Art, Collaboration & Community Collide in a Downtown Chicago Regeneration Project

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There’s little debate that the presence of art in public spaces adds value to a place. Whether it’s the internal or external environment, infusing the arts is a way to not only beautify but to bring people together. Though there are many opportunities for artists in Chicago, many artists strive to find interesting and innovative ways of connecting with those outside their artistic circles. Many facets of contemporary art can be seen as confusing or disconnected from the everyday lives of most people. On that same thread, many who are not artists (speaking generally as the ‘arts’ to encompass music, theatre, dance, visual art, etc), are not privy to the creative process and the time, energy and creativity that goes into making a piece of art. Many artists make work alone, tucked away quietly in their homes or studios, only exposing their work until it is in its final product stage.

Perhaps if the general public were able to observe the creative process or even participate in it, their engagement and appreciation would increase? Or if the creative process was in a place outside of the often-reserved environment of the gallery or museum, those who would not normally choose to learn about or participate in the art world would find a means of relating and exploring it?

Enter “21 Artists”, a 21-day artistic collaboration in a vacant storefront in the heart of downtown Chicago, located at 23 E. Madison, just two blocks from Chicago’s iconic Millennium Park and Art Institute of Chicago. Based on the premise that the number “21” is a symbol of creation and new beginnings, this project brings twenty one artists from a diverse range of backgrounds and artistic disciplines into an underutilised space to not only showcase their work but showcase the process that goes into creating a work of art. This project celebrates artists and the work that they do, while providing an opportunity for greater exposure and collaboration across artistic disciplines. Working from a quote that describes or encompasses his or her creative process or artistic expression, featured artists will have a day to create new work in the empty storefront either on their own or in collaboration with the artist-in-residence in the space.


As artist-in-residence and Project Director, I am aiming to be an integral part of the process, either collaborating with each artist or creating work in response to each featured artist, allowing their work to be an inspiration to the pieces I create. Each featured artist was chosen through a selective application process, resulting in twenty one cutting-edge artists participating from hip-hop MC’s and performance artists to horn players, film makers, street artists and everything in between. The event is free and open to the public to observe and even take part in each artist’s creative process.


“21 Artists” takes place daily from February 1st to February 21st, culminating with a final exhibition on Friday, February 22nd from 6-11 PM.  The space will begin as a white, empty “blank canvas” and by the end of the 21 days, will be filled with new art, life and vitality. In addition to the featured artists, there will be numerous special guests in addition to community classes and youth outreach programmes. The overall objectives of the project are as follows:

  • promote artists across Chicago
  • celebrate and articulate the creative process
  • building a greater appreciation for contemporary art
  • explore innovative ways of different disciplines to collaborate
  • bring new energy and vitality into a vacant space

Aside from these broad objectives, the project aims to highlight the creative talents of artists across the city while pushing the creative boundaries of each featured artist to think of their artistic output in a new light. The project should be experimental, eye opening, challenging and informative both for those who observe and those featured artists who participate in the process. Now that all the artists have been selected and scheduled, each artist has been given a great deal of flexibility and freedom as to how they would like to design their featured day. Some are coming in to perform or create work, while others are interested more in the collaboration process with the artist-in-residence and others even designed an entire arts project proposal around the resources and premise of the project, aiming to directly engage the public with the work they create that day.

Meg Peterson is a Chicago and London-based artist and Project Director of 21 Artists. To find out more about 21 Artists, visit the websiteFacebook page or Tumblr site.

  • http://www.facebook.com/doug.roberts.1401 Doug Roberts

    Very cool idea!

    • Meg Peterson

      Thank you! We’re very excited about it as well! Feel free to follow us via FB and the blog for updates as the project gets started