Chicago’s art scene is perhaps best known for the quality of its public art and its vast array of artist-run spaces. This next series of profiles will focus on some of the prominent alternative exhibition venues and projects based in the Windy City.
While only in its second season, ACRE (Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions) is quickly becoming known as a commanding residency model and excellent opportunity for emerging artists. Each year, volunteers spend innumerable hours pooling their skills and resources to create the annual residency program in Wisconsin and to organize past residents’ solo and group exhibitions at partner institutions and ACRE Projects, their Chicago gallery space. Applications for Summer 2011 residencies are due this Thursday, May 5th.


(Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions)

ACRE Projects / 1913 W 17th Street / Chicago / IL / 60608
ACRE Residency / Steuben / WI
Open Hours: Sundays, 4-8. Mondays, noon-4.

How is the project operated? For-profit, nonprofit, artist-run, etc.
ACRE is a volunteer-run non-profit founded, directed and staffed by artists and musicians.

How long has it been in existence?
ACRE was founded in January, 2010. This summer marks the second iteration of the residency program. Many of the directors and staff working on this project, however, founded and worked for five years on another similar residency in Ohio.

What was your motivation?
The idea for a community-based residency program came from our own feelings as artists and creatives leaving our respective art schools and institutions that we were lacking that environment of intellectual exchange with other like-minded individuals we had previously been a part of. The mission of ACRE is to provide support to emerging artists in a number of ways that really came out of our own sense of what we needed as young artists without the backing of an institution, not yet able to enter into the gallery system: opportunities to be around other artists for discourse, time and place to work on our individual practices and venues to display new work.

Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
2 founders- Emily Green and Nicholas Wylie, who are the current Co-Directors. 2 Assistant Directors- Caitlin Arnold and Ciara Ruffino. 15-20 volunteer staff members and 2 interns working year round at the residency and in Chicago.

How are programs funded? (membership fees, public funding, sponsors, etc.)
At this time we are still in the process of acquiring our federal non-profit status, so we are ineligible for most federal, state and foundation grants and are therefor raising all our capitol ourselves. There is a fee associated with the residency program which goes toward paying the rent at the farm in Wisconsin. Additionally, ACRE relies on private donations and fundraiser events. We currently are using Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform to raise money for our upcoming residency program. This year we are excited to offer 2 full-ride scholarships and 6 half-rides sponsored by two generous individuals. We are also waiting to hear back about our first grant proposal to go toward the application cost of filing for non-profit status.

Who is responsible for the programming? (Curators, Directors, etc.)
Both administrators and residents/artists are responsible for programming. Each artist has entire control over the show they put together for their time in our exhibition space. Additionally the 4 directors work together to organize group shows, acquire other opportunities to showcase our artists and pair up artists we think might work well together for specific projects. For example, we organized a group show featuring artists who typically create large-scale sculptural work, because we had the opportunity to work in an expansive exhibition space in Chicago. Another opportunity was presented to us by Columbia College’s A+D Gallery, who invited us to propose some sort of program for an open slot this coming June. We chose 4 artists who previously had not worked together and asked them to work with us to propose an exhibition involving a lot of additional programming such as screenings, performances and interactions with the public around the downtown gallery.
Residency programming is determined by a committee made up of board members, administrative directors and volunteer staff members, who work together to create a well-rounded schedule of lectures, workshops, studio visits, critiques, readings, and other activities and special projects.

Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
ACRE provides each of its residents with a week in our (or one of our partner’s) gallery space. Supporting over 70 artists means we have at least one exhibition opening practically every weekend in Chicago, though each exhibition typically runs for only a week or a few days.

What kind of events are usually organized?
In addition to our weekly solo shows, ACRE holds a few fundraisers each year and has participated in local art fairs (NEXT, MDW). We have also organized a handful of group shows ourselves and in conjunction with other galleries and institutions. This summer we will be throwing a block party as a send-off before we head out to Wisconsin for the residency.

How is your programming determined?
As was mentioned above, artists develop their own solo exhibitions.  Opportunities to show a large body of new work are often relatively rare for emerging and mid-career artists. While a series of group shows might be easier to pull off, we find that most of our residents are invited to these sorts of exhibitions with relative frequency already. A solo show provides something more; it gives the artists the experience of editing their work into a cohesive exhibition, the challenge of presenting one’s work appropriately and professionally, a CV bolster, and focused, critical conversation around the work at the opening and beyond. That said, we give residents the gallery for a week, and they are free to team up with other artists to have multi-week duo or group exhibitions. Some artists have chosen this route, and the resultant shows have been some of the strongest of the year.

Do you accept proposals/submissions?
We accept applications for the residency program and throughout the year, are open to proposals from residents for programming that they want to work with us on. We also accept proposals for workshops and other sorts of programming at the residency.

What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
Though all of our directors and board members have curatorial experience, ACRE’s model does not incorporate curatorial control. We are working with so many artists, all with different backgrounds, coming from different stages in their practices, that it is nearly impossible to say that there is a consistent artistic thread we are working with. The tastes and opinions of the directors certainly come into play at times, but we are much more concerned in being democratic and allowing all sorts of practices a platform for exposure. That said, we have welcomed several curators as residents in the past. Various exhibitions and projects have resulted, many incorporating other residents.

What’s working? What’s not working?
Feedback from the artists who have attended the residency program is overwhelmingly positive and the strong community developing around our weekly exhibitions programming is palpable. Past residents are continuously thanking us for our apparent hard work in offering them support and it makes us work even harder. It feels like there is a lot of excitement and momentum building for our organization, but our fear is that without the proper funding we won’t be able to sustain ourselves. Even with 501(c)3 status, so much funding for the arts has been cut recently, we are looking at all angles for raising money. Being all artists with little business or administrative background, we are struggling to attain proper funding. With more money to support our programming, eliminate residency fees and eventually pay our staff we are confident this organization can endure and thrive.

What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
We feel that artists are natural resources for each other and hope that ACRE can be a catalyst for an enduring national and international network of emerging artists. We have already witnessed an amazing amount of projects and exchange that have come from the meeting of artists that begins at the residency and continues through our weekly exhibitions program. We also hope to provide a beacon for members of the more established arts community for exposure to the up and comers.

What idea are you most excited about for the future?
We are most excited about our new approach to programming at the residency this year. We will be bringing out a number of visitors within the field of art and beyond who plan to involve the residency community in engaging projects rather than only give lectures and studio visits. We’re excited about our recording residencies, also new this year, which will allow bands to come for 3-4 days and have exclusive access to our recording studio. We’re hoping to do this once per session. Mostly, though, the model is set up, and we’re just excited to see what our artists exhibit each week.

Images courtesy of ACRE staff unless otherwise noted.

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