Every Monday night, the Promontory in Hyde Park transforms part of its upstairs venue to host the Corner—a young performance series that, like its namesake, arises from an intersection. Curators Sam Brown and Sasha Tycko use the space inventively, curtaining off the main stage and instead using a small platform in the corner, angled toward the square bar in the middle of the room. Since taking over the series in April 2016, they’ve nurtured a creative community whose identity has shifted and expanded constantly. The series has become a nexus for live music, spoken word, DJ sets, visual-art installations, and community organizing—often all in one night. The Corner also wants to provide a place where artists and activists can take a break from their striving to relax and recharge.
Brown and Tycko met as coworkers on the production staff at the Promontory, where they found work after graduating from college (Oberlin and University of Chicago, respectively). Brown has been there since 2014, Tycko since 2015. “We both in working together realized we had a lot of the same interests and common goals for creating and cultivating safe spaces for artists and the community, especially the south-side community and Hyde Park,” Brown says. They often ended up scheduled together on Mondays, which helped them realize that they formed a good working unit—Tycko handles live sound and other technical aspects, while Brown covers stage management and hospitality. They pitched a series of their own to management, proposing to share booking duties.
The Corner’s name and logo were originally attached to a regular night launched in September 2015 by a former Promontory bar manager; both pay homage to the 1972 Miles Davis record On the Corner. Brown and Tycko kept them, deciding that they were appropriate to diverse, interdisciplinary programming the two of them wanted to do. The name also helped them think of the series as not just a weekly lineup but also a meeting place, both informed by an emphasis on local talent. “We’re trying to build a community of artists,” says Tycko. “Especially younger artists, queer artists, artists of color, a lot of women—a space for them where they can be here every week.”
The Corner’s programming occupies a middle ground between an open mike and the bookings at a more traditional club. The series has showcased well-known artists such as Rhymefest and Jamila Woods as well as up-and-comers such as Kweku Collins and Akenya, but it’s also open to people who are entirely new to the stage. Brown and Tycko often invite artists to design shows with them—spoken-word artist Tiff Beatty led an open mike at the Corner called “Black/Light Cypher” in September, and multifaceted musician + (pronounced “Plus Sign”) hosted a poetry-focused night in November with readings by H. Melt and Erika L. Sanchez.
To help create an immersive experience, Brown and Tycko invite visual artists and activist groups to transform the bar’s entranceway, which they call “the threshold.” One week they might have live painting or T-shirt tagging, while another week they might arrange for an evening of informational tabling by LGBTQ-focused prison-abolition organization Black & Pink. The Corner also incorporates a monthly DJ residency, which has included DJ Cqqchifruit (of Trqpiteca), ChurchDontStop, and DJ Lisa Decibel.
Brown and Tycko’s intentions were clear at the November 21 installment of the Corner. First onstage were the Participatory Music Coalition, a large collective whose influences include the likes of Albert Ayler and John Coltrane; according to their mission statement, they maintain “improvisation as the very core of our creative endeavors because improvisation is the doorway to the spirit-domain, and sound is the primordial vessel of healing to the world.” Their broad palette featured clarinet and conga drums, and they handed out instruments to the audience, encouraging them to join in—and to let music into their lives in simple ways. “Hum to yourself more,” one member suggested.
Mother Nature were next, updating their throwback TLC vibes with trap-infused beats. Between catchy hooks (“Let me play in your Afro / Like I’m your number one pick”) they spoke of self-love and representation, as well as “hip-hop as survival” and the unity they felt in playing with like-minded artists of other genres. DJ Cut Cuz, who’d been spinning between sets and provided support for Mother Nature, closed out the night with 90s R&B and hip-hop classics. In 2013 she’d become first female graduate of Chicago’s Scratch DJ Academy, and she says she chose her name because she wants to sound like “your favorite cousin” is in the DJ booth.
Throughout the evening, the audience could interact with a complicated digital-video installation by Alex Palma, one of the Corner’s visual-art residents. (He also helps run Pilsen DIY space the Dojo.) Step in front of a camera, and your image would be projected on a wall in an abstracted silhouette; you could also move to a table to draw on a tablet that displayed those silhouettes, and the results of your efforts would be projected on a second wall. Palma explained that he’d started by wanting to make a simulation of social-media echo chambers, but then instead tried to imagine an antidote.
When I explored the installation between sets, + was silently meditating on a yoga mat while images of moving bodies flickered around the room. The democratic, welcoming atmosphere that Brown and Tycko have fostered lent itself to greater freedom for artists and audience alike. “People are always like, ‘It must be hard to do a series on a Monday,'” Brown says. “For me, there’s no better way to start the week, because we’re bringing people together to get their energy up.”
Brown and Tycko hope to keep the format fluid in order to respond to the needs of their community and maintain a “collaborative, generative space.” Starting in December, there will be a short open mike at the beginning of each week (instead of just one week a month), and each show will also have its own host—someone who’s both an artist and a community organizer, educator, or what Tycko calls a “space facilitator.” She says, “The dream is that people are coming back every week, and we’re starting to see that happen.”
The next installment of the Corner, on Monday, December 5, features local rapper Add-2 (some of the aspiring musicians he’s mentored through his nonprofit, Haven Studio, will participate in the open mike), handmade jewelry by Michelle Janayea, and December resident DJ Elliven. It starts at 7 PM, and cover is $5.