Chicago: Home of House by Felicia Holman


All photos by Tanner Woodford

"Like House, The Silver Room is also a celebration of community spirit and togetherness, a connector of ideas across disciplines. Because we share these values, the Design Museum of Chicago is working to bring pop-up exhibitions from communities to communities, for communities, especially during this unprecedented time. "Chicago: Home of House" celebrates the fact that Chicago is the Mecca for House music."--- Design Museum of Chicago; October 2020


As a Black native Southsider and early "Househead", I have a special place in my heart for The Silver Room (TSR). In 1997, Eric Williams opened the jewelry store/ art gallery/ event space in the heart of Wicker Park (on Milwaukee Ave near Evergreen Street), and a mere 20-minute walk from my apartment. Williams himself is a Househead and dj, and very intentionally infused Chicago's house music/culture into TSR's programming brand, which helped TSR ascend into one of Chicago's most influential and beloved cultural hubs. Now relocated to the revered Southside promenade of east 53rd Street, TSR has only elevated their cultural impact and programming. The local retail and cultural institution has also recently undergone a physical transformation. During last spring's statewide quarantine,TSR collaborated with local architecture studio Future Firm and designer/educator Norman Teague to reimagine and redesign the Hyde Park storefront space, in order to better meet the logistic demands of social distancing.

 

Around the same time, Williams' friend Tanner Woodford (founder/ executive director; Design Museum of Chicago) approached him with an idea about reactivating the Loop-based museum's community-centered pop-up exhibition programming at TSR. The museum was founded in 2012 as an entirely volunteer-run organization which planned and produced pop-up exhibitions. Since then, the museum has grown capacity to mount at least 2 exhibitions per year, has hosted hundreds of public programs, and engaged with more than 175,000 visitors. Woodford confirms, though, that TSR is the museum's first Southside pop-up exhibition partner site. In visceral response to this year's mandated social distancing and continued climate of racial injustice, Woodford was moved to share his reactivation idea with Williams. During our phone conversation, Woodford explained to me that his initial vision was to utilize the quarantine pop-up format to highlight a distinctly home-grown Chicago cultural legacy. Says Woodford, "Before I could even suggest a specific theme or topic, Eric said 'HOUSE'!". Williams describes this collaborative installation as a true partnership. "When I first talked with Tanner, the first thing that came to mind was music. Music is my first love and this collaboration offers the opportunity to educate and entertain. Rob [McKay; co-owner/curator of Connect Gallery] is the curator of this installation. Rob has the information to lead discussions and connect with DJs who were in that House music nightclub scene. Tanner understands design and, together with Rob, worked to give the public an exhibition experience without going to a museum."


McKay explained his role in TSR's first installation since the store's redesign was a "no-brainer". Not only because of his longtime business partnership with Williams, but McKay is yet another certified Househead who also curated 2015's "Move Your Body" exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center.  For "Home Of House" McKay's overall curatorial vision was to uphold that "Chicago is the birthplace of House music and that House is as important as Jazz, Blues or Gospel". McKay culled a treasure trove of artifacts/ names and narratives, then collaborated closely with the Design Museum's installation team---including Woodford, Lauren Boegen (executive director/ Operations & Collections), Yaro Banduro (Art Director/ 2D), Annie Leue (Art Director/ 3D). Woodford says, "Lauren and Rob were curators of the exhibition. Eric and I served as creative directors. Annie and Yaro were our art directors and designers. Being a small team, we all wore a lot of hats, and much of this work was very collaborative." Williams says via email, "public reaction to the new installation has been great. It's been interesting to see the reaction from some of our longtime customers, bringing back a lot of memories for them. It's also a learning experience for our newer and younger audience. The installation allows people to take a journey back through the history of house music and learn what house music means to Chicago."


Both McKay and Woodford express aspirations to keep their educational design collaboration going as a touring exhibition after the month-long installation comes out of TSR's windows. "Conversation from the community [about "Home Of House"] is to keep the music and history alive. When the youth see these names, they go back and do a little research", says McKay. Williams describes TSR's updated approach to their arts programming: "Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been taking a different approach to engaging with the public safely. We are utilizing our outdoor space with movie showings, pop-up sales and live music in front of the store. Our current Sidewalk Series allows the public to experience live bands. We are always open to new and innovative ideas of entertaining. Artists and designers interested in pop up and outdoor exhibits can contact us at info@thesilverroom.com".

 

Written by Felicia Holman

 

About the Author:

2020-2021 Threewalls RaDLab fellow Felicia Holman is a native Chicagoan, independent cultural producer/facilitator, and a co-founder of Afrodiasporic feminist creative collective Honey Pot Performance. She is also a 2020-2021 Buddy Research and Performance resident artist and a member of the Co-Prosperity Programming Committee (CoPro ProCo).


Felicia's creative/ professional and social practices are firmly grounded in critical thought, intersectionality, community building and embodied storytelling. Her recent projects include commissioned performances for Illinois Humanities and the 5th annual Instigation Festival, as well as written contributions at See Chicago Dance, Performance Response Journal, 6018North, and The Quarantine Times (published by the Public Media Institute). 


Felicia relishes her artrepreneurial life and sums it up in 3 words---"Creator, Connector, Conduit".

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