January 24, 2012

City on the Make

As an undergraduate student at SAIC, Tristan Hummel (BFA 2009) read an article about how anyone can charter a CTA "L" train, and an idea took root. Hummel debuted Art on Track during his junior year, turning a chartered "L" train into an alternative art venue and bringing the work of more than 200 emerging artists to the Chicago Loop for one day in the fall. 

Last year, as he was setting up the hugely popular Art on Track for its third annual run, Hummel realized the limitations of his "L" train exhibition. He says, "The best part of Art on Track is the exposure it provides local artists, but it's a very specialized environment. I wanted to find a way to get the art show off the train, and still keep it in an unconventional setting." 

This summer, Hummel took his next big art initiative to the streets—or more specifically to a bunch of shipping containers in a Wicker Park grocery store parking lot. Dubbed the Built Festival and happening over a weekend in mid August, the temporary city looked more like a place for burly stevedores or smuggled contraband than the city's newest gallery district. But, as with Art on Track, hundreds of independent artists were invited to participate as they transformed the boxcars into alternative art venues—in turn creating dynamic spaces for exchange and interaction. 

From painters, sculptors, performers, and screenprinters to fashion designers, bookbinders, musicians, and cupcake makers, the Built Festival artists represented people and points all along Chicago's broad art spectrum. And that's exactly what Hummel was going for with the festival—a mini-Chicago in which the audience and the artists built a community in a temporary art world. 

Even though the locations may be fleeting, Hummel sees the staying power of atypical art settings like train cars or shipping containers. He says, "When art is taken out of its traditional contexts [galleries, museums, and markets] people don't feel as pressured to buy it or put it on a pedestal. They'll actually interact with the artists and experience the artwork in new ways."