Katie Spencer takes a turn on the stage at the Chicago Arts Program Festival.
“Now for something completely different” was the unofficial theme for the spring 2010 ACM Chicago Arts Program Festival, as a filmmaker, a weaver, a poet, a musician, and a standup comedian took the stage to showcase their work.
The Festival highlighted the five students’ independent study projects (ISPs), one of the program’s academic components. While the students’ art forms were different, they all used their semester in Chicago to try something completely different for themselves – developing their talents, embarking on new endeavors, and exploring life in the city.
The venue for the student-organized event was Transistor, an eclectic store, gallery, performance space, and hangout on Clark Street in the North Side neighborhood of Andersonville. TimeOut Chicago likens the intimate storefront to “your coolest friend’s apartment,” and the room was filled with Chicago Programs students and staff, friends, and family for the Festival.
“One of the joys of teaching in a program like this is that – this semester in particular – all of the students have different interests,” said Chicago Arts Program Director Dave Amrein, who advises the students on their ISPs and who served as the emcee for the evening.
A short film by Beloit College student Justin Williams opened the program. Amrein noted that the project, a web advertisement for the Northside Community Federal Credit Union, could also have found a home in either of Chicago Arts’ two sister programs – Urban Studies and Business, Entrepreneurship, & Society.
“As an arts project, it is a film,” said Amrein, “but it’s also serving a need in the community.” The connection with the credit union came through the Chicago Programs Core Course, an exploration of the city and urban issues taken by participants in all three programs. Students visited Northside to learn about financial issues faced by low income residents in the city, and barriers to their use of the conventional banking system.
Williams recorded the voiceover for his ad at the studios of WGN Radio, the site of his internship. The program’s components – ISP, Core Course, an internship, and a seminar on the creative process– are designed to interconnect and reinforce each other, and students take advantage of those opportunities.
This was the first foray into filmmaking for Williams, who is majoring in communications. “It’s a bigger resume builder just saying that I created a film that can be used in this way, especially for news content,” he said. “It’s given me an extra skill.” He also worked with public access channel CAN-TV during the spring semester, and this summer has an internship with WGN-TV.
Giulia Hines with her weavings of the Pink, Orange, and Brown lines.
Next up – and, yes, completely different – was Giulia Hines, an art history and linguistics major at Colorado College, who went for a hands-on arts experience on the program with an internship at the Chicago Weaving School. For her ISP, Hines wove a set of textiles depicting the Chicago Transit Authority’s famous “El” lines, the elevated rail system that spreads out, spoke-like, from downtown to serve the city, its two airports, and several adjacent suburbs.
The richly textured weavings, in shades of the colors that identify the individual El lines, hung above the Festival audience. Mounted on the wall near the stage were photos that she took on station platforms while waiting for trains. She rode all the lines from end to end for the project, in addition to using the CTA on a daily basis to get around the city.
“I fell in love with the El and I think this is a nice way to represent it,” Hines said as she answered questions from the audience after her talk about the project, called “The Shape of the Line.”
Spring 2010 Chicago Arts Festival Video Clips, Part 1
Dave Amrein; Justin Williams – 1:30; Dave Amrein – 4:03; Giulia Hines – 4:34
Scroll down for Video Clips, Part 2.
“I’m very fond of the sonnet form, and while sometimes I go for traditional sonnets, these are both much more playful,” said poet Carolyn Engerer as she introduced “A Polite Rant,” the first of three of her poems – two sonnets and one free verse – that she read.
An English major at Valparaiso University, Engerer opened her (completely different) segment of the program with a dramatic reading of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic, “The Raven.”
“I really appreciate the form (the poem) is in, the way (Poe) managed to have so much internal rhyme as well as the rhymes throughout the ends of the lines of the poem,” Engerer said in response to a question from the audience. “I think that it’s really fun to read, because there is such a wide range of emotion in the poem itself. There’s a sort of playful nature, there’s the brooding, there’s the haunted, horrified part at the end. There are just all sorts of things in there.”
Talking about her own works, Engerer said “Most of my poetry is reflected around nature. I really appreciate the outdoors. I personally find more beauty in nature and natural things than in, say, buildings and things like that.
Spring 2010 Chicago Arts Festival Video Clips, Part 2
Dave Amrein; Carolyn Engerer – 0:42; Katie Spencer – 3:09; Dave Amrein – 6:23; Jacob Williams – 7:06
The next completely different performance – putting verse to music – featured Katie Spencer singing and playing guitar in a set of five original songs.
“I am a composition student, but I (would) always kind of rather (do) songwriter stuff, and this semester has given me the opportunity,” said Spencer, who is a music composition major and business minor at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Spencer said she found inspiration for her songwriting in all kinds of everyday experiences in Chicago – “snippets” gleaned while riding the El, quotes from guest speakers at the program seminar, and tourists along the lakefront, to name a few.
On a completely different note, the Festival wrapped up with standup comedian Jacob Williams, a psychology major from Beloit College who made more than 80 appearances in venues throughout the Chicago area during the semester.
As part of his ISP, Williams wrote at least ten jokes a day to send to Amrein. “Most of them were really bad,” he said, “but it’s a process that may have helped.”
The sheer number of comedy clubs and places with showcases and open mic nights was a boon to his development as a comedian, Williams noted, especially compared to a semester back on campus where chances to perform are much more limited. “There’s a huge comedy community (in Chicago),” he said. “I was able to see what (material) worked and what didn’t work a lot faster because there were more opportunities.”
An audience member asked, “Were you trying out some new material on us tonight?”
“Yeah, you guys will determine the future of some of those jokes,” Williams replied.
And so the creative process continues. Stay tuned for next semester, when another group of students will, again, bring something completely different to the Chicago Arts Program.
(From left) Carolyn Engerer, Katie Spencer, Seminar Instructor Martina Nehrling, Justin Williams, Giulia Hines, Program Director Dave Amrein, and Jacob Williams.
All photos courtesy of Sally Noble.
Read about the Fall 2009 Chicago Arts Program Festival