Your NPR news source

Around the Coyote Takes Over a New Neighborhood

SHARE Around the Coyote Takes Over a New Neighborhood
Around the Coyote Takes Over a New Neighborhood

The Flatiron Building, (WBEZ/Gianofer Fields)

For eighteen years Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood has been host to the Around the Coyote Festival. The festival begins tonight and runs through the weekend, but not in Wicker Park. That is now a thing of the past.

Around the Coyote got its name from the North West Tower building on the corner of North, Damen and Milwaukee avenues in Wicker Park. Drunken urban legend has it that the building is called the “Coyote” because, if you look closely at the statues near its peak, they resemble coyotes baying at the moon.

From the beginning, the hub of activity during Around the Coyote took place in the three-story Flatiron building across the street. A cheap work live place for local artists, hence the name-Around the Coyote. The mission has always been to showcase the talents of emerging artists in the community and to turn the once low income neighborhood into a destination place.

Upscale restaurants, fashion boutiques and hip places to be seen have turned the once funky cool artists’ community into a high income, gentrified, economic engine that caters to the stroller set. Allison Stites is executive director of Around the Coyote.

STITES: Plain truth is that there is just really is not any venue space here in Wicker Park anymore for us to do this festival. And the artists don’t live here as much as they used to so it makes sense for us not to be tied so geography to one neighborhood.

Stites says that true to a coyote’s nature the festival may roam to various communities through out Chicago. This year the festival is at Plumber’s Hall, a massive Beaux Art building located in the historic Randolph Street Market District in the city’s West Loop.

STITES: Being able to have everything that we’re doing during the festival under one roof is really key for us because everyone can see the breadth of what we are doing the performing arts as well as the visual arts.

Not everyone though is excited about the move. Kevin Lahvic moved his studio into the Flatiron about ten years ago. He says news of the move was nothing short of devastating for his fellow artists and neighbors.

LAHVIC: There’s three dozen artists that live in the Flatiron, live work that’s where they do their thing. And for most of them the Coyote is a significant part of their income, allowing them to be working artists.

Karen Gagin has shown her work at Around the Coyote since the beginning. She says in the early days she didn’t have a lot to show, but as the Coyote grew so did her body of work and she eventually moved her studio into the flatiron building.

She has been in the neighborhood for 23 years and supplements her income by cleaning houses. She says she won’t leave Wicker Park as long as she can afford it.

GAGICH: The Coyote Festival would be a winter and fall, and I’d sell tons of stuff to people. I mean we would have big, big turnout. I mean you could do other shows but to me that was a neighborhood show.

Even though Gagich depends on the Coyote for the brunt of her income, she says she won’t follow the festival to its new digs.

GAGICH: It’s not the neighborhood. That’s what the premise for me, you wouldn’t believe how artists actually live here but they don’t actually have a studio. It was a place to bring your work.

Her studio is on the floor above Kevin Lahvic’s. He’s part of a group that created The Smart Show. Their first major was in September. He says it’s their mission to keep the tradition of the fall arts festival in Wicker Park and Bucktown Alive.

LAHVIC: There is nothing wrong with economic success. And you know a rising tide raises all boats. We’re being raised by this. And the ability to say in that building is wonderful. And it’s because of the intimacy, the closeness of the neighborhood, the intimacy of that venue; the fact that patrons can go through that building and see artists where they live and work. It’s an engaging, kind of environment that really lets people get to know the artist more than just looking at paintings in the wall.

Lahvic says despite the torrential downpour during the Smart Show, it drew in over 3,500 people to the Flatiron Building. Around the Coyote is history in Wicker Park but with smaller galleries and private studios spaces it remains a vibrant artist’s community.

I’m Gianofer Fields, Chicago Public Radio.

The Latest