An Artists’ Congress (2014)

Artists’ Congress is an interdisciplinary public forum bringing together artists, writers, and activists to address contemporary issues of art and social change. Organized in conjunction with the Block Museum’s current exhibition The Left Front: Radical Art in the “Red Decade, (1929–1940), the Artists’ Congress will take place Saturday, May 17 (2014) at the Barber Theater and Block Museum from 1−5 pm with a social to follow. Download program booklet here: NTS_03

The Congress, inspired by the meetings of the American Artists’ Congress in the 1930s, has been motivated by the still-resonant question posed by Left Front member Louis Lozowick in 1930: “What Should Revolutionary Artists Do Today?” (to read responses to this question from Chicago artists and educators working today, and add your own perspective, visit

The day of May 17th will be organized around a series of presentations and a participatory forum to discuss what issues matter most to artists today.

Presentations include:

  • John Murphy, co-curator of The Left Front, on the political context and aesthetic controversies that gave rise to the American Artists’ Congress;
  • Scholar Christina Kiaer, on the historic Artists’ Union in Russia;
  • Artist Paul Durica, on representing labor history in his Pocket Guide To Hell series of tours and reenactments;
  • Artist and critic Eric Triantafillou, on his experience as the art director for SEIU’s “Take Back Chicago” campaign during the Occupy protests in Fall 2012;
  • Community and political organizer Don Washington’s Mayoral Tutorial on “What Do You Know About the Mayor’s Agenda?”;
  • Curator and scholar Romi Crawford, on the Speakers’ Corner and speech acts in Chicago;
  • Performance artist Baraka de Soleil, on resistance as physical force in a culminating performance;
  • Musical interludes curated by scholar and critic Michael Kramer
  • and more

The day will include a public forum facilitated by artist/educators Anthony Romero and Nicole Garneau focused on responses to an Open Call drafted by the organizers that addresses critical issues for the Artists’ Congress to grapple with, such as:

  • the productive function of history beyond nostalgia
  • emerging and perennial forms of propaganda and tactical media
  • the “social engagement” of today’s pluralized politics rather than the monolithic issue of fascism artists addressed in the 1930s
  • the relationship between these spheres of influence that will inform artists’ ability to effect positive change

The Artists’ Congress has been developed collaboratively, with the purpose of engaging participants from both the Northwestern community and Chicago-at-large, and of connecting the University more deeply to local artists and organizers. The event’s three primary co-organizers include Susy Bielak, Associate Director of Engagement/Curator of Public Practice at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art; Daniel Tucker, artist, writer and organizer of Never the Same, an oral history and archive project on Chicago’s socially-engaged art practices; and Michael Rakowitz, artist and faculty in Northwestern’s Department of Art Theory & Practice.


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