Many programs invite artists to make new work, but few encourage artists to strive for social impact.
NPHM’s Artist as Instigator Residency provides support for mid-career and established artists, activists and cultural workers to incubate ideas and produce new work in collaboration with the museum. The selected artist receives a $10,000 honorarium and a $10,000 budget for project expenses. NPHM also provides accessible outdoor exhibition space, programming and administrative support, partner opportunities and national publicity. Additionally, NPHM offers the exterior walls of its future site, 1306 W Taylor St., as an accessible outdoor exhibition space.
“At NPHM, we strive to make public policy more truly public. By documenting and contextualizing stories of public housing and highlighting the diversity of the people who lived there, we aim to ultimately impact policy to ensure that all people have a place to call home,” NPMH Executive Director Lisa Yun Lee, Ph.D., said. “There’s no better way of doing that than by using compelling art to highlight issues many people may not otherwise encounter, broadening their knowledge and hopefully changing their outlooks.
“By using art and culture to rally people around significant issues, we hope to help them unleash their radical imaginations in pursuit of social justice not only in housing but also other aspects of society that relate to equity and justice. Often, art imitates life. But sometimes, life imitates art. Our past Artist as Instigators have done both in their work, and we’ve found this residency has been a pathway to positive change.”
Translating Pressing Social Issues into Urgent, Effective Art
The NPHM has selected and supported experienced artists who connect arts, culture and public policy with three previous Artists as Instigators. They include Tonika Lewis Johnson (2021), Jen Delos Reyes (2020) and William Estrada (2019), all of whom have created compelling artworks that raise awareness about pressing social issues and have the potential to impact public policy—and in some cases, already have.
Estrada, NPHM’s first Artist as Instigator, created imagery and posters used by housing advocacy groups when they pushed to pass the Just Housing Amendment to the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance. The amendment prohibits landlords from discriminating against individuals with a history of criminal convictions. Bolstered by Estrada’s art, the campaign was successful, and the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed the Just Housing Amendment in April 2019.
The museum’s second Artist as Instigator, Jen Delos Reyes, used her artwork to spur civic participation in the 2020 presidential election. Her project involved creating 40-foot-tall banners with stirring snippets from poems—such as, “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” by June Jordan—and installing those banners on the exteriors of NPHM’s future site. Reyes then mailed more than 2,000 people a poster with the poem snippets and a letter imploring them to vote.
Lewis Johnson, the current NPMH Artist as Instigator, has received extensive local and national media attention with her interactive exhibition, “Inequity for Sale.” The project tells the oft-ignored story of land sale contracts, a predatory Chicago real estate practice in the 1950s and ’60s that imposed excessive monthly payments on Black homebuyers who were barred from obtaining traditional mortgages because of racist policies. Land sale contracts prevented Black buyers from building equity, and many buyers ultimately lost their properties. Ultimately, due to Land Sale Contracts, an estimated $3.2 billion to $4.0 billion was expropriated from Chicago’s Black community during the period between 1950 and 1970, according to a 2018 Duke University study.
“So many residency programs invite artists to make new work, but very few encourage artists to strive for social impact and furnish them with the resources to do so,” Tiff Beatty, NPHM’s program director of arts, culture and public policy, said. “NPHM’s Artist as Instigator Residency supports artists as they explore and expand their artistic practice, while also supplying them with the assets and community relationships that the museum can provide. That’s what makes this program so unique.
“Often, at the outset, our Artist as Instigator isn’t entirely sure how their project will take shape; we work as a team to help them refine and realize their vision. It’s a true partnership. Deep collaboration and support are part of the DNA of this residency,” Beatty added.
Amplifying Artists’ Work to Generate More Opportunities
NPHM harnesses its resources to highlight Artists as Instigators’ work frequently and meaningfully. “We help artists leverage the residency to win additional support,” Lee said. In doing so, NPMH also expands the reach and impact of these inspirational projects. For example, Lewis Johnson, NPHM’s most recent Artist as Instigator, received a $100,000 grant from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to expand her powerful “Inequity For Sale” exhibition.
“If you are interested in expanding your work to impact public policy issues, then the museum is here to help you link your arts and cultural practice with public policy transformation,” Beatty said. Artists are encouraged to apply via written or video submission for this year’s NPHM Artist as Instigator Residency program by midnight June 20, 2022, even if they don’t yet have a specific idea for a project to pursue during the residency. The residency will run from July of this year to June 2023.
About the National Public Housing Museum: The NPHM is the first cultural institution in the United States dedicated to interpreting the American experience in public housing. Its mission is to preserve, promote and propel the right of all people to a place where they can live and prosper—a place to call home. Using art, oral histories and material culture, the Museum will archive and share public housing stories of hope and personal achievement, as well as stories of struggle, resistance and resilience. These stories create opportunities for visitors to understand and engage in innovative public policy reform to reimagine the future of our communities, our society and the places we call home. Its physical structure is currently in development and will be an adaptive reuse of the last remaining building of the former Jane Addams Homes on Chicago’s Near West Side. When completed, visitors will interface with compelling, historically significant exhibits and engage with the provocative ideas of internationally renowned contemporary artists.
SOURCE National Public Housing Museum