Monday, May 9, 2016

The Green Zone

I had a conversation with my weekend boss about sculpture placement in public spaces within the city of Chicago. He was complaining that he is on a fund raising committee to recruit sponsors and wealthy donors, and he's having a hard time finding them. He also complained that the person (who is the liason between the City of Chicago Parks District and a sculpture organization he belongs to) who plans where sculptures go was taking forever to find a spot for the sculpture we are currently working on.

After a questions, I noted that this should be relatively simple that could be done on an excel spreadsheet. It's not even a Hard NP problem like the Traveling Salesman or Just In Time Inventory. It's a pretty damn easy situation to resolve: places, times, durations. What's so hard?

There are tons of public parks and undeveloped open spaces and easements throughout Chicagoland for these sculptures to go up in.

And then I realized, ahhh, we have personalities and politics involved. You got sculptors that want prime locations for their stuff to be displayed. I understand this, but the primary motivation of these sculptors - to sell their work - actually prevents them from optimally selling their work. Let me put it this way, these sculptors, jostling like invertebrates over prime nesting sites, fail to notice that their shit doesn't sell. At least, not if they are not top tier. If they top tier, they don't go through this futile rotation of public sites. The powers that be, if you are top tier, give you prime choice sites.

And what exactly are these sites that the sculptors are jostling for? Why, on the North side, more specifically, the tony upper-income areas like Lincoln Park, Lakeview, etc. They feel someone amongst the upper-class denizens will see, like, and buy their stuff. Sometimes that happens. But in general the plan is about as effective as going to the ball park with your glove, catching a fly-ball out in the bleachers, and having the general manager of the ball club shout "Sign that boy up!"

It don't happen.

But let me get back to that prime real estate. When I say North side, what that translates as is "Where all the white people are". In other words, where it's safe. Or relatively safe.

I've known about the makeup of the city of Chicago and the institutional racism involved since I was a little kid. It's like water for fish, you don't even notice. This should not come as a surprise, but reading an article in the New York Times about black, hispanic, and white perceptions kind of recently drove the point home.  Those white people live in the Green Zone.

The people who live in the South and West sides live in the Red Zones.

From the article:
“I’ve been living in this neighborhood about 30 years and I really like it — it’s gotten nicer over the years,” said Tammy Snider, 60, who is white and lives on the North Side. “I sometimes take the bus to an aerobics class in an area that’s not that safe, but it’s during the day.”
The difference between the North Side of Chicago and the Green Zone in Baghdad is that the concrete bollards and blast shields were all built back in the 1960s and they are called highways. But other than that, not much. (Oh, there is a concentrated effort to keep the gangs small and fighting each other, so that, if they get too big, the next thing you know you got truck bombs and IEDs and such... although who knows?)

I got a little naively idealistic and said perhaps the donors are a bit jaded with all the free pretty-pretty public art, and would get more excited about placing public works where they are needed most - in the most bullet-riddled public parks in the high crime areas. Hell, find me a sponsor and I'll put something up.

"It'll get graffitied, vandalized, or stolen for scrap!"

Yeah, and so what? Put up another one, keep doing so until something goes up that remains unmolested. People are not fucking animals. You put something nice up, something relevant, something they can enjoy and appreciate and identify with, and some people will care about it. Get enough people to care and it stays up. I'm not foolish enough to think if art is good enough it won't be touched. But I think you could get donors excited over engaging in an arms race of engaging people's humanity.

But I don't think it is foolish to think that art is the difference between living and survival. If you don't have the spare time and spare energy for music, dance, poetry, literature, the visual arts, you are not really living are you? You are just surviving.  


  1. Once you admit your city has a Green Zone, it's a no-brainer to identify it.

    1. This probably a revelation only to white people.

  2. back in my old city neighborhood, back when it was still an inner city neighborhood before gentrification and the rich white people took over, there was a street that backed up to a main artery and all the homeowners had tall fences of one sort or another at the back of their properties. one such fence was actually a wall built out or mortar brick. it kept getting grafittied so the homeowner asked the cops what he could do about it. the cops told him to get someone to paint a mural on it, that taggers did actually respect someone's art. so they did and it worked. that wall was never tagged again.