Graduate Division: Grad Journal
Corner, Lynn Basa's Community Art Experience
Lynn Basa, as part of SAIC’s Low Residency MFA program in Studio Art, has had numerous opportunities to expand her already well-established painting and gallery practices. Basa has extensive experience as an artist and arts professional. She has taught at SAIC in the sculpture department, as well as in the Public Art Professional Practices course. In 2008, she published The Artist’s Guide to Public Art: How to Find and Win Commissions.
For her thesis, Basa was drawn to John Dewey’s Art as Experience. She also became focused on what she describes as critical accessibility: the ability to bring together the general public and contemporary art and artists. This prompted her to transform her studio into a gallery called Corner, which features experiential installations aimed at establishing stronger connections between contemporary art and local Chicago communities.
Erin Schalk: Prior to writing your thesis, what were your research interests?
Lynn Basa: The Low-Res MFA has really focused me into how to be a researcher. I was doing some intensive study on why artists are poor, and I started learning about a lot of the underlying socio-economic reasons for the starving artist phenomenon, because I am an artist who supports herself. I wondered why are so many artists having trouble supporting themselves? Why can’t more do it?
ES: How did you arrive at your final thesis topic?
LB: I started out thinking that if I gave artists, who wanted to reach out to the community through interactive, experiential work about topics connected to daily life a space, that if I kept my storefront active, the local neighbors would be drawn in. In this way I could connect the community with contemporary art. But [the local neighbors] didn’t come, and so my whole thesis question is why not? And does it matter if they come or not? What’s keeping them away? And it led into this huge area of other people’s research that gets into the hierarchy of elitism, which is something I’ve suspected all along. It’s the way that the art industry, the art community, the art world, whatever you call it, reifies its own elitism constantly.
ES: What are your future plans for Corner? Do you intend to try to solve these challenges of bridging the gap between contemporary art and local communities? Or, do you plan to approach the project differently?
LB: I actually just arrived at a revelation a couple of days ago because I started in my thesis with these questions and no preconceived answer. I really wanted to investigate and answer these questions for myself, and I found the answer. And it really surprised me. It doesn’t matter what we show…Just the fact of us being there as artists is enough. And it doesn’t matter if x number of local community residents come in and participate in our openings. So what I’m going to be doing going forward is just continue to have critically rigorous exhibits by artists whose work doesn’t lend itself to being shown in the gallery because it is experiential, noncommercial. We are going to continue expanding our community audience. We just had a dinner for twenty-five people representing artist-run organizations within a five-block radius, some of whom who had never met each other before, and certainly had never sat down together before. So we’re just going to concentrate on building an art community as artists and how we can support each other.
EB: Your thesis cites the relevance of John Dewey’s Art as Experience to your project. Please elaborate.
LB: Now I realize the experience is the act of me having a gallery in a neighborhood on a corner and a storefront, and being a citizen. I’m not going anywhere, I’ve invested in the community, I know people in the community. I didn’t just parachute in to do a project and then leave like I have to do when I do my public art commissions. I’m there, and I’m truly embedded in the community. That’s the experience that John Dewey was talking about. It’s life as experience. It’s lived experience.
ES: Is there anything else you’d like to share to help us better understand your thesis work?
LB: One thing people need to know is how special Chicago is, and the sheer number of artist- run spaces. And because of this perfect storm — the type of interdisciplinary education that we get at SAIC and some of the other really good schools — that we have a huge wealth of very bright artists. Chicago comes from a history of social practice, starting with Jane Adams and John Dewey, and there’s this strong thread of this doing social good that artists have here combined with inexpensive spaces that makes Chicago…a hotbed of artist-run spaces. And, I mean, people do things, do exhibits in their bedroom closets and create a community around that. If you have that inclination, think about your practice in those terms, then connect with all of the rest of us who have already started these small arts organizations all around Chicago.