Tracy van Duinen - Transcript

Transcript of Tracy van Duinen
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Date: January 28, 2014
Place: Chicago Illinois
Transcriber: Martin Stewart
Time: 20:00

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: This is Dorothy Nygren of the Edgewater Historical Society. I’m at my home with Tracy who is our 2014 Living Treasure. Today is January 28, 2014. First of all Tracy I want to thank you so much for all you’ve done for the Edgewater community and to congratulate you for being a 2014 Living Treasure. We are very happy to award this to you because of the wonderful artwork that we have in our community and that you have involved the participation of many of its residents, especially the younger ones. So, let me just get started and ask you how did you come to Edgewater?

TD: I came to Edgewater through public art. I started doing work in uptown for the Alternatives Youth and Families agency there. And through that we started talking with Ald. Mary Ann Smith about the underpasses. She started talking with John Pounds from Chicago public art group. I was developing this bricolage technique at the time. So, she really liked what she was seeing and asked if we could start entertaining the idea of doing something like that under the underpasses. So it’s been a great partnership, kind of using Edgewater to develop, this is really where we developed the whole process of a very wide scale community involvement with these murals. It was really tried out here in Edgewater.

DN: So, Edgewater was the kernel?

TD: It really was. We were doing…. The stuff we were doing at Alternatives was just with kids. We were doing with just single organizations. When we started Mary Ann Smith was very much interested in how, and we were too, and how to incorporate the larger community in the greatest way possible. So that’s…and so we just really, myself and my fellow artist Todd Osborne really opened ourselves up to any possibility and really we were always thinking about what’s the greatest way to involve the community.

DN: What year was that?

TD: 2000….We started in 2006? No, 2005 I think it was. And that was the thing. Usually these projects take about six weeks from designing it to getting it up, and the smaller. What we figured was the huge murals in Edgewater take about a year and a half because there is so much community involvement. So, from just having the initial conversation with community members about what they want to have in the mural, to tell their story, to develop that narrative of the community, all the way to designing it, revisions, having them approve it, having the community approve it to make sure it’s exactly what they want, to then making the pieces, having the community come together to make the pieces, all the micro elements, and then installing….It takes 18 months we’ve found, to do it right.

DN: Now let’s go back to the one at Foster. Was that the first one, or was that at Bryn Mawr?

TD: At Bryn Mawr.

DN: So that was the very first one. So, could you tell us a little bit about who you first met with and the ideas that were generated if you remember?

TD: So, Ernie Constantino was kind of our point person with Mary Ann Smith. He was a lot of the higher-level things. He just had such an enthusiasm for what was going to happen with the community with it. So, he brought us, we met people from the Historical Society… Thom Greene was part of the original meeting…. The Tanialses, not Tanialses (pause).

DN: It’s okay.

TD: They were the people who were kind of in the organization that redid Bryn Mawr.

DN: Oh yes, the people who were interested in the Bryn Mawr Historic District and improving the community and all that.

TD: We met with them and then and held…. I’m sure there are other people there that I’m forgetting. But their initial meeting was with all of them kind of talking about what this would be and then Mary Ann Smith was really kind of helping to gain financial support from the community too.

DN: So you were involving the local community organizations, the businesses…. Every aspect of community life was involved in the initial coming together. That’s fabulous.

TD: Yeah…And it was really the alderman who kind of pulled everyone together on that. So we started building a relationship with them throughout the process. And that was the first year just doing the North wall of Bryn Mawr. Then we went and did… and that was really the only plan to do just that one. And I just started doing it. And as people started enjoying it … the alderman was trying to get some really positive feedback on it during the course of putting it up there. You know once we started putting it up there the alderman stopped by there one day and said, “We are getting such good thing let’s start talking about this next one and get moving on that.” So we weren’t even done with the first one and we started developing the second one because we had, and it was the smart thing to do because we had all the mechanisms in place. Everything was there. The people were there. The people were still really invested and I think wanted to continue this work. So, it really, it was an easy decision to do for everyone.

DN: What gave you the idea to take bricolage to large murals?

