There's a ramp at the corner of Wabash and Upper Wacker that snakes down to the Riverwalk—its entrance is right across the street from the spaceship-like Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, and just above O’Brien’s Riverwalk Cafe. The Chicago Loop Alliance is hosting its first of four pop-up arts event of this summer’s Activate series there; I realized I’ve walked by it dozens of times without ever noticing it.
That covert effect speaks to the series’ mission. Now in its fifth year, Activate aims to enliven Loop spaces you’d normally overlook and encourage people to stay downtown after their day jobs. This evening, artist collective Canvas Chicago is returning to partner with the CLA to transform the obscured ramp into a bazaar-style space inspired by the Riverwalk’s proximity to Jean Baptiste Point DuSable’s historic trading post.
We caught up with Kalindi Parikh, the place-making manager at Chicago Loop Alliance, and Preston Jones, the director of Canvas, to hear more about the series and what they have planned for tonight’s event.
Why did you start hosting these events in alleys? Where’d the idea come from?
Kalindi Parikh: The thought was sort of forcing people to occupy spaces that they would normally just pass through. From our end it came out of finding purpose in some of these underutilized or unexpected spaces in the city. We also want to make sure there's a reason for people to really think of downtown as more than you just your morning commute, you work and go home. Instead, it's now a place you want to hang out and where cultural things are happening.
What can people expect at the events this summer?
Preston Jones: We came up with a concept that there's a character, EVO, a manifestation of the collective intentions of everyone in Chicago. So EVO is not actually a person, doesn't have a sex, doesn't have an age. The character has the intention of continuing to further the evolution of arts and expression in Chicago and has a capability of opening portals. When you walk through one of EVO's portals, you enter an alternate version of the same space that you're in. So the first event is on the Riverwalk. That space exists in Chicago here as we know it, but when you walk through an alternate version of that space that's full of new sounds, new experiences, new artistic things, the idea is, you go into this alternative version and come back to your version more inspired. So that's kind of the general theme that gives us the opportunity to go anywhere with each of the events.
KP: The theme for the first one is EVO's bazaar, so this is an event that's going to play on the idea of markets. So there’ll also be a fun installation that includes about 80 different lampshades, art involving mirrors as well as portraits, a sort of big wacky clock installation, etc. There will also be a balloon installation that we're really excited about that will be somewhat interactive as well.
In the past, you’ve staged your events in alleys. This year, you’re branching out, starting with the Riverwalk. What’s that about?
KP: The spot that we're in is not actually the Riverwalk itself, it's sort of a long, curving ramp leading to it at the corner of Wabash and Upper Wacker. It really is a place where people would maybe pass through and not notice it. It's currently totally empty. There's nothing happening in this space, and it's usually just used as kind of a loading zone for Riverwalk vendors. So even though it's not actually an alley, it functions very much like one in the fact that it has utility but no one really spends anytime in it.
Where is this ramp? I’m familiar with the intersection but I can’t even picture it.
KP: That's exactly the point. My job here is to think about the spaces that nobody thinks about. A lot of it is lending this history to a place that has no identity for itself.
GO: Thursday, June 7 from 5 to 10 p.m. Wabash and Wacker. Free. RSVP for free drink ticket.