A Site for Poor Eyes; Nice Work If You Can Get It; Get Out the Abacus; Miscellany | On Culture | Chicago Reader

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A Site for Poor Eyes; Nice Work If You Can Get It; Get Out the Abacus; Miscellany

The city's latest gift to the starving-artist community is a kiosk in cyberspace.

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A Site for Poor Eyes

Ever since Richard Florida started touting the economic value of the "creative class," the city's had a handy rationale for beefing up its services to artists. Now it's introducing a comprehensive Web site, www.chicagoartistsresource.org, slated to launch October 1. CAR (the logo features a backward R--however did they come up with it?) is the latest effort by the city to serve a group it says is 80,000 strong and a valuable resource in need of nurturing.

The new site will include free listings for everything from grants and conferences to jobs and housing. There'll be a roster of artists who teach, opportunities to showcase work on the site's rotating banner, and an invitation to artists to post war stories about the art business--and be rewarded with a link to their own sites. No more tiresome navigating through the tourist-oriented maze of the city's megasite--CAR will offer an express trip, and it's not only visual artists who'll benefit. According to Department of Cultural Affairs project manager Barbara Koenen, "Our initial push is for visual artists, but 60 percent of the site's content applies to artists working in any discipline. Throughout 2006 our focus is going to be on adding content for performing and literary artists. It's going to be the whole kit and kaboodle."

Koenen says the site's been a gleam in the department's eye since 2003; information specialist Sara Schnadt, who'll be responsible for its day-to-day operation, joined the Cultural Affairs staff more than a year ago and began working with outside Web design firm Tractiv on its structure last winter. It cost $200,000 to build, Koenen says, and is being funded through contributions to the Chicago Cultural Center Foundation, including matching funds from a national donor (Leveraging Investments in Creativity) that they're still working to meet. Its offerings will include the New York Foundation for the Arts database of awards, services, and publications for artists; UIC's Center for Health in the Arts 20-year archive of articles; and what sounds like an extensive real estate component--including listings of available live, work, and live/work spaces and the first look at "Square Feet Chicago," a new guide from Cultural Affairs (eventually to be issued in hard copy as well) that Koenen says covers "every aspect of buying and leasing--zoning, building codes, mortgages, credit, alternative purchasing."

What the CAR site won't have, she says, is "a flat-out listing of artists." Instead, in an apparent attempt to avoid ruffled feathers, it'll link to organizations that do have such lists--like the Chicago Artists' Coalition. Coincidentally, the perpetually struggling CAC will unveil its own revamped Web site in October, featuring its newspaper, gallery listings, and a community calendar of events. Executive director Olga Stefan says the city invited CAC to put some of its content on the CAR site, but "they were interested in our resources--for example, lists of grants and fellowships, lists of models. We have a very small staff, and we compile that information from scratch. We offer it as a benefit to our members and sell it to nonmembers. We can't give it away." Stefan says CAR will likely be a "very important service" for artists. But "at this point we don't understand exactly how we fit there," she adds. "We're looking for how we can collaborate. We just hope it's not going to be a problem for us."

Nice Work If You Can Get It

New to the art biz? Got a load of student loans to pay off from an education that set you up for a life of temp jobs? Then Cultural Affairs' artists' forum "Careers That Work" was just the ticket. A panel of four established artists shared their experiences and tips with about 80 struggling brethren at the Cultural Center last week. Moderator Emily Nixon noted that she solved her own career problem years ago by morphing from sculptor to corporate curator, then lobbed a few questions at Lee Tracy, Tony Fitzpatrick, Sabrina Raaf, and Preston Jackson. Tracy said she funds her projects--like dipping fabric in rivers all over the world and sewing a curtain out of it--by selling artist's books or calling a meeting of her intimate group of supporters. She once got herself out of a pickle by reading a do-it-yourself finance book and writing a business plan that she took to Bank One; she's also received help from the Center for Women's Business Development. Tony Fitzpatrick credited hard work and "pure dumb luck," plus a few album covers for Steve Earle and the Neville Brothers. He's gone from knocking on gallery doors to selling lifetime subscriptions to his etchings and says the personal computer is an artist's best friend: within 20 minutes of finishing any piece, he makes a JPEG and sends it out to 200 collectors. Sabrina Raaf, who creates interactive systems like a machine that responds to carbon dioxide by painting a green border around a room, teaches full-time. So does the School of the Art Institute's Preston Jackson, who said he was still "outside the outside" in an art world only somewhat less plagued by racism than it used to be. Their tips: set goals, believe in yourself, find an accountant, get a Web site, and be versatile--heck, Fitzpatrick picks up extra bucks as an actor, and Jackson is a professional musician. And, oh yeah, Jackson added, for the biggest laugh of the night: "Get a job."

This fall Cultural Affairs will begin offering forums for musicians. Sponsored by Columbia College and the Chicago Federation of Musicians, the free monthly series, "Musicians at Work," will address "making a living through music in Chicago," starting with a panel titled "Book Your Band and Don't Go Crazy" at 6 PM Monday, October 3, in the Cultural Center's Claudia Cassidy Theater.

Get Out the Abacus

The Museum of Science and Industry says it doesn't have an exact count yet, but more than 700,000 people attended "Body Worlds," the exhibit that closed there earlier this month. It was so popular that even a 24-7 final weekend sold out. Prices were $21 for adults, $17 for seniors, and $11 for kids, but MSI isn't telling how much money it made from all those ticket sales, or what its financial arrangement was with "Body Worlds" producer Gunther von Hagens. In the case of Los Angeles's California Science Center, which is more forthcoming, the museum got nothing: all ticket receipts went to von Hagens's company; CSC (which doesn't charge admission) benefited from related sales of IMAX tickets, gift shop items, and a more-than-doubled museum membership.

Miscellany

Second City Radio moved to a new time slot on WCKG, 105.9 FM: it's now butting heads with Garrison Keillor at 5 PM Saturdays. Starting tonight, September 23, cohosts Jim Zulevic and Ed Furman are spinning off a weekly Second City Improv All Stars variety show at Black Orchid. . . . Mostly Music honors Northeastern Illinois University alum and former Chicago Humanities Festival producer Eileen Mackevich at a benefit tonight at Pazzo's restaurant. Mackevich, abruptly forced out at the festival last winter, says she's been consulting. . . . City Lit Theater canceled its press performance of Edward Albee's Seascape earlier this week after actors in latex-painted lizard suits had a meltdown under stage lights. Artistic director Terry McCabe says cooler costumes will be ready for the show's opening tonight, and he doesn't mean those green foam pool-noodle tails they dragged around in previews.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/A. Jackson.

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