One of the greatest local collections of African Diaspora art is located in a beautiful graystone on a recovering block in the Bronzeville area. The block itself, like many found throughout the neighborhood, masks the hidden treasures of many of its residents.
Owned by local artist and former teacher Felicia Grant Preston, the collection is a refreshing representation of underrated black artists on a local, national – and even international scale. The collection, like the South Side itself, is a surprise for outsiders unfamiliar with the rich history of black art, especially locally.
It may take a while to view the entire collection. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I spent a few hours in Preston’s home taking in the impressive collection and also inquiring about the state of art making and collecting on the South Side of Chicago. Preston was eager to share her thoughts. It doesn’t hurt that she is an artist, too.
Her artistic eye helped fuel her collection featuring the likes of Elizabeth Catlett, Lois Mailou Jones, Mary Reed Daniel, Faith Ringgold, AfriCOBRA, and Richard Hunt.
It was surprisingly humid for the middle of March.
We embrace stereotypes of neighborhoods because they sometimes prove to be true. I live near Wicker Park, a neighborhood known for its nightlife and youth culture. Although this identity is not as strong as it once was (gentrification has a way of changing the identity of a neighborhood multiple times), it is still prevalent in the clothing stores, boutiques, high-end coffee shops, and club-like bars that line Milwaukee Avenue. Once we’ve seen our stereotypes to be true, we hold on to them. It is easier to rely on what we know than what we don’t. Seeing once is believing.
But we often stereotype these neighborhoods because our identities are tied into these environments. I had a friend and coworker who moved to Logan Square not because he wanted to, but because he felt it was the thing he was supposed to do.
“I mean, all of my friends are moving there. Everyone my age, like me, has moved or is moving there,” he said while we chatted at a party.
Chicago as a city of neighborhoods can mean a number of different things. This cultural identity can be comforting. People of similar races, ethnicities and classes move to neighborhoods where they can be among their own.
Chicago turns something out of nothing. It is not the city itself that does this, but the people within it, homegrown or recently transplanted. Chicago gives artists and other creatives the opportunity to build from the ground up, allowing them to not only visualize their dreams but to actualize them. Although these artists are often lacking in the traditional market forces (as in a print and money-driven economy influencing who gets the media attention and higher-valued work), the size of the city and the abundant and underutilized spaces allow creatives to build projects with their own visions, usually with little to no financing involved.
This makes Chicago a fertile ground for creative projects such as Matt Austin’s The Perch. Part underground dinner party, part printing press, and part collaborative artistic social experiment, The Perch could only be born in a city like Chicago. Austin’s funds are considerably low. The project takes place in his own home.