Ben Schaafsma, a bright spirit with a talent for the kind of organizing that keeps the social/critical art scene in Chicago amazing, was hit by a car and has died. I hadn't checked email in a couple of days, and so received the word a little later than some of my colleagues. I only got to know Ben this past summer, when we made InCUBATE one of our stops on the Continental Drift through the MRCC. Ben was wonderful to work with, and I looked forward to doing more things together in the future. He was off to a great start in NYC, working a new job at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, and I'd only just seen him about three weeks ago. Daniel Tucker offers this remembrance.
In Memorium For Ben Schaafsma
Ben Schaafsma, 26, was an ambitious and admirable man. A man with a
plan! He worked hard to build community and to understand the history
of like-minded people who came before him. Growing up in Grand Rapids
(Michigan), Ben got his start at organizing culture and community
through booking concerts, often at the Urban Institute for Contemporary
Art. While studying urban planning and art history at Calvin College,
he became involved with the Civic Studio program which introduced him
to a tradition of the visual arts engaging in community building that
resonated with the work he had already begun. Ben was a key figure in
initiating a number of projects such as the Division Avenue Arts
Cooperative and http://g-rad.org
which helped to make the nascent cultural practices occurring in Grand
Rapids more visible to one another as well as to outsiders.
Ben understood through lived experiences that people neded spaces
and occasions to come together to learn, meet and grow - and the more
interesting the context of those encounters then the more likely they
would be changed and affected as people. On a message board someone
recently said "Ben was constantly preoccupied by the usefulness of art
in our lives."
Following years of this committed work in Michigan, Ben did what
many young and ambitious people do these days - he went to graduate
school. This transition took him to study Arts Administration at the
School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ben did his research and knew
what he was looking for and how to make the most of that time in school
- he was highly motivated. As his turf shifted his desires and goals
were rearticulated in his new home - he started new endeavors and
relationships building on his own history.
Within six months of moving Ben had pushed out of his school
environs and staked a claim in community building and cultural
experimentation in Chicago. Along with his fellow Arts Admin graduate
students Roman Petruniak and Abby Satinsky (and later Bryce Dwyer), he
co-founded InCUBATE (http://www.incubate-chicago.org).
In just two years they have established an artist residency program
bringing international artists to Chicago every month. They have
established their own granting program, hosted numerous lectures and
workshops and created a touring exhibition which has traveled to five
cities throughout the country.
In the last year Ben had begun to publish extensively, writing on
the history of artist-initiated programs to self fund culture and to
create their own economic and organizational sustainability outside of
traditional means. His writing on this work and the work of Incubate
have appeared in Phonebook, AREA Chicago, Proximity Magazine and the
Journal of Aesthetics and Protest.
Just months before his passing, Ben took a job with the Elizabeth
Foundation for the Arts in New York City, where he was brought on to
overhaul and expand their studio program.
He will be greatly missed.
(Daniel Tucker 10-26-08)
Will post info on donation suggestions as soon as the family makes a determination on that.
Splitting time between Madison and Hyde Park is like living in an America where Obama was elected a year ago. The McCain loyalists are few and far between. But the two places are not the same. There are important differences.
Our quiet, genteel neighborhood in Madison, with lots of modestly stylish mid-century homes tucked into wooded slopes, is all about the signs. You still see IMPEACH yard signs around here. At about when the RNC was going on, a single McCain sign went up on our street. Within a couple weeks eight or nine yard and window Obama signs went up in the immediately neighboring homes. This, on a street in a bourgeois neighborhood which gets hardly any thru traffic. It is really happening: sign wars.
In Hyde Park the mood is a little different. The signs aren't out in as great a force. The bumper stickers are legion, but once you get into the t-shirts and trinkets, it's all about the grassroots. And the hustling. Many neighborhood retailers offer some product with an Obama angle. In other words, the Obama imprint is visible, but compared to what's going on in Madison, the campaign is less present. Of course, it goes without saying that Hyde Park is attracting a lot of national attention and curiosity. WaPo is the latest to take a stab at it.
In both places I detect anxiety. In Madison, it's about Obama losing. Can't let it happen! Fine, I can relate. Especially given Sarah Palin! But in Hyde Park there seems to be a weird kind of dual anxiety. First, the losing. Same psychology there. But then there is the winning. How good a job is Obama going to do, we wonder. And in Hyde Park, this goes beyond the boilerplate leftist lowering the expectations we have of any Democrat. In Hyde Park I think there is a particular touch of second-guessing that somehow goes like this: the diversity of Hyde Park is no small achievement, it is true, and Obama will represent this part of the American social mosaic well on the national and international stage. But being Hyde Parkers, somewhere deep down we also know that simply being accepting of each other, independent-minded, and socially aware is not sufficient for high functioning. Or even low functioning. Hyde Park is not exactly a place where everybody gets along all the time. Sometimes it feels like a place where everybody has learned to live with a certain constant level of social tension. And as anybody involved in any number of neighborhood issues knows, Hyde Park can be extremely dysfunctional.
