Tracy Poyser - Transcript

Transcript of Tracy Poyser Oral History.
Interviewee: Tracy Poyser
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Date: January 29, 2013
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Martin Stewart
Total time: 18:32 minutes

Copyright © 2013 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: This is Dorothy Nygren of the Edgewater Historical Society, and I’m doing an interview with Tracy Poyser at her beautiful home. The date is January 29. Let me congratulate you Tracy on being chosen as one of Edgewater’s Living Treasures. This is the first of an initiative that the Edgewater Historical Society is beginning and we hope that it becomes an ongoing program. The first question I would like to ask you is how you came to live in Edgewater?

TP: Well, I moved to Edgewater in 2005 in April following the death of my husband in 2002. My sister and brother-in-law relocated to Chicago from the West Coast, from Portland, Oregon and we found Edgewater was the most family-friendly and attractive neighborhood conducive to her future practice as a family therapist. So I learned a lot about Edgewater in the year or so that she lived here initially on Rosemont. She moved to Sheridan Road in 2003 and convinced me together with my brother-in-law that I should sell my Lincoln Park condo and move here. At that time I had retired from a full-time business community job and decided that this would be the place to build my new life.

DN: Wonderful! Now you moved here and retired. So you had time on your hands and you had several projects that you could possibly participate in or activities that you could pursue, yet you chose a community oriented project to pursue. Could you give us some background on that and tell us why you made that choice?

TP: I made the choice because in a way I’ve been involved in creating community all my life. To be part of the human race and to be a human being means that to create community and help community makes is all part of the human family. It is something that I also believe would give me personally a sense of home and a sense of belonging. And I found Edgewater very conducive to that… in this spirit that I found was pretty evident in the neighborhood.

DN: What project did you choose to help build your community in your home?

TP: I had almost coincidentally at the same time embarked on a new career. I wouldn’t really call it a career, but on pursuing a lifelong hobby and photography as a serious art photographer. My thought was to see whether I could bring that skill into the community as well. AndI hooked up with Edgewater Community Council and Care for Real, our local food bank, and also my building’s monthly newsletter, to contribute both stories and photography about the neighborhood. And then, miraculously out of that grew the involvement with the Edgewater cookbook where I provided the divider photography. That in turn led to my being selected to help start the new initiative called Edgewater Artists in Motion.

DN: Could you tell us a little bit more about the Edgewater Cookbook because I’m not familiar with that?

TP: The Edgewater Cookbook, and actually I have one here, was a idea that the Edgewater Community Council selected to pursue for its 50th anniversary in collaboration with Edgewater Chamber of Commerce and their 25th anniversary that fell into the same year. It was an initiative to collect recipes from all over Edgewater to express the multi-cultural and multinational character of our neighborhood. And to kind of share the beauty of cooking and recipes. And I found that, because I also love cooking, to be a fascinating idea. So I got onto the planning committee for that and the idea of providing scenes from the neighborhood as divider photography. And it’s been published and still sells and is a wonderful gift for anybody who would be interested in getting one that focuses on Edgewater.

DN: Let’s move on to the Edgewater Artists in Motion. Could you talk a little bit more about the background and what the mission is and how that is proceeding?

TP: What the Edgewater Artists in Motion was an initiative conceived by Rae Ann Cecrle, who I believe is also involved in the historical society and a visionary member of our community, a leader in our community. She owns B&R Developers and as such was on the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce as well at the time the Edgewater Development Corporation and Community Council. And she and various neighborhood leaders tried to find a way to deal with the blight of vacant storefronts in our neighborhood. And she conceived the idea of approaching a select number of local artists and others to see if we were willing to pursue the idea of placing art into empty storefronts. And so my sister, Rita Whaley, who is also an artist and I together with a man, a graphic artist, and creative artist named John Garrison had… were the first ones she approached and that was in early 2009 and had a planning meeting pretty much around a table, had coffee at one of our local coffee shops and decided that definitely we wanted to pursue this and gave it the name at the time of Edgewater Artists in Motion because it reflected a neighborhood that was moving forward, as well as the fact that when any of the spaces we were in were rented the artists had to get up and move.

The mission, although it clearly benefited us as artists, was to help make Edgewater a pedestrian friendly, inviting community: to improve the safety of our commercial thoroughfares, especially Broadway and the side streets to Broadway under the CTA tracks, by providing lighted windows, attractive windows, and discourage loitering; and start making Edgewater more of an artistic destination is a continuation say of the Glenwood arts district; lastly, but not least, to help local artists promote their skill and their art and give them a low-cost showcase or no cost showcase. So with that we started with perhaps six display window locations pretty much concentrating between Bryn Mawr and Glenlake at the time along Broadway. And started from there. My sister and I were one of the first artists in a display.

DN: How successful was the program when it began?

TP: Amazing. Amazing. We… well the Chamber of Commerce picked that up. I tried to help, especially because of the background I have in nonprofit management and association management, to look at low-cost ways to promote this and we found that we had a good partner in Loyola. Their students begin reviewing us to see how that would benefit the neighborhood. Somehow, a journalist from the New York Times who lives in the neighborhood walked by some of our windows where we had our names and an early website and began interviewing us and we did get coverage in the New York Times. And from there, gradually the number of artists grew from our first 10 or 15 to probably a good 50 artists displaying in numerous locations. Beyond that, individually, I was approached by a local curator and interior designer to have a first a solo show as a result of a window on Bryn Mawr at Unity and Foam in their gallery. The artists benefited enormously. The community benefited enormously.

DN: Why do you think it’s important for a person to come out of their own individual life to contribute whatever efforts they can to their community?

TP: Because… well, first of all, in my own personal opinion, you know there is so much more than I ever visualized that you get back. And I’m not saying that you do this in order to get back. But, it is just miraculous to me how much one does get back in friendships. You know I never realized, because I had a career that involved a lot of travel and then looked after my husband in later years who was not well, and for the last seven years. So, I really didn’t really have the chance to grow roots in the community beyond the condo building that I lived in. And I did not realize how much more it increased my sense of warmth and of belonging and a sense of home. You know, I think as creatures, a sense of home and a sense of belonging is something that is so basic to all our lives. And I think that if you can help create that in a city, and in a city that is so huge, then I think almost anything is possible.

DN: I have two more questions for you. One is, what do you feel for you is your most important personal accomplishment… not in terms of business or money, but internally, what do you think is your most valued personal accomplishment?

TP: Oh my goodness…

DN: I’m springing this on you and I’m sorry.

TP: Having learned pretty late in life, I wouldn’t say having learned but realizing more and more what truly matters most in life is love. I have had that as a guiding star because of a wonderful childhood in spite of the fact that I was born in the middle of the second world war in Germany. I had loving parents and I always had a sense of feeling safe. I think, maybe the ability to help people communicate with each other and be able to help my sister flourish as an artist and sharing, maybe nothing as single is that as what I consider sharing the wealth, sharing the wealth of my experience. Sharing my art now is like my personal peace demonstration in sharing beauty. That I think is where this.

DN: And the last question is, what advice would you give the younger generation?

TP: I would say, do not put any of these things off until tomorrow. And I think with a very very fast moving world, is just stop and breathe. Stop and look at the wonder of what’s around us. You know, I learned that in city photography something as simple as a flower growing between the crack in the pavement and a bunch of flagstones. But just stop and breathe and start sharing. Start sharing.

DN: I can’t think of any other more beautiful way to end this interview than what you just said so at this point I’m going to stop this interview.

TP: Thank you so very much.