At a damp and dark hour in Pilsen, a few people stand in a semi-circle in the window of a storefront, drinking hot chocolate with whiskey. Over the course of a couple of hours, the group fluctuates. Artists and friends tenacious enough to brave the slush and ice come in and out, clutching warm Styrofoam cups. This is the opening celebration for “Street Level,” a series of art installations in the windows of seven storefronts that will be visible from the street to anyone who walks down Halsted between 18th and 19th Streets this February.
“Street Level” is a prelude to the big fundraiser the Chicago Urban Art Society (CUAS) is holding in East Pilsen on February 11. It is illustrative of the organization’s ethos: collaborative, community-oriented, all about working to give Chicago-based artists exposure and space for innovative work. Lauren Pacheco, co-founder of the CUAS and co-curator of “Street Level,” makes sure everyone’s cups are filled. She is excited, gushing as she recounts how quickly everything has come together with this project, and how generous sponsors have been in helping with the fundraiser. One local Mexican candy store has donated forty piÃ±atas. Lauren explains that there are plans to assemble a giant piÃ±ata chandelier.
There is a motif among the installations of using cheap or found materials, combining them boldly with a feeling for craft and direct communication, as in Bridgette Buckley’s sculpture of a giant heart woven from scraps of T-shirts and rags. Several of the installations read as murals, and in another pod, Mike Tuteur’s photographs of abandoned buildings in Chicago evoke the underbelly of the city’s landscape. As Pacheco puts it, “We are interested in artists who represent the idea–especially now–the idea of DIY work and found objects: use your hands.”