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Introducing Canvas Chicago: Curators of ACTIVATE 2018

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Posted  7 months ago  in  ActivateArts and Culture  by  Jessica Cabe

For the first time ever, Chicago Loop Alliance is teaming up with one curatorial team for the entire ACTIVATE season. Get to know the people behind Canvas Chicago, who under the 2018 theme, “(EVO)lution,” will be transforming unexpected places in the Loop into creative exhibition spaces that bring artists and the public together for an evening of exploration, interaction and celebration of the arts.


How, when and why did Canvas get its start?

Preston Jones, Co-Founder and Director of Canvas Chicago: We started at the very end of 2012; New Year’s Eve is kind of our anniversary. It was a very organic thing. This guy, Vincent Naples, and I started creating these small events, but because they were done well and because they had a certain kind of intention and flavor, it started naturally connecting a network of young producers, artists and graphic designers, etc., so we all kind of formed a collective, or a network, or a community. And then we all wanted to collaborate on concepts together, so we would build these concepts in the space we started out in in Wicker Park, and those concepts grew – they grew from serving an audience of 250 to several thousand. As those have grown, we’ve gotten more attention, and there have been opportunities to work with other organizations and with clients not unlike Chicago Loop Alliance.

Sub Chroma 2017: Photo by DRMBT for Canvas Chicago

Can you talk a little more in-depth about what Canvas does?

Emily Dahlquist, Associate Director of Canvas Chicago: All of our projects started in our space in Wicker Park. Our larger events have started there – Sub Chroma, Voyager, Primer – and from there, they grew to evolve into larger productions. They always sell out, and it’s always a crazy production and a great time, and we’ve moved them to a different space every year. So that’s a lot of the work we do, but we also consult or come up with other creative concepts with brands – sometimes people hire us out as freelance creatives and producers.

How did Canvas partner with Chicago Loop Alliance for ACTIVATE 2018?

ED: I think a couple of the people from CLA came to our Sub Chroma event, the popup that we did at a place called the Hubbard Cave in the West Loop last fall. From there, I think they approached us in interest, and we’re super excited about it because part of the direction we’ve been going since last year is to work with and uplift other collectives in Chicago.

Image of the B_Line during Sub Chroma 2017 Chicago Pop Up, Photographed by Steven Sembach

Why do you think Canvas makes for a good partner with an organziation like CLA, which is so foucsed on placemaking and activating public space?

ED: We are excited to work with outdoor public space, especially where we can focus on creative elements. Canvas makes a genuine effort of bringing together other like-minded collectives who support various communities and celebrate by artistically elevating spaces, which CLA has been doing with ACTIVATE for four years now. Canvas is a great partner as a full theme curator, because we know how to tell a story through video, visuals and events.

Can you describe how the partnership with CLA has looked so far and in what ways ACTIVAE has been a fun team effort?

ED: So far this partnership has been great! This is the first time Canvas has had the opportunity to focus solely on creative aspects, while we have a partner handling more logistical parts of the production. We are used to doing everything alone, and having a marketing team, etc., has been such a blessing. It has also been cool because we have a huge network of artists, producers and creatives who are not focused on the Loop, whereas CLA does have a lot of connections here, and we are able to unite these together, which is pretty amazing!

Why do you think Canvas is a good fit for ACTIVATE, specifically?

ED: We are skilled at transforming space and bringing people into a different environment that later leaves them inspired. With CLA’s dedication to placemaking and activating public space, we’re excited to inspire people in the Loop who live there, work there or use it as an axis point. And also, I think the visual pairing of the video series has been an extremely important part of our process as creatives and of our work. Being able to pair a video series is going to be super powerful for ACTIVATE – and not only powerful for ACTIVATE, but also just event as an art form because I think it’s one of the first times that an event is coinciding with a video series so strongly and creating this fictional character out of it.

Can you talk a little more about this fictional character and the video series that will coincide with ACTIVATE?

PJ: We were trying to determine something that could connect the events but allow the events to still have autonomy and freedom, so we came up with a fictional character named EVO. It’s a pretty heady concept – it’s the idea that all of the intentions of the entire city of Chicago, artistically and culturally, have manifested this character. And this character herself, by being manifested by everyone in Chicago, has decided that her intentions are to evolve art and culture. It’s a pretty exciting concept because that’s something that exists already in reality, and we’re just giving it a face and a vibe. The character is actually everyone. She is all sexes, all races. Her voice is everyone’s voice at the same time, and her face is a composite of everyone’s faces. And she has the ability to open a portal from this construct world into parallel dimensions, parallel universes, that are the same space, but one of infinite versions of the spaces. We’re taking you to one version of these spaces, and we’ll be telling this story through a series of videos Canvas is producing that coincide with each event.

ACTIVATE will take place on June 7, July 12, Aug. 16 and Sept. 13 in a variety of unexpected spaces in the Loop, including alleys and, for the first time, a portion of the Chicago Riverwalk. More details on each event will be announced as dates draw near. Updates can be found atwww.loopchicago.com/activate.

Main Photo: Voyager, Canvas Chicago