Amplifying the Chicago Flavor
Michael Darling discusses the importance of exhibiting and collecting work by Chicago artists.
One of the things that I feel like is our biggest challenge as a city is keeping artists here in Chicago, and I felt like when I first got here there was—seemed like a lot of brain drain and people moving off to other cities and other even countries sometimes to find a more vibrant community, and I think it's not just the MCA that's created a better environment, but I think there's many artists here that have kind of forged really vital careers in just the last few years that have provided an example for artists who want to stay in Chicago and continue to make work here 'cause we all know that this is a place that's very easy to live here and affordable and great quality of life and right in the middle of the country and has all these cosmopolitan offerings, and so the more that we can get artists to stay and live here in Chicago and contribute to that artistic community, the better. And so we try to do our part, I think, by having regular exhibitions of Chicago artists like the Chicago Works series and the 12 x 12 series before that, but also making sure to collect artists from Chicago and include them in all sorts of exhibitions—from small gallery shows to our major exhibitions. So I think we—that's something that we really aim to do.
The other thing that I think is important is to have Chicago artists on view because so many of our visitors are tourists and coming from other parts of the world and other parts of the country, so I think it's super important for them to see what's going on in Chicago and have an insight into the creative life from Chicago. So having these Chicago artists on view gives our museum a different flavor than you would have if you were in San Francisco or New York or somewhere else. And I think having that local Chicago flavor is very important in the exhibitions that we put on and the kind of presence that we put forth.
Not only do we have opportunities for Chicago artists to be shown in our exhibitions and in our galleries, but we also have so many other programs that happen throughout the year on our stage, in our public spaces, as part of talks and lectures and other public programs that we have hundreds—literally hundreds of Chicago artists that come through the doors and participate in the MCA in one way or another, so I think it also can become a sort of an incubation center where, especially young artists, would give them a platform and a chance to test out some of their ideas, and maybe we can kind of graduate them along from a pop-up project to an exhibition to maybe a major retrospective, and we have seen that over the years with artists like Kerry James Marshall, who started off at a smaller scale in the MCA and then moved up to a major exhibition that traveled around the country.
Or even Rashid Johnson, who started out as a 12 x 12 artist and then we gave him an early career survey show and now he's also showing in other big museums around the country and around the world. So there's definitely a pipeline and a trajectory there that we've seen and we've tried to foster and nurture along the way, and so it's really exciting when we can participate in the growing of an artist's career here in Chicago.