Chicago Artists Coalition’s (CAC) annual Starving Artist benefit recently took place at the organization’s West Loop gallery space in Chicago. The event was nothing short of a unique and innovative collaboration between craftsmen and craftswomen of art and food. Starving Artist pairs some of Chicago’s best visual artists and chefs and sets them free to create immersive environments. The event is the start of celebrations for CAC’s four decade anniversary of service to the local artistic community.
“The organization has grown really fast in the last couple of years,” said Interim Executive Director, Sara Slawnik. “We’re going through a leadership transition, but the organization has been skyrocketing and we’ve expanded our programs. We’ve been around 40 years, so this event is kicking off our 40th year of empowering and supporting local artists of Chicago.”
Starving Artist welcomed more than 300 guests into four unique, multiple sensory environments, that meshed culinary and visual arts by pairing visual artists Diana Gabriel, Luftwerk, Alexandra Noe and Edyta Stepien with Chefs Matthias Merges (Yusho), Chris Pandel (Bristol/Balena), Kyle Peterson (Fulton Market Kitchen) and Jared Van Camp (Element Collective).
Community Partnerships Manager Alexis Russo manages fundraising for the event and is a huge part of the planning process for Starving Artist. She stated that there are a lot of moving pieces in planning this event, but it really starts with the artists before moving forward in who would pair well with chefs.
“Everyone gets really into the collaborative process and they work together so closely. Every element is really a piece of the collaboration.”
This was definitely true for chef and restaurateur Chris Pandel who teamed up with Columbian artist, Diana Gabriel. His dishes for the evening included ajiaco soup and coconut rice. Pandel said that Gabriel described her work to him as being inspired by Columbian basket weaving. He then used that as a guiding light for his food creation process with his team.
“We went back to a market scene in our heads,” said Pandel. “Having never been to Columbia, we just went through the process asking, ‘What would they serve you in a Columbian market, and how do we take that and make a 2.0 version in Chicago?'”
Pandel appreciated having some heritage behind the food, because he sad it gives a sense of history. He also found a sense of likeness between creators of art and food in a way that connected him to Gabriel even deeper.
“Diana’s work is based off of real, true craftsmanship. Basket weavers’ hands are on their work all the time. It’s patterns, it’s culture, and color coordination, among other things. As chef’s we’re kind of craftsmen first. So it struck a chord when we sat down and talked about her process and found that [her art] was just as much for her as it is for those viewing her work (or in Pandel’s case, his patrons). She enjoys the physicality of basket weaving, the same way that I like to cook. It’s a very similar process and I’m spoiled to have her as an artist.”
Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero of Luftwerk partnered with Matthias Merges of Yusho. Common ground was one of the reasons Bachmaier expressed satisfaction in collaborating with Merges, similar to Pandel and Gabriel.
Bachmeier said that she and Gallero met with Merges to discuss his approach to food. They found that he creates food in part as a sensory experience of taste. She described Luftwerk’s process as sensory as well, as well as very visual and immersive of the audience.
“It was a perfect match between how he sculpts food and how we approach sculpting art.” The result was a hanging installation of pork skin for attendees to break off and enjoy.
“We decided to use it as a sculpture of form in the space where people can, hopefully, feel free during the evening to engage with the piece and take it apart.”
Starving Artist raised more than $83,000 in support of CAC’s unique programming, which strives to build a sustainable marketplace for local artists by providing them with educational resources, exhibition opportunities and entrepreneurial networks. Services that will benefit from Starving Artist includes: BOLT artists’ residency program; artist workshops; Chicago Artists Resource, CAC’s arts service and development site; showcase galleries; and more.
Funds will also go towards the organization’s annual grant, the Maker Grant, which is awarded to local contemporary visual artists who demonstrate a commitment to a
sustainable artistic practice and career development. The 2014 Maker Grant honorees are Chicago-based interdisciplinary artists John Preus and Maria Gaspar.
Slawnik prides CAC’s distinguishing factor as being a support for local artists who have honed their craft to help them uphold their livelihood through their passion. It was a major reason the director was drawn to CAC after more than 10 years of working in the non-profit arts organization sector.
She said, “There aren’t a lot of other organizations that do the work that we do. We help artists actually make a living at what they do. So once they have all the skills and the talent, it’s up to us to figure out how to make [their craft] into a sustainable career. Once we create more artists that have a sustainable career with skills, Chicago then has a richer cultural community, more vibrant art, and more artists that can sustain themselves.”
To learn more about CAC and its programs, please visit http://chicagoartistscoalition.org.