In my bio I describe myself as a“Lifelong Chicagoan, Gemini, artist and Prince fan.”Prince Rogers Nelson is my birthday twin and my primary muse of creative risk / interdisiciplinarity / autodidacity / mobility / autonomy. His storied Paisley Park vault was the repository of his boundless reservoir of prolific sonic output.
My relationship with Links Hall actually began almost 20 years ago as ‘audience’ when in 2000, my dear friend and collaborator Abra Johnson took me to the old landmarked Links Hall building at Newport & Sheffield to catch Meida McNeal (then soon-to-be friend and collaborator) in her MFA performance—“Quiche, Collards and Curry: A Hybrid Dance.”
About a year later, the three of us (along with Aisha Jean-Baptiste) co-founded our own creative collective called ‘Thick Routes Performance Collage’ (c. 2001) which later morphed into Honey Pot Performance(c. 2011) and grew to include our 5th and only male member: Marlon Billups (a.k.a. ‘DJ Jo de Presser’).
Soon after Thick Routes was established, so was my ‘artist’ relationship with Links. Thick Routes/Honey Pot flourished as we produced work via our Links Hall residencies (LinkUp 2006; Artistic Associates 2011) and rentals which have spanned the better part of 10 years.During our Artistic Associates residency,in Spring 2011, we curated & produced To Art & Profit (“TAP”) an interdisciplinary performance series augmented with arts-focused dialogues and Carnival-inspired street theatre spectacle throughout the city of Chicago.
The series, held over 3 select weekends between March and May, commissioned Chicago-based artists to collaborate across discipline and genre who had never worked together before; asking them to create performances around select themes and questions: What is the value of creative labor? How can we practice a more conscientious capitalism, one that allows art makers to make a living while still nourishing the human spirit? How can we democratize art production, widening the scope of creative voices and expressions brought to public spaces and stages?
TAP sought to connect and engage with artists and communities in Logan Square, Pilsen, and Bronzeville around the value of art and artists to their immediate and global community around the following themes: “What Is It Good For? Defining Art’s Purpose Now”, “Quit Bullshittin’: Recognizing Division and Building Solidarity in the Arts”, “Come As You Are: Re-Imagining Art with a Conscience” *Click HERE to watch a trailer of HPP’s 2011 ‘To Art & Profit’ performance series .*
“Sometimes it takes years for a person to become an overnight success.” —Prince
As fate would have it, back in 2013 during my search for a supplemental part-time job, it was Meida McNeal who informed me that Links was looking to fill a part-time studio coordinator position in their new home with Constellation on Western Avenue near Belmont.
Real Talk: Though I loved Links as an audience member and artist, I initially scoffed at the thought of working at a non-profit arts service organization. I’d observed and gleaned how arduous a job it was to support not just art but the people who actually make it.
Being the Gemini/Gen-Xer and “corporate refugee” I am, Links Hall has proven to be my optimal working environment. There have been MANY touchstones of inspiration/motivation during my artistic/artrepreneurial awakening. From the first pop song I memorized (George Benson’s “Masquerade”) to my first dance recital (at Chicago’s Arie Crown Theater) to performing my first original script (via my high school scriptwriting class). Yet in my adult life, the biggest influence on my artistic practices has been collaboration. It’s an approach that is inextricably linked to “the Links way” and is utilized among several of this season’s artists…. Some collaborating for the first time together, some collaborating for the first time EVER!
I know several fellow “artists-slash-arts admins” who covet the opportunity to be immersed in such a collaborative, supportive and generative day job. Coming up through the staff ranks at Links, from part time Studio Coordinator to full time Communication Director has been a dynamic endeavor to say the least…but I’ve always been a team player. Links has ample room for team members and leaders who don’t consider “service” a 4-letter word… That’s really the driving ethos of Links Hall and that’s why I’ve been here 5 years and counting.
“There’s something about having people around you giving you support that is – it’s motivating. And once I got that support from people, then I believed I could do anything.” —Prince
So what’s the “secret sauce” to Links’ longevity (especially THIS season, especially THIS political era)?… It’s the incredibly real relay race that “Team Links” competes in every day to ensure that Links Hall runs every day; that we’re authentically/ impactfully / strategically servingLinks’ stated mission.
Because our staff is small and 100% ‘artists/art admins’, we’re always thinking creatively and strategically to optimize Links’ interdependent role in the performing arts ecosystem–within and outside our ADA-accessible building. This holistic approach to arts service innovation is akin to the contemporary collective impact and co-design schools of thought in design & business.
Bottom Line/Real Talk: During this milestone #PayThe40thForward season, with nearly 40 ticketed events between August and December 2018 alone (in addition to our ongoing professional & organizational development activities), thank goodness Team Links is strategic yet agile enough to go with the inevitable ebb & flow.
Speaking of “going with the flow”, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing at the end of this year when (for the second consecutive year) Links takes an international group trip…this time to ‘Ayiti’!Though we’re currently celebrating Links’ history, I foresee the future of Links Hall being even more collaborative and prismatic…