3Arts Awardees Revel in Freedom

Chicago Tribune published: Oct. 22, 2018 3Arts Awardees Revel in Freedom

3Arts awards are about the whole artist, and awardees revel in the freedom



October 22, 2018 by Darcel Rockett
 Chicago Tribune

The 3Arts Awards have been given to local artists in the fields of teaching, performing and visual arts for the last 11 years — more than $3 million in funding to more than 600 Chicago artists. Unrestricted grants of $25,000 each have been awarded to 10 individuals who are female, artists of color and artists with disabilities.

The 2018 recipients, just like those prior, are nominated and chosen by a juried panel of artists and arts leaders, who, according to the executive director of 3Arts, Esther Grisham Grimm, ask questions like: For whom would the award make a difference? Who is doing something that could use an investment, infusion or a boost? What’s a really super-interesting set of projects or artistic endeavor that could use some support?

“Sometimes that conversation pivots to what kind of art is being made that is not being supported. Or who are the artists who are not being supported?” she said. “It’s a complex process. … Something that is very important to the heart of 3Arts and understanding our organization is that we’re here to support the full human being. It could be used for child care; it could be used to do research and travel the world or for medical equipment — all of that is important to us. We want the full artist, full human being to be a little bit more free to do what they want to do.”

And freedom is what winners Ben LaMar Gay and Elgin Bokari T. Smith will use their award money for. The former, a musician who walks away with the Stan Lipkin and Evelyn Appell Lipkin Award, talks of continuing on his search for sounds with his money. Gay, a Park Manor native, has been touted as a composer “who moves sound, color and space through folkloric filters to produce electro-acoustic collages,” according to 3Arts. His debut album, “Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun” (International Anthem, 2018), has garnered attention from an array of venues, but when describing the melodies recorded over seven years of his life, he says it’s a natural sound that’s “properly aged.”

“It’s the sound of someone who was born on the South Side of Chicago that would spend nights with his family and listening to sounds around the world and then having opportunities to go to these certain places and absorb it,” he said. “It’s all based off of folk music.”

Gay laughs and admits this is the first award that he’s won outside of a perfect attendance award that he received when he was in school. He said he’s grateful that people enjoy his music and his search for a sound.

“It’s like walking on the street and someone saying ‘hello,’ you know? What this award means to me, being a Chicago native, the city is just finally saying ‘hello.’ Imagine just to get that attention from another person, just: ‘Hello … hi, how are you doing?’ When you really need it. That’s what it is.”

Smith (aka Kari the Illustrator) is a teaching artist who walks away with the Denise and Gary Gardner award. The St. Louis native is a multihyphenate — artist, social activist and educator. A former assistant for artist Theaster Gates, Smith is program director of Free Write Arts & Literacy, a program that provides art workshops to incarcerated and court-involved youth. He is also the co-creator of “Pocket Con,” an annual comic book convention that celebrates characters of color.

He said the 3Arts grant will aid him in his short and long-term endeavors.

“This will definitely help us to get a couple more artists that we’ve always wanted to participate or come to Pocket Con,” he said. “It will help fund projects, but I also have student loans … so I’ll be a little bit more ambitious with my projects. Those who care about their diaspora and want to see their diaspora grow, we often put ourselves to the side because of either funding or budget.”

Smith and Gay are joined by other winners: dancers and dance educators T. Ayo Alston and Anna Martine Whitehead; musician Brittany “BrittanE” Edwards; teaching artists Leida “Lady Sol” Garcia; playwright and actor Sandra Delgado and costume designer Christine Pascual; and visual artists Dianna Frid and Huong Ngo. The awards will be presented Nov. 5 at the Museum of Contemporary Art alongside surprise $1,000 grants in which past 3Arts Awards recipients select another 10 Chicago artists to receive money in the peer-to-peer giving program, Make A Wave.

“Chicago has a way of keeping you here because there is so much work to be done,” Smith said. “The collaboration here in Chicago is great.”

Gay concurs.

“The thing about Chicago that makes it special is that it has a feeling of a laboratory,” he said. “You’re allowed the freedom to explore and go to the wildest boundaries of your discoveries and explore it with a community of people that are doing the same thing.”

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