To the editor:
So, self-indulgent crybabies posing as artists are a-weepin’ and a-whinin’ that they can’t afford to live in in-town suburbia whiteland: Bucktown, Wicker Park, Lincoln Park. They threaten to move to Brooklyn. Dear, oh dear. We will be sorry. We will be “A City Without Art” (November 2 cover story by Jeff Huebner). What rubbish. There is plenty of affordable housing on Chicago’s west and south sides.
Thirty-four blocks west of State Street, catty-corner from Garfield Park (Jens Jensen), near the Garfield Park Conservatory (Laredo Taft), just around the corner from the fabulous 3400 block of West Adams, the former Roentgen elementary school on the west side is developed into live/work space for artists. Not good enough. The west side doesn’t “register as one of the ‘preferred areas for artist live/work development.'” Arlene Rakoncay of the Chicago Artists’ Coalition says she’s “‘not opposed’ to Roentgen….’I guess the west side is the only place left that’s cheap.'” Marie Antoinette was not being sarcastic when she said “Let them eat cake.” She really meant it.
Hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans survive and thrive in East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, Englewood, Roseland, South Austin, Washington Park. They get up in the morning and go to work. They pay taxes. They are the people celebrated by Carl Sandburg, John Steinbeck, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks, Upton Sinclair, Mike Royko, and John Dos Passos. They participate. In block clubs. In church groups. In local school councils. They are the stuff of our city of big shoulders. They are proud of their neighborhoods. I have traveled all over the world. Everywhere I go, the rich folks are doing fine. The wonder is how people without money thrive and survive. There’s a grandeur to it. We don’t say that the west side is the best side fer nuttin’.
When Nelson Algren lived in Wicker Park, it was basically a slum. Somehow he was able to write well absent the Starbucks muse.
In our capitalistic system, citizens have the choice to live wherever our dollar allows. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You can tell what a person believes in by how they spend their money.” We can tell what Chicago’s artists believe in by how they would spend my money and yours. Our nation and our city have suffered because white people (who have most of the money) choose to live as far from black people as possible. We have nothing against black people, we really don’t, it’s just that we don’t want too many of them too close by. Politically correct, we do not say “nigger.” But we sure as hell won’t live where our presence would make a statement that segregation, whether de jure or de facto, is incompatible with enduring democracy. We behave as lemmings. How else to comprehend the destruction of farmland 70 miles west of the Loop for prettily named housing schemes? If Chicago were 100 percent of European descent, would places like Lake in the Hills and Naperville even exist? When we write off this neighborhood or that as “inconvenient” or “undesirable,” it is never because of the hue of its residents. Never. East Garfield Park an undesirable neighborhood? What snobbery!
The good news at the beginning of the 21st century is that communism is dead. The bad news is that capitalism is very much alive. We ought to be hard at work figuring out how to make capitalism work for all–how to spread the wealth around instead of permitting a few hogs to hoard. Is it asking too much for our artists to be in the vanguard? A good start would be breaking down residential segregation. It is obscene that so many of Chicago’s “artists” would prefer, instead, to be a part of the problem. Writing, sculpting, painting, composing–all are a solitary and lonely obsession. Yes, the artist needs a roof overhead. But most of all the artist needs soul.
Let the spoiled brats move to Brooklyn.