creative voices, and the To Art and Profit Festival turned its focus there on the first weekend of the three-part event.

Presented through Links Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield Ave., the first To Art and Profit Festival debuted three of nine performances along with community outreach events curated by artistic associates Meida McNeal and Abra Johnson. The festival’s first session started on March 18, addressing issues over three weekends such as the role of artists, the capitalist value of art and the scope of public voice in community spaces.

Each year, Links Hall’s residency program provides the chosen artistic associates with the budget for a nine-performance project to. In the past, the program has introduced reoccurring series such as “Collision_Theory” to Links Hall’s repertoire.

Along with organizing the performances and the public spectacle, McNeal and Johnson planned their event to include panel discussions to widen the audience conversation.

“We saw this as a many-pronged approach to deal with this issue,” McNeal said. “It’s not just artists who should be having this conversation about the role of the cultural worker and creative artists and the value of creative labor, but that’s a discussion that should be happening in a wider community.”

When bringing artists into the project, McNeal said they reached out to the local independent scene to find people with strong, creative voices who don’t generally get exposure.

The artists create work interpreting the issues raised by McNeal and Johnson, such as Roger Noel and Cristal Sabbagh’s collaboration of Afro-Caribbean dance and Japanese Butoh.

“What’s nice about this festival is none of these artists have worked together before, and so they’re pretty much these mashups of artists across different disciplines,” said Marie Casimir, Links Hall’s communication associate. “You have these groupings of different backgrounds and different fields working together to answer these questions.”

Each weekend culminates in a panel discussion answering questions posed by the curators, artists and audience members featuring prominent art-minded voices, ranging from artistic directors to professors.

According to McNeal, an important part of this year’s discussion is revealing the hidden economy of art. She said the public should see the artists’ process behind creating the end product, while balancing the other roles in their life and maintaining a living.

Dawn Marie Galtieri, executive and artistic director at Voice of the City, a Logan Square arts alliance, and panelist for the March 20 discussion, said the inclusion of public art is the best way for people who may not always seek out performances to appreciate artists.

According to Galtieri, to be on par with other major cities, more projects like the public performance spectacle should take place in Chicago.

“I just think arts should be public,” Galtieri said. “I think the idea that you would invite people to see art is a way to develop audience, but it can’t be the only way. In New York, street happenings are very common. In Chicago, it’s not in the fabric of our city.”

In an effort to be more interactive, McNeal and Johnson are encouraging people to guest blog on the festival’s website with their interpretations of the value of creativity. Though the project is slated for this year, they hope their multi-platform approach will keep the conversation going year-round.

“We see where it could build and grow, that’s why we have so many applications for it,” McNeal said. “These are all things that, if we can build the momentum, they would be wonderful to sustain.”

The To Art and Profit Festival continues from April 15 to 17 and May 20 to 22. For more information on specific performances and ticket prices, visit