The ALO distributed more than $60,000 in prize money to local artists, gave almost 200 artists the opportunity to show their works downtown and persuaded more than 12,000 people to cast votes for their favorites. But the contest—which the CAC and Chicago Loop Alliance developed in a mere seven months—suffered from the uneven quality of the art and exhibition venues, as well as problems with the cell phone–based voting system and the rules limiting artist promotion.
Still, the ALO generated more buzz for the CAC than the 37-year-old nonprofit had received in a long time. Executive director Carolina O. Jayaram, who spearheaded the first ALO, promises the next one in fall 2012 will operate very differently. Meanwhile, she’s changing the CAC in ways that suggest its ability to support local artists has caught up with its public-relations savvy.
In June, the Coalition moved from Wicker Park to the 8,000-square-foot former FLATFILEgalleries (217 N Carpenter St) in the West Loop. "This neighborhood made a lot more sense for its vibrancy, the connection to downtown, to the schools," Jayaram explains.
The CAC’s move was the catalyst for its Thursday 18 fund-raiser Starving Artist, which invites West Loop chefs Hillary Blanchard-Rikower (one sixtyblue), Koren Grieveson (Avec), Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat) and Randy Zweiban (Province) to prepare meals inspired by local artists Lauren Brescia, Tim Anderson, Richard Hull and Judy Ledgerwood. Artworks created for the occasion will be auctioned, along with deals from the chefs’ restaurants.
Ledgerwood, who’s making a metallic-glazed ceramic platter, agreed to participate because the CAC “is a really helpful resource…especially for young artists.” She’s particularly excited about its new annual BOLT residency, which enables artists to rent nine studios in the CAC’s basement, have solo shows in a dedicated exhibition space and attend the Coalition’s educational programs for free. CAC exhibitions and community initiatives director Cortney Lederer has arranged BOLT visits from art-world experts such as Renaissance Society curator Hamza Walker, as well as a proposed artists’ exchange with Power House Productions in Detroit.
Melika Bass, Jenny Kendler and the nine other members of this year’s BOLT program have already racked up some impressive achievements. (Their first exhibition, “PREVIEW,” opens Friday 19.) The group includes artists who’ve had prestigious solo shows, whose work is in museum collections, or who teach at SAIC or UIC. Jayaram intends BOLT to take their careers to another level by fulfilling their “need for collaboration and community,” which prove elusive once artists leave school. The CAC also will continue its selective Coalition Gallery program, which showcases works by 16 of the organization’s approximately 1,700 members in juried exhibitions each year.
Zweiban tells me he loves the “intertwining” of food and art. He seems to be the kind of person Jayaram has in mind when she predicts Starving Artist “will bring a new audience into the space…individuals who can support the other programs we have going on.” Despite the ALO’s hiccups, the CAC’s commitment to putting Chicago artists’ work in front of as many people as possible no longer seems so loopy.
The CAC hosts Starving Artist Thursday 18.