Interview with Natasha Casanova from I Am Logan Square
If you haven’t heard of I Am Logan Square yet you’re missing out. I Am Logan Square is a non-profit organization that promotes and supports the arts and cultural development in Chicago’s vibrant Logan Square neighborhood. And ever since their establishment in 2010 they have been uniting artists in the Logan Square area and making tremendous progress creating a more connected artistic community.
Homeroom sat down with Natasha Casanova, Director of Marking & Development, to get the whole scoop. Read on below to learn all about it and afterwards make sure to get updated with all their events!
1. Can you tell me a little about the history of IALS? Who founded it and how and when did you all get your start?
I Am Logan Square, originally an acronym for “Independent Artists and Merchants of Logan Square,” was founded in January 2010 by the 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón and a group of art-conscious, independent business owners in the neighborhood. Among the group’s first actions was to assume leadership of the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival, a beloved annual celebration of Logan Square’s arts scene, which was then in its second year. IALS was granted 501©(3) status in 2011 and Alderman Colón stepped down from the board to relieve the organization of any political ties. Cara Dehnert Huffman was hired as executive director in 2011, and Cara brought me on as the Director of Marketing & Development. Under our leadership, and with support from our dedicated volunteer staff and guidance from our board, IALS has become a trusted resource for artists, and for the public to learn about and participate in local arts events. We host monthly gallery openings, professional development workshops, networking events, and provide a free event calendar and online directory on our website for arts-related listings. We also publish an artist-run biweekly blog and monthly newsletter with the latest Logan Square arts news.
2. What kind of programming do you do? I see your mission is promoting and supporting the arts & cultural development in Chicago. So, any specific artistic medium?
IALS’s annual calendar centerpiece is the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival, a three-day, multi-arts festival currently in its 4th year, which will take place July 20-22. The fest showcases works by over 100 artists (all of whom are Chicago artists, 50% being residents of Logan Square) in all media and includes live music, performances, and family-friendly interactive arts activities.
Additionally, IALS showcases the Logan Square community’s vibrant art scene throughout the year by hosting monthly gallery openings featuring group or collaborative shows by local artists.
Last March we piloted IALS’s Creative Professional Development series, presented in collaboration with the Logan Square Chamber of Arts at the Hairpin Arts Center. To date. we have presented a legal workshop on Copyright Law and a social media panel. Our next event in the series, which provides artists and creatives information and opportunities to grow and develop their practices, will be a Photography Portfolio Review walk, presented in collaboration with Filter Photo Festival, slated to take place on June 9th.
Our Industry Night series, which debuted last November, is a companion to the Creative Professional Development series. We host these networking evenings (with each month’s event organized around a specific media) at D’Noche restaurant, one of IALS’s arts-conscious business partners. Past Industry Nights include music, photography, theatre and film. The series is currently on hiatus so we may focus on Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival planning.
Additionally, IALS presents programming and partners with likeminded, arts-conscious organizations. In addition to the organizations already mentioned, IALS has collaborated with Elastic Arts, Voice of the City, AnySquared Projects, Chicago Artists’ Coalition, ArtHouse Chicago, Arte y Vida, Phantom Gallery, Transit Residency, Lawyers for the Creative Arts, John Marshal Law School, Saki Record Store, Revolution Brewing, Paper Moon Pastry, and Curbside Splendor.
Finally, IALS builds community and audiences via digital and social media. IALS offers reliable pathways for interested audiences to learn about artists and events, and for artists and arts organizations to spread the word about their work. IALS’s website (www.iamlogansquare) serves as a resource for artists and arts organizations by offering a free directory and event listing calendar.
3. I see you also have a focus in serving as a resource for artists seeking support and career-development. That’s great! I think a lot of artists need more places to go to for that. What was your drive with that aspect? Were some of the staff in IALS once in that “struggling artist” position?
IALS’s board and staff are all passionate about the arts and value the role of the arts in creating a vital and stable community. I myself am not an artist, but I have nearly a decade of experience working with artists, curating and organizing exhibitions and helping them to promote their work. IALS’s executive director, Cara Dehnert Huffman, comes from a family of artists, has a legal background and teaches in the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department at Columbia College Chicago. IALS’s part-time and volunteer staff is composed primarily of artists. We are conscious of the challenges that artists face to maintain a stable and financially viable practice and we exist to serve their needs as well as educate and connect the community to the arts.
4. Who should interested parties contact to get involved with IALS?
There are plenty of ways to get involved with IALS. Besides taking advantage of our programs cited above, and utilizing our website and blog as a resource to discover artist opportunities and community arts events, IALS offers a myriad of volunteer opportunities to connect and support the Logan Square arts community. Artists and residents can connect with their neighbors and offer their skills for the benefit of the community. From helping us distribute posters and postcards, to editing video and taking photographs, or assisting gallery curators, each of our volunteers makes a difference and is an asset to IALS and the Logan Square neighborhood.
If you are interested in volunteering, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are organizing an arts event in Logan Square, or are a Logan Square artist performing or exhibiting somewhere else in the city, you may post your event to our free event listing page AND/OR as an an artist or local business that supports the arts, you may create a free directory listing by visiting our website, www.iamlogansquare.com.
You may also submit a proposal to curate an exhibition at IALS’s gallery. Proposals for group shows are given priority consideration in order to showcase the most artists possible throughout the year.
To submit an exhibition proposal and for any other inquiries, contact us at email@example.com.
5. What sort of public presence does IALS want? Public vs. Underground, basically.
IALS’s programming, audience and reach has been growing at a study rate since its inception. It was only a little over a year ago that we opened up a storefront gallery on Milwaukee Avenue and began hosting regular art openings. Our website officially launched to coincide with the 2011 Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival last July. In just two years, with only one year establishing a physical and virtual presence, we have a growing mailing list of over 3,000 and a Facebook and Twitter following of +2,000. Not too shabby for a small neighborhood arts organization, right!?! We are a resource for everyone – not just the Logan Square arts community, but also to neighborhood residents and broader Chicago. We invite collaboration and ideas, and strive to provide an intersection for arts and community to converge, and for artists to find support and inspiration for their work. Artists need an audience, and the arts have proven time and time again to enrich the community. IALS seeks to continue the dialogue between artists and their audiences, and we are quite pleased with our growing reach.
6. What is IALS looking to do in the future? How do you plan to grow?
We have many inspiring plans for future organizational growth and development. At the moment, however, we are focused on ensuring IALS’s long-term sustainability. We are excited to roll out IALS’s membership program, which will include benefits such as free or discounted admission to IALS and partner organization events, discounts and promotions at local establishments, reciprocal memberships with other arts organizations and more. We’ll be launching the program at the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival Kick-Off party at Revolution Brewing on June 26th. In the fall we plan to launch a business membership program as well. Additionally, we are working on securing grants and financial support from foundations to ensure that our work carries on and can develop.
It is very important to us that we continue to serve Logan Square artists and residents by making quality arts experiences and resources available at little or no charge. We plan to expand our present offerings by creating a more robust annual calendar with increased programming and educational opportunities. In the future we also hope to engage artists professionally and offer artist residency opportunities. Every day we talk to community members with wonderful ideas for IALS programming, and we really wish we could do it all! We’re inspired by the rich and vibrant community where we live and work, and see limitless possibilities for our work to continue into the future.