Future art historians rejoice

By HermineBloom

While attending countless gallery openings and meeting a slew of local artists, recent Columbia alumnae Nicolette Caldwell and Tempestt Hazel became acutely aware of what they call the city’s “peripheral visual culture.”

Much of the work Caldwell and Hazel tended to gravitate toward was unknown or deemed not fit to hang on the walls of one of Chicago’s esteemed art institutions, said Hazel, who received an art history degree from Columbia.

Rather than letting artists’ hyperlocalness serve as a detriment, the pair developed a nonprofit organization in 2009 called Sixty Inches from Center: The Chicago Arts Archive and Collective Project to celebrate underrepresented artists in the city.

Ultimately, the exposure led to other opportunities. Namely, they are now artistic directors for an art program on WBEZ-FM this upcoming summer.

“We were seeing all this amazing stuff and meeting all these amazing people and not everybody knows about it,” said Caldwell, who works full time at an apartment rental agency. “After graduation we could still be engaged in the art community and make a place for ourselves, especially at a time where there aren’t many entry-level positions in the arts.”

The name of the organization, which was directly borrowed from the name of Caldwell’s exhibit at her time spent at Columbia, refers to the gap between the typical gallery and the art institution, Caldwell said. However, there are no realrequirements to be featured on the site.

“What we really are trying to do is give a voice back to the artists,” said Hazel, who currently works for The Department of Cultural Affairs as the program coordinator for Studio Chicago, outreach coordinator for Chicago Artists Resource and promotions coordinator for Chicago Artists Month. “Some of the artists we’re meeting with or talking to have shown [their work] at the Museum of Contemporary Art, for example. But we’re trying to connect with them and their work and not necessarily the show they have in that space.”

Because of their art history degrees, Hazel and Caldwell think of themselves as curators. They considered using the site as a tool in the future when designing the

site’s mission.

“We wanted to start getting a better idea of what’s actually going on in Chicago to hopefully, down the road, find some trends we didn’t notice,” Caldwell said.

An archive of local artists’ work also didn’t exist online before they founded their organization. Now a team of contributors post interviews—audio, video or print—with artists, curators, gallerists and the like every Monday morning, serving as a way to track artists’ development.

“Another one of our efforts is to get the Chicago artists archived so they can be referenced in a serious way by future art historians or current art historians,” Hazel added. “We’re working on different ways to approach that and be serious about that.”

A few artists featured on the site include Jamie Lynn Henderson, one of seven participants in the Chicago Artists’ Coalition residency program; Mark Moleski, who uses different mediums including ink and paper; and painter Rhonda Grey.

At Columbia, Hazel said a lot of the information they interacted with as students was information written by art critics, art writers and scholars.

“We try to give the microphone back to the artist, so a lot of content is words directly from the artist or the curator’s mouth,” Hazel said. “We try to remove that

editorial tone.”

Less than 20 people visited the site when it first launched. Now, 120 people visit it weekly. In May, Caldwell and Hazel plan to host an event, which remains slightly ambiguous in execution for the time being.

“One half of the organization is the documentation or the archive and the other half is the collective project,” Hazel said. “[It’s] ways in which we’ll try to bring the art community together and do something.”

Brooks Golden, a visual artist who participated in Caldwell’s graffiti exhibit with the same name, is featured on the organization’s website. Golden primarily paints, though he draws, sculpts and does graffiti as well and has for the past 10 years. He works the graveyard shift in the service industry but cites art as his full-time job.

Golden said he met Caldwell through an e-mail call for artists in October 2009.

Recently having shown his work at the C33 Gallery, 33 E. Congress Parkway; Sapere Art Gallery, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave.; and 32nd & Urban, 3201 S. Halsted St., Golden is no stranger to the Chicago gallery scene. Still, Sixty Inches from Center’s mission appeals to him on a personal level.

“If there’s not some sort of monetary pull people are less likely to pursue it, but this feels genuine to me, which is the only reason I’m involved.”

Visit SixtyInchesfromCenter.org to interact with the website’s content or to contribute.