TD: It’s really meant to do that. Tradition art is for smaller walls and it’s really intensive and really kind of precise. Bricolage was actually… we’d followed the idea and then modified it for Chicago from a guy named Isaiah Zagar in Philadelphia. I went and worked with him for a couple weeks, lived with him and learned what he did. He would do huge buildings. He would encrust whole buildings in mosaic. And so, our group loved what he was doing, so we decided to start it here, but we were doing it kind of small. So, it’s really meant to do really large large areas, because it’s a direct application versus an installation thing. It was really kind of a natural thing to do. And over the course of doing it and again, Edgewater being kind of the testing ground for what this process can do, we started introducing kind of large-scale cement sculptural pieces and larger kind of more rendered painted pieces to help fill that space and in the process…we really tried to include artists and sculptors from the community, kind of come in and help us with that. And the lucky thing is we had Cynthia Weiss who lives in the community who was one of our design partners on it.

DN: What themes were incorporated on that wall?

TD: On ‘Living,’ the first wall, it was just about living. And the whole thing was just about what it’s like to live in Edgewater. So, when people talk about just nature it was just this idea of this community nestled in this big nature. So that was an overall art theme and then what were those things: biking, you see a tai chi picture there. It’s about how people used the park, a very profound and peaceful way. It was really about nature but we were incorporating the architectural elements so tried to do as much as we could with this process…capture that feel of the architecture and integrate that into the mural as much as we could. And then the history of it too. We developed this greatly here. There is a photo transfer process so the postcard of the Edgewater {Beach} Hotel was the first time we did that successfully. And from that postcard that piece that we did on there, that technique on the bricolage now is an integral part of bricolage technique. This is taken off with a bunch of artists that now are doing that technique based on that. I mean people loved it and are just amazed by what we did. There are people doing it but not on a large scale like that and not as successful as we were doing that…

DN: And the South wall?


TD: The South wall? The theme of that is “Growing” and we’ve kind of taken on this idea of nature. We kind of mix the idea of nature with family. It’s really about the family aspect of Edgewater and so you see, one of the main figures is big matriarchal figure that is basically nestling the idea of family in her arms. And then we kind of set that up to be a family photo wall of the community. So we had people submit photos of family or family events for a good… about a year. We were just transferring as much as we possibly could; as much as would work. So, that’s kind of the main figure on that and then the rest of it is about the gardens. So the workshops that we did with that would be about people make flowers to put into the wall. So you will see a lot of them in garden type elements – worms and caterpillars and butterflies were huge. So those are kind of floating and flying all through the mural. So that was a good transition from the other one to this one talking about beautiful families in this community.

DN: Fantastic. And I hope that people really go and take a closer look at all these things. What about the one on Foster?

TD: So the one on Foster… Mary Ann Smith really had the idea, I keep saying this, to honor the history of this community and its American Indian roots. And so she really wanted us to take that on as a theme for that piece so to do it in the kind of very authentic way. We said to her and to Ernie, “Listen we need to we need to have a whole new steering committee on this to be made up of the American Indian community.” And so we were put in touch with the American Indian Museum up in Evanston. They gave us great names of scholars and artists, and writers, and the director of that and so we started to get together with them, started developing the theme. The interesting thing was they were really suspicious of these two kind of white guys taking on American Indian history and culture. So we have to win them over and kind of let them know, just like we did with Growing and Living, were just facilitators were not meant here, were not here to tell your story, we’re here to help you tell your story. And so that’s what we did with them. It took us a good, probably three or four meetings over the course of about three months to gain their trust.

And then it really started opening up. And then like what happened here in the Edgewater community, they really embraced it and embraced us and the energy built again and we went to that same process of multiple designs to get to the one that they felt told their story the best, collecting photographs and imagery, making imagery with community. And then what happened after we got the idea down is we invited the Edgewater community again for the workshops to do that. So we help those during Earth Day at Loyola, Edgewater Historical Society. You guys have been a great partner. We held a few things there for that for people to come in and make. So all the regulars from Bryn Mawr Living and Growing came back to help us make pieces for that and then again come out and turnout. In the end what happens with these murals - what’s the great thing about Edgewater being the most diverse culturally community in the city - is for six weeks there in the summer every class and culture, walk of life comes to help us put these things together. Everyone’s welcome to come by and put one up or they can come back with others, with the regulars come back a lot to just help us throughout the whole process. They even found us when we did Belmont a few years after that.

