“You really can’t be a creative right now without someone cheering you on,” says Katherine Walker, one of the five women who make up the local design collective Quite Strong.
Walker cites the bonds uniting Chicago’s design community as one of the inspirations for “Support,” an exhibition opening Friday 20 at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition’s HATCH Projects gallery (217 N Carpenter St). Cocurated by Quite Strong and Twelve Galleries founder Jamilee Polson Lacy, “Support” is notable for its emphasis on both artists and designers, as well as its roster of cool practitioners such as Firebelly Design, Plural’s Renata Graw, and Linsey Burritt, half of Chicago window-display powerhouse INDO.
Walker and Lacy have been friends since their undergraduate days at SAIC. When the CAC asked Lacy to curate an exhibition for HATCH Projects, a program that stages group shows for selected CAC members for one year, she decided to connect these emerging artists to Quite Strong’s contacts in the design world. The collective, which also includes Elaine Chernov, Jana Kinsman, Victoria Pater and Jennifer Sisson, maintains a “Lust List” that highlights more than 100 female designers’ portfolios along with their career advice. (Local illustrator Diana Sudyka and Portland, Oregon–based designer Kate Bingaman Burt are among the most prominent Lust Listers.) Quite Strong chose the theme of “Support” when its members realized the Lust List is “about supporting the community,” Walker recalls. “Showing people off, building a network.”
Meanwhile, “many of the HATCH Projects artists are looking for new territory to experiment in,” Lacy explains. Because designers belong to a completely different creative community, she was sure introducing the two groups would broaden both of their perspectives. She selected six artists who address support, “directly or indirectly,” and helped Quite Strong pick a subset of Lust Listers whose practices engage that theme.
The cocurators created a Google Wave where contributors could upload their work to “create a conversation between the artists and the designers,” Lacy tells me, adding, “I think [the artists] learned a lot from the Lust Listers, and vice versa.”
“Support” proves how fluid the boundaries between their disciplines can be. HATCH Projects artist Marissa Lee Benedict, a recent SAIC M.F.A., examines the graphic design of the hippie-era Whole Earth Catalog. Lust Lister Tinne Van Loon, a designer at Chicago firm Thirst, shares photographs (pictured) that she took during a trip to Palestine and Israel with the human-rights organization Global Exchange. Lacy, who had assumed the Lust Listers would only submit work that would hang on the gallery wall, is thrilled by the number of interactive installations in the show.
“Support” reflects Quite Strong’s own shift from pursuing design commissions to “community fostering,” as Walker puts it, though its members still have active individual practices. The collective hosts an open house at its Wicker Park studio (1261 N Paulina St, suite A) the third Thursday of every month. “It’s like a design therapy session,” Walker says. On April 28, it leads MoxieCon, a conference intended to strengthen designers’ business skills, at Columbia College. Walker sees nothing unusual in spending so much time supporting other creative professionals. In the Chicago design community, she believes, “Everyone’s more your friend than your rival.”