The Corner Project
Address: Corner, 2912 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60618
Contact: Lynn Basa
Open Hours: By appointment and depending on show
How is the project operated?
It’s artist-run. I looked into forming a non-profit but decided instead to form a non-profit that was identified as a need by the community that The Corner Project serves. It’s called the Milwaukee Avenue Alliance. The MAA is a 501c3, formed along the lines of a neighborhood association to promote and represent the interests of the three-block geographic focus area of The Corner Project. It’s mission is broader and therefore more useful to the larger community than if it were only The Corner Project.
How long has it been in existence?
Corner began in the storefront of my studio in 2014 as a research project for my MFA thesis. The Corner Project grew out of Corner and began in October 2017.
What was your motivation?
As an artist and the inhabitant of a corner storefront on a disinvested main street in a predominantly Hispanic and Polish neighborhood, I felt a responsibility to contribute to the life of the street by activating the space with installations that would be visible and open to people who walk and drive by its windows every day. Using John Dewey’s Art as Experience as an inspiration, I thought that by inviting artists to do performances and installations that were participatory and dealt with daily life, Corner could attract an audience who lived nearby. While the events at Corner were supported and respected by Chicago’s art community, there were only a couple of programs that were attended by local residents.
I realized that it wasn’t that my neighbors were indifferent to art, it’s that what was interesting, good work to artists with MFA’s from SAIC wasn’t necessarily relevant to anyone else. In retrospect, this should’ve been obvious at the outset. I realized that as well-meaning as my attempts were with Corner that I wasn’t integrating art with life in a way that harnessed the creative breadth, agency and access of artists to make a real difference. It was from this that The Corner Project was born. I stripped away as many expectations and assumptions as I could about what art should be in this place and time, and looked with fresh eyes at the world immediately outside of Corner. What I saw was a relatively intact 100-year old immigrant, working class main street in Avondale, “the neighborhood that built Chicago,” with many vacant storefronts, mom-and-pop businesses struggling to survive, developers salivating to cash in on the next hot neighborhood, and a populace fearful of displacement. The mission of The Corner Project became to do what I could with what I had about what needs to be done on these three blocks of Milwaukee Avenue between Kimball and Central Park. Community organizing has taken the place of curating (in the traditional sense, anyway), and Corner, as a physical space, has become a meeting place. In 2019, however, I plan on resuming programming in the form of pop-up shops and performances now that I’ve spent this last year getting a firm grounding in the resources and relationships inherent on these three blocks.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project
From 2014 – 2016 the gallery director of Corner was Grace Needlman. While I was in grad school she curated one innovative show after another under my direction and financial support.
Since October 2017, I have run the Corner Project myself, keeping in mind that it has built up an extensive network within the community of nearby artist-run organizations, neighborhood associations, business and property owners, city officials, foundations, and others.
How are programs funded?
I was self-funding the programs at Corner from my income as a working artist. The Corner Project was similarly funded in its first year since it was mainly focused on doing an asset inventory and community building. A couple of smaller projects were funded by small grants and donations. Now that it is moving into the implementation phase in its second year,The Corner Project will fundraise with alliances it has built with arts and other organizations.
Who is responsible for the programming?
I am de facto responsible for the programming, but programming ideas for The Corner Project are determined in response to the opportunities and resources inherent in the geographic focus area of Milwaukee Avenue between Kimball and Central Park Avenues. As vehicles for programming ideas and support, The Corner Project organized the Milwaukee Avenue Alliance, a 501c3 to represent the interests of property, business owners, arts and community groups of the three blocks; and the Woodard Cultural Alliance whose purpose is to restore and maintain a neglected public plaza so that it can be used for year-round art and community programming.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year
When Corner was active between 2014-2016, there were five installations a year. Each installation would have between one to 10 events as part of its run.
As the name implies, The Corner Project, is project based. Within each project are numerous community meetings that have and will result in tangible outcomes, so it’s difficult to quantify. However, in 2019, I will begin curating window installations and pop-up shops at Corner and, I hope, other spaces on the three blocks. I also plan to make Corner more available for performances. In other words, I’m going to be reactivating Corner as a project of The Corner Project.
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
I haven’t decided if I’m going to do that for the relaunch of Corner in 2019 or not. So far I’m doing it by invitation.
What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
To provide a platform for programming that is relevant and responsive to the local community by building relationships and contributing to the revitalization of our neighborhood main street.
What’s working? What’s not working?
At the meta level, what’s not working is that I’m coming up against a clash of two value systems that I’m trying to figure out how to navigate productively. There is one set of people who understand that our neighborhood main street is an interdependent ecosystem. Whereas the other attitude holds that their responsibility ends at their property line. I take heart in what Saul Alinsky said that when you reach the point where there are two clear, pure opposing viewpoints, you know you’ve gotten to the crux of the matter, and it’s in that friction where possibility lies.
What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
I always (only half-jokingly) say that I’d like our stretch of Milwaukee Avenue to be like Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of Love. In more practical terms, I want The Corner Project to be a catalyst for revitalizing our main street with a new generation of mom-and-pop business owners who will hire residents from the neighborhood. I want to do this by facilitating collaborations between artists and the community at large who understand how our fates and fortunes are connected by this stretch of Milwaukee Avenue.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
A big next step for The Corner Project is an ideation session that I initiated and co-organized with several other arts organizations, the local neighborhood association and chamber of commerce. It is the fruition of all of the relationship building and resource inventorying I did in the first year of The Corner Project. This meeting will be the first sit-down with the arts and business community to put our heads together to come up with tangible, impactful, creative actions. In other words, I’m excited to be moving out of the research phase and into the action phase.
Photos courtesy of Lynn Basa.
This profile has been published in partnership with Artist-Run Alliance.