By Lauren Weinberg
SHoP (Southside Hub of Production), Fenn House, Hyde Park.
SHoP members Laura Shaeffer (left), Akari Rokumoto, Michael Eastwood, Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford, Lizzy Szwaya and Erik Peterson hang out in the Red Flags salon with some young SHoP patrons.
Photo: Lizzy Szwaya
Artists Laura Shaeffer and John Preus were considering a radical idea when they heard that Hyde Park’s First Unitarian Church of Chicago sought a new tenant for Fenn House, the 1890s mansion it owns at 5638 South Woodlawn Avenue. What if Chicago had “a space where everyone could have a cultural experience,” as Shaeffer describes it—a place where adults could “spend time creatively” and socialize with their kids, instead of involving playdates and baby-sitters? A place where those adults could even have a beer?
I saw SHoP’s (Southside Hub of Production) intergenerational, multidisciplinary philosophy in action a week before the cultural center was set to open on October 1. As Shaeffer, Preus and several other SHoP members met with me at Fenn House, which they’re leasing for at least a year, they were simultaneously refurbishing the 16-room residence, running a yard sale and installing an exhibition of radios handmade by Hyde Park resident George Kagan. Some of their children played upstairs, supervised by SHoP member Akari Rokumoto.
Kagan’s show inaugurates SHoP’s in-house community museum, the Hyde Park Kunstverein. While the HPK is soliciting exhibition proposals, explains SHoP’s Erik Peterson, members hope word of mouth will help them reach artists, particularly older ones like Kagan who have no connection to Chicago’s gallery system. “We think it’s exciting that we can look at untapped communities,” he says.
Peterson’s running a basement wood shop with Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford, whom he met when they were students in UIC’s M.F.A. program. The wood shop welcomes both artists and unhandy neighbors: “If someone has a bookshelf that needs fixing, we could help with that,” Peterson promises. The wood shop also will make frames and other materials for SHoP’s exhibitions, which will extend beyond the HPK throughout Fenn House’s three stories. “CurioPantry” takes over an old-fashioned cabinet in Fenn House’s kitchen. Another ongoing installation is the Red Flags Salon (pictured), a tiny bar that Preus built and outfitted with the furniture he makes out of salvaged wood. Its TVs will showcase video art.
Preus reminds me that we expect to find booze at art openings—and in Europe, where he’s spent a lot of time, people don’t panic if adults drink around their children. “It allows for a kind of social relations that we just don’t have,” he says. “Every time we’ve brought up this relationship between alcohol and kids, people say, ‘Oh, that raises red flags.’ So we thought, That’s a good name.”
SHoP will support a dizzying array of other programs, including children’s art workshops, a film series, literary readings, a seed bank, a recording studio, studio rentals and a time bank, which lets people exchange hours of labor. “It allows people to work when there isn’t enough money to pay people to work,” SHoP member Michael Eastwood says.
A time bank operated at Shaeffer’s Op Shop, a community-oriented art program that traveled to four vacant Hyde Park properties from December 2009 to April 2011, and brought many of SHoP’s members together. Like SHoP, the Op Shop emphasized sharing knowledge and skills. “When everyone in the world is talking about how America [is] a society of consumers,” Peterson says, “it’s fun to be a house of production.”
“KAGAN Radios” is on view through October 31. For more information, visit southsidehub.org.