On the heels of a groundbreaking year for Chicago artists, culminating with indie crusader Chance the Rapper’s seven Grammy nominations, aspiring creatives from all over the city flocked to Michigan Avenue for a panel on “How to Make It in Chicago’s Creative Industries.”
Jaime Black, founder of Dynasty Podcasts, the city’s longest-running music podcast, has been hosting similar informational panels for years. But Wednesday night’s event at Chicago Athletic Association Hotel packed the house—thanks to panelists Austin Vesely, Andrew Barber and Hebru Brantley.
Giants among the Chicago creative industry, each one nurtured their respective crafts without skipping town for New York City or Los Angeles.
Vesely began his career shooting early music videos for local artists like Chance The Rapper. Now, he’s prepping for his first feature film release, Slice (also starring Chance), in 2017. Barber started his hip-hop blog, Fake Shore Drive, while still working a corporate job a decade ago. Now, the website is considered a major player in the music industry, often the first to spotlight local artists like Chief Keef. And Brantley, a street art phenom, has taken his signature Flyboy character from the sides of local buildings to the tin cans of Garrett Popcorn and beyond.
Here’s why they feel creatives should stay and build and grow in Chicago instead of fleeing to the coasts.
You can fill a void if there’s market for your art.
Andrew Barber: “As far as the music scene or the hip hop scene as we know it, I started Fake Shore Drive nearly 10 years ago. If you were underground, you weren’t getting any kind of traction, nationally. The big four—Lupe, Kanye, Twista, and Common—were the only hip hop artists that were given that national coverage at the time. But there was all these great things happening here that the outside world didn’t know about. I kind of filled that void. Now, [Chicago’s] changed so much, to where it’s one of the hottest markets in the United States.”
Hebru Brantley: “Everyone says if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Chicago being the city of hella haters, I figured if you can make it in Chicago, you can really make it anywhere. For Chicago to not have a street art market—that secondary art market where you have blossoming arts—I was determined to try and push that forward and be a voice for those who wanted to do it.”
Anything is possible, anywhere, with the Internet.
Austin Vesely: “Because of the democratization of tools to make art, to make film specifically, I didn’t put as much weight on geography. You have a place to put it. You have a place to be seen, and that’s the Internet.”
Brantley: The game has changed so much because of the Internet. Things are so accessible now to where Chicago has this light being shined on it. Everyone’s waiting to see what we do, how we’re doing it, how we’re moving, whereas before, culturally, people tended to trickle inward from both coasts and we picked up on that.”
Chicago’s undergoing a renaissance, and the spirit of collaboration is strong.
Brantley: [Nodding to the creatives at Chance the Rapper’sGrammy nomination party at Metro on Tuesday] “You have all of these people who are staying in Chicago, and they know one another. It’s a community, and I think that’s how it should be. Everyone’s nurturing everyone’s creative ability. We’re all rocking for each other.”
Vesely: “It’s kind of sappy, but friendship is a big part of it. I consider these guys friends, and that makes working with them a positive thing. Also, for people who are in my field, I like to uplift the people who are my contemporaries because I think that that’s where competition is good. When they’re making stuff that’s quality, that makes me want to make something better.”
If you’re making quality art, the coasts will come to you.
Barber: “If you prove that you can build something, and have built something, [industry heads] will want to jump on that all day. So you can be the big dog in Chicago instead of trying to go to LA and be in that rat race where you’re just a face. You can carve out an industry for yourself [here].