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Alliance of Artists Communities Celebrates its 20th Anniversary in Chicago

The Alliance of Artists Communities - the national association of artist residency programs - celebrates its 20th anniversary with a return to Chicago this month, including a national conference, an exhibition of Midwestern artists of color, an award honoring Lois Weisberg, and a celebration of the artists, alternative art spaces, and cultural workers that make up Chicago's vibrant arts scene.

The Alliance of Artists Communities was founded in 1991, through a special initiative by The MacArthur Foundation's Fellows Program that brought together 18 founding member organizations and provided seed money to develop an association that would address support for artists' work. The Alliance, based in Providence, Rhode Island, now represents more than 500 artist residency programs in the U.S. - "research-and-development" labs for writers, sculptors, filmmakers, choreographers, composers, and others that provide time and space for the development of new creative work. "We, in the MacArthur Fellows Program," wrote Ken Hope, then-director of the Fellows Program, "have an abiding interest in exemplary models of support for individual artists, and we coordinated a series of grants in a special initiative of the Foundation for artists' communities.... Each artists' community is unique [and] each contributes in unique and important ways to the locale in which it operates. All of them share one essential function in common. Each one is like a laboratory, providing a kind of 'research and development' branch for the arts, exemplifying a broad spectrum of ways in which the creative process itself may be nurtured."

"As a Chicago native, I am thrilled to celebrate our 20th anniversary here," says Caitlin Strokosch, Executive Director of the Alliance of Artists Communities. "Chicago reflects so many values that our field holds dear - a balance of sophistication and scrappiness, bold vision, a strong work ethic, and a generosity of spirit that drives so many artists to tackle the most difficult questions of our day and challenge the way we perceive the world."

20th Anniversary Highlights Midwestern Voices and Visions Exhibition

In partnership with Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, the Alliance presents the Midwestern Voices and Visions awards to under-recognized artists of color in the Midwest. The awarded artists will be featured in an exhibition at the Coalition Gallery in the West Loop, and were selected from more than 100 applicants. The 7 participating artists will travel to Chicago from throughout the Midwest to talk about the impact the Midwestern Voices and Visions award has had on their careers and their work. "The opportunity to step away from my day job and my responsibilities as a parent allowed me to be a full-time writer for the very first time in my life. And I seriously believe there was no other way to do what I did here," says awardee Ibrahima Kaba, a performance poet. "Midwestern Voices and Visions gave me exactly what I needed to travel back to Guinea and remember the paths, stories, and feelings I had when I was there last year...before it was too late." The artist reception will feature readings and performances by Ibrahima Kaba, Linda Rodriguez, and May Lee-Yang.

  •  Exhibition runs October 7-29, 2011 at the Coalition Gallery, 217 N. Carpenter Street 
  • Artist reception, Friday October 21, 6:30-9pm; free and open to the public 
  • More information at 

Award Honoring Lois Weisberg 

Few individuals have impacted the arts in Chicago like Lois Weisberg, former Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the City of Chicago. The Alliance will recognize Lois' outstanding public service to artists and the arts by presenting her with the inaugural Mary T. Wolfe Catalyst Award, recognizing individuals who have had an outstanding impact on artists and the arts in their communities; who have dedicated extraordinary time, resources, and energy on behalf of artists; and who have inspired policy and philanthropy in support of the arts. "I am very honored to receive this award," says Lois Weisberg. "The Alliance of Artists Communities travels in a world I understand and support. Its work speaks to my own hopes for the artists' community nationwide." The award will be presented by Terri Hemmert, WXRT radio personality, with original artwork by Chicago artist Joyce Owens and performances by Chicago composer and jazz musician Tatsu Aoki.

  • October 20, 2011, 6-9pm at the School of the Art Institute Ballroom, 112 S. Michigan Ave 
  • Tickets: $35 (available at the door or online at

 National Conference

The Alliance's annual conference will bring together arts leaders, funders, cultural policy-makers, artists, and others to explore art-making and the role of artists in our communities. Not your average conference, the Alliance celebrates each host city through its local citizens, highlighting neighborhood arts initiatives, emerging leaders, local food, and community veterans alike. Featured speakers include author and documentary filmmaker Alex Kotlowitz, author Luis Alberto Urrea, visual artist and writer Audrey Niffenegger, Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Michelle Boone, and former Alderman and long-time Chicago political scientist Dick Simpson. Hosted by Columbia College Chicago's Center for Book & Paper Arts, the conference includes performances, events, and tours of alternative arts spaces - from North Branch, a new community book-binding studio in Albany Park; to Dorchester Projects, Theaster Gates' South Side community development project. "Chicago is starting to awaken to the importance of not just big cultural institutions but also alternative arts spaces that incubate and nurture creative forces in Chicago and in our society as a whole," says Theaster Gates. "The Alliance of Artists Communities' presence in Chicago is so important because it offers these alternative creative spaces that have been so good at providing artists opportunities for exhibition and presentation the resources to support artistic creation as well."

About the Alliance of Artists Communities

The Alliance of Artists Communities is the national and international association of artists' communities, colonies, and residency programs, representing the field of 500 residency programs in the U.S. and more than 1,000 worldwide. Believing that the cultivation of new art and ideas is essential to human progress, the Alliance's mission is to advocate for and support artists' communities, to advance the endeavors of artists. The Alliance gives a collective voice on behalf of artist residency programs; promotes successful practices in the field; and advocates for creative environments that support the work of today's artists, through research, professional development programming, networking, and grant-making.

The Alliance is led by Executive Director Caitlin Strokosch, a Chicago native with degrees from Columbia College Chicago and Roosevelt University, where her research focused on music as a tool for building communities of resistance and social dissent.

For more information on the Alliance, please visit, or contact the Alliance at 401.351.4320.