Vershawn Sanders-Ward of Red Clay Dance Company Credit: Photo for the Chicago Reader by Matthew Gilson

The week after the shelter-in-place order hit in March of 2020, the Reader was supposed to be putting out a big spring arts preview issue. Clearly, that didn’t happen.

Now 18 months later, we’re looking at signs of hope from performing companies and visual arts organizations reopening their doors. Yet we can’t forget the recent past, including the 2020 uprisings against police violence and racism and the January 6 insurrection. 

Chicago arts groups are no strangers to upheaval and making do, but “build back better” should mean more than papering over the fault lines of history. This issue focuses on what place and community mean in that healing process. From Vershawn Sanders-Ward’s Red Clay Dance Company building a new arts hub in Woodlawn, to the city’s Cultural Asset Mapping Project raising up voices in traditionally marginalized communities on the west and south sides, to the queer marriage of drag and leather in Hell in a Handbag moving into the Leather Archives & Museum, our contributors give us snapshots of artists who move forward without fear. As the new Chicago theater history book Makeshift Chicago Stages reminds us, building out of ashes is in the DNA of artists here. 

Longtime Chicago artist and educator Jim Duignan’s Stockyard Institute, which started as a project in the mid-90s, is being celebrated with a retrospective at DePaul Art Museum. Duignan prefers to describe the exhibition as a “prospective,” and told Kerry Cardoza, “It’s going to be a kind of station to look ahead at the next 25 years.” We hope that some of the stories this week will inspire you to light your own way back to our cultural treasures.

FALL ARTS PREVIEW