Why is this garden at 69th and Kenwood a great place to make art? What’s the connection between art and agriculture?
For me, planting a garden is similar to making a work of art. After you plant the seed, it has the ability to keep giving, and I think art works like that.
I read that Kenwood Gardens is a $4.5 million project. What will it look like when it’s finished in 2025?
So the area that we’re sitting in now, I’d like that to be a sculpture garden. And I’d like artists from all over the world to want their work here in this garden. We want to partner with organizations that are interested in growing food. Some portion of the space could be used for growing food and employing an employee in the community. And then we want artists to be able to occupy this space directly. Our hope is to build three studios where artists can work and then have the garden as their backyard.
In what ways do you think the space will have an impact on the community?
Last night, there were over 400 people here dancing, talking. [Cook County Board] president [Toni] Preckwinkle reflecting on what it means to take vacant land and activate that land and make beauty in a neighborhood. Alderman [Leslie] Hairston being really happy that this used to be an eyesore. Already, you can feel the change. The violence has kind of dropped down a little bit. Cars that used to speed, they kind of slow down because they’re like, What’s going on? So it’s like without having to put in barriers and humps and all that, sometimes beauty is enough to make people change their behavior. Our hope is to first invite people into this space, demonstrate what this space could be. We’ll do that with public programming: We’ll do film and music programming out here, we’ll be teaching young people about plants. It’s really about being in a place that’s quiet, right? Being able to come here and chill, you know, being able to kind of step off that block and come to a completely different environment. And I think this is a luxury. Just being able to be in a quiet space is a gift. It’s what rich people do. But everyone deserves to be able to stroll in a beautiful place, and take they mind off the stuff that’s happened at the crib, and I think this will provide that contemplation space. Ain’t nothin’ to do. That’s the beauty. Ain’t nothin’ to do, so sit on a rock.
Are there any other projects that you have going on in the near future that you can talk about now? You just announced the transformation of the vacant St. Laurence Elementary School into an incubator with artist residences and coworking spaces.
In the end, if I can see hundreds of artists come in and out of St. Laurence over the years and feel like their practices were made better because they had a space like that, that would really make my heart very happy.
How did you connect with Prada? And tell me about the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab.
I did an exhibition with the Prada Foundation in 2015. The foundation was a beautiful place. The people were very kind to me. I was like, This is fresh. And then they would just call me from time to time and say, “Hey, you know, what are your thoughts about this other artist?” or “We’re thinking about doing this in Venice. Could you help us think about that?” And then sometimes it was also Miss [Miuccia] Prada who would make the call and we would meet, so in those years, when I was traveling a lot, I would go to Milan maybe two or three times a year. Then our relationship was forged. For me, joining the Prada [Diversity and Inclusion Advisory] Council was about trying to create as much design equity as I can, and as much diversity and inclusion as I can for the company. The Experimental Design Lab is the project that I’m doing with Prada, and we will give grants to emerging and established designers [of color]. The lab is going to be activated outside the Retreat Cafe [in Washington Park] and the offices above Retreat. We’re turning Retreat into a coworking space, and it will also be the home of the Experimental Design Lab until we outgrow it.
Do you feel like those kinds of environments were here when you were growing up as a creative?
I always feel like I’m designing the spaces I wish I had had access to. On the West Side, the school that was near my house, Chicago Avenue and Pulaski, had the most amazing summer camp. I didn’t realize that the West Side was a violent place, because the park and the school had all the things that I needed. We learned how to swim, we can kick it, we would go on walking trips. It was very simple. It was a track, some grass, a swimming pool, and you can play indoor basketball. That’s it. So what you realize is that in your formation, it’s not like you need a lot. I didn’t have fancy things growing up, but I felt like I was always in spaces filled with love. What I feel like I’m trying to do is, I want the place to look good. I do. And I want it to be kind of fly. But if there’s not love in that place, then I’ve only done half the job. Or I’ve only done a little bit of the job. And I also know that the buildings don’t have to be big and grand to hold love. They can be very simple. Very, very everyday. But they can have care and love. And then when people go into my buildings on the block, they feel like it’s special. And it’s like love built it, you know?