So if you've been following the election closely, by now you've heard of ACORN and the accusations of voter registration fraud. Too bad the right forgot to do their homework (as has been the usual case in the McCain campaign). It turns out any attempt to link ACORN's registration efforts to Obama are more than somewhat undermined by the fact that McCain had friendly relations with the group not so long ago. ACORN's retort to charges coming out of the McCain camp is sharp.
It's funny for me to read about ACORN since I did spend a summer working for them. I was a community organizer for about five weeks in Des Moines and then about five weeks in St. Paul. Now I can't even remember why the summer got split like that. I think maybe it was because the St. Paul office needed bodies and the Des Moines office had more than enough, and being from Minnesota at the time, I was asked to go. Anyway, that half-memory fits in with how I remember the two offices. Des Moines was lively. There were four of us summer workers, plus three paid staff, and a number of member/voluteers. The Des Moines lead organizers were dynamic. St. Paul was near-moribund. Both the paid-staff lead organizers were not high-energy, to say the least. And the urban summer was more oppressive. But the Des Moines office and campaigns I remember as amazing.
I only worked the job for the summer, but at the time, because I was only nineteen, it felt like a long time. Even though over the years I'd occasionally hear about ACORN in the news or alternative press, and think to myself, That was a difficult job which used a somewhat flawed model, I wonder how it is still going. But I also took satisfaction in knowing that ACORN was still around and doing important things, and organizing for real grassroots political power.
Join us this Sunday at the LivingRoom Realty gallery for another in the astounding emergence of grassroots Obama-support events. I've contributed some work to the auction, all you have to do is buy. All proceeds go to the Obama campaign, a.k.a. the War to Keep Palin's Finger Off the Button.
Well, the other day I finally got around to clearing one shelf in the garage of our inherited pesticides. Seems that Ralph, our home's previous owner–and the only owner this house had had from since 1961–was quite the creature of mid-century Progress. He believed in spraying his flowers and fruit trees, and had the collection of bottles and
canisters to prove it. Here are some of them, boxed up and ready to go to the county household hazardous waste collection point.
Some of this stuff looked like it had been on the shelf for decades. I was curious about a word I'd not seen before, but was on several of the labels: diazinon. Turns out it was banned by the EPA for all residential use in 2004. You know a chemical's gotta be pretty toxic to be banned under the Bush administration.
Wasn't the VP debate fascinating? Biden criticized McCain as only a longtime colleague can, and then, to top it off, he pulled a Hillary there at the end. For her part, Palin for at least a couple moments came dangerously close to unhinged, before quickly getting back on script. Somebody needs to diagram her syntax. I swear you'd be able to actually see where the script comes in.
My blogging's been a little off, really, ever since before the Art of This show. (And, I know, it's never really been on.) Things are a little too busy right now for catching thoughts. History is on the move. I have to say, keeping busy at the personal level is a good way to cope, because then your life and History seem to travel at the same speed. Funny how globalization brought on the multicultural assault on a Eurocentric human narrative, but in the end does in fact bind all on the planet (through climate change, for example) in a single unfolding story which we may as well now call History. Though there is a strong case to be made for simply sidestepping the baggage that comes with the word History, and beginning to think of our time and story as the earth scientists do: this is the unfolding of the Anthropocene. Is that a reasonable thought? If not, please, I invite you to make the case.
An event highlighting the Raising Questions postcards project is coming up on October 14, 2008. It should be fun. The event title may smack of heroism, but it's not meant that way–the line is from a great Gwendolyn Brooks poem "Boy Breaking Glass." For details, check out The Public Square's website.
"I Shall Create" with Chicago artists Toufic El Rassi, Coya Paz, and Dan S. Wang Tuesday, October 14 at 6:00-8:00PM Hyde Park Art Center 5020 South Cornell Avenue Chicago
This program is free and open to the public. Reservations are recommended and can be made online, by e-mail at email@example.com, or at 312.422.5580.
Join us this evening to explore the intersection of art and struggle with three amazing Chicago artists: Toufic El Rassi, Coya Paz, and Dan S. Wang. In a conversation moderated by Daniel Tucker, editor of AREA Chicago, these artists will discuss their creative work and how we can use the arts to create and imagine a more just world.
This program is co-sponsored by The Public Square, Neighborhood Writing Alliance, dropping knowledge international, Egan Urban Center at DePaul University and Hyde Park Art Center. Thank you to the Civic Knowledge Project for their support in making this program possible.