DN: What do you see the future impact of this kind of bricolage mural art where you involve the community going? You say you started with the idea ….it was birthed in Edgewater, I mean the actual manifestation of this community involvement in the mural project and you’ve taken it onwards to other levels. What do you see the impact being on people?

TD: It’s interesting that you ask that, because it’s been a little hard mimicking the beautiful process that happened here in Edgewater. It didn’t happen down in Belmont in Lakeview as much as we…. I think Edgewater spoiled us as artists because there was such great energy and great enthusiasm and generosity towards putting these things together. And we haven’t… we just did one up in Sauganash and I think we found that again. So I think it really depends on the community, what can happen with this. I always say that the bricolage process isn’t about the mural at all, it’s really about the community building process and that’s a byproduct of that. And so, I think that whatever energy a community puts into these things and get it back and it really does physically manifest itself on the wall. So where does that go? Where do we take that? I think we take that as far as whatever community we’re doing it in wants to take it. And again, we’re just facilitators. It’s not our voice. We are just here to help get that energy and that story on the wall.

DN: So it seems to me that… if I’m understanding you… that what you’re saying is that you’re the channel for the energy of the community. And the more energy that is in a community that wants to have this building process of working together, the better the product is going to be. And that’s amazing. I was going to ask you what was special about Edgewater but I think you’ve answered that already.

TD: Yeah, and I think it’s worth repeating. The Edgewater community – it’s diverse, it’s open, and it’s tolerant. There are so many positive adjectives I could apply to Edgewater. We really did. Those are three really beautiful summers, almost four, four and half years that we spent working on these things that was really great and just infused and energized what we were trying to do, bring out beyond Edgewater’s boundaries. But, it’s a wonderful community.

DN: Thank you. I didn’t think I was going to be able to ask you these questions. You may choose not to answer them because I am throwing them at you but you’re much younger than most of our Living Treasures actually. But I’ll ask you anyway. What has been your greatest personal accomplishment up till now? Not making $1 million or anything like that, but inside the thing that gives you the most satisfaction so far.

TD: It’s my family, yeah. That’s my greatest creation right now. I do have a five and nine-year-old boys. They’re infused in the walls. And my wife too. Every mural we did again starting with Bryn Mawr we’ve made little photo tiles of them – they’re in there. Kind of tracked their growth fused in the walls based on the works. I could say it’s the work, the bricolage work that we’ve developed but it doesn’t happen without that. So, it starts there. That’s probably my greatest accomplishment.

DN: That’s a wonderful, wonderful answer. The other question I would ask you is, what advice she would give to younger people? Like maybe your sons or people. You are a teacher, your students.

TD: I guess it’s just a mutation. I work with different people every day. I teach high school students and everyone is in such a hurry to have everything. What I’m trying to teach my sons is the patient, have a good work ethic. Know that you might have to carry somebody’s toolbox before you can actually be the one who fixes something leaves an important thing to know. That’s what my dad passed to me and why we do this.

These murals are a good example of that. They took… we had contracted through CPAG to so much, only so much time to do these murals. The murals took three times the amount of time we were contracted to do. But, it didn’t matter because we knew we were building something more than what we were getting paid for. And as artists, you could be an accountant, you could be a doctor, or you could be a tile layer. I think if you can be patient and love what you do and know that it is lifelong and get somewhere that it eventually will. It doesn’t come too quickly, but with hard work and patience it pays off.

DN: This is your story Tracy, so is there anything else you would like to add to this story, because it’s your story.

TD: I don’t know. I feel….

DN: That’s okay. I just wanted to give you the opportunity in case I missed anything that was important in the story.

TD: I mean the one thing I will say is that this came about because a group of African American artists got together back in 1947 to use art to kind of save a historical building in their community and that’s how the community art movement started. I’m just a beneficiary of that. And I’m really grateful for all the work that they did back then. And John Pittman Weber, who was the founder of this, has done in building the Chicago public art group and John Pounds. And then finding these incredible opportunities to grow as an artist, to grow as an organization, and grow the process through public art. It’s just amazing to be a part of.

DN: OK. Well, I’m going to stop here. Thank you so much for your time and congratulations again.

TD: Thank you so much I’m really happy to be honored.