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Feeling Local

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illustrations by Maria Squeri

Feeling Local

SAIC students share their thoughts on living and belonging at art school in Chicago

Last month, F Newsmagazine asked students where they call “home,” and what it takes to feel like a local in Chicago. All feelings, it seems, are local. There are no quick-fix answers to the question of feeling “at home” in any place, but so much of what made people feel comfortable did not have to do with the city itself, but with how people chose to approach it: as a challenge, as a big small town, as a labyrinth, as something to compare with “back home.” Taylor Fleming had a clear idea of things: “I felt at home in Chicago the moment I entered the city. For the most part, it was because I had made up my mind that home wasn’t a place but a state of mind.”

Some students were sensitive towards the fact that although SAIC is diverse, it is also a zone of privilege and a security blanket. Concerns were raised that the increasing feeling of “belonging” in a neighborhood may, paradoxically, have an adverse impact on others who were born and bred in a now-gentrifying area.

There seems to be a distinct need to give voice to the experience of living and breathing in this gridded metropolis, and to explain how this place has shaped identities, for better or worse.

Emile FerrisEmile Ferris
Undergraduate, video, writing, performance

How long have you lived in Chicago?
Most of my life.

What makes this place feel like home?
People in Chicago are generally more sincere than elsewhere and the city is just so fucking beautiful. Note to the rest of the United States—if you want to be a Chicagoan, remember one thing… no matter how fancy you get about your work, career, accomplishments, etc., this is, at its heart, a blue collar city. A big part of your value will be determined by three things: do you refer to Chicago winter wind as “bracing”? How great is your loyalty to Chicago (which requires tolerance and hopefully love for the city’s every flaw) and finally, can you, in an emergency, for instance, throw a refrigerator into the lake?

Do you feel like you’re part of an art scene of some kind?
This isn’t New York, thank God. Art community, shmart community. If you’re an artist here, your art community should be, in part at least, that lady who sells coffee at Starbucks, that bus boy that you saw on the El who was reading Umberto Eco, that street musician who writes songs about gang death on the West Side. And why do I say that? Because this city is so alive that its very pulse will infuse life into whatever else you are doing. Let the city teach you.

Adrean MangiardiAdrean Mangiardi
Graduate student

Where did you move from?
From Rochester, NY. My hometown is Allentown, PA.

Where do you call home?
Home is being with my family, no matter where they are.

What would it take to feel like a Chicago local?
I won’t feel like a local until I have experienced everything there is to experience, like going to a variety of festivals, maybe getting a career here. Do you plan to stay in Chicago? I would like to stay in Chicago and become a local. Then I’ll move on to be a local in a different city, like New York.

Do you feel part of an art scene, or part of any other kind of community?
I don’t think I’m part of the art scene because of the way I look. I look like a jock compared to different groups of artists… There are so many interesting people here and it has been a “trip” for someone who comes from a small town.

Lucka MatejkovaLucka Matejkova
Graduate student, arts administration

Where did you move from?
From the Czech Republic, lived in Chicago since August 2007.

How has living in Chicago changed the way you view your own identity?
Surprisingly, I got to know a lot about the Czech mentality here in Chicago. But it is not because of the large number of Czech descendants living here, it is mainly thanks to American life itself. Comparing these two very different cultures made me realize many things about my own community.

jLWRENjLWREN
Undergraduate, painting and drawing

Where did you move from?
The first time I moved here from Arkansas. The second time, from Boston.

Has living in Chicago changed the way you view your own identity?
It makes me proud of my roots, and reminds me not to forget where I came from. I also like knowing that there is so much more this city can offer me. It’s the greatest city in the world. (Now I feel like a true local.)

What would it take to feel like a Chicago local?
It helps having my own apartment and life outside of school. Living in the dorms really hindered any feeling of home. I think it takes at least two years living somewhere before it starts to feel like home.

Hyun Woo ParkHyun Woo Park
Undergraduate

Where did you move from?
I am a Korean citizen, born in Korea, raised in Hong Kong.

Do you feel at home in this city?
Yes I do, I feel as though Chicago is home. When I get off the airplane, the journey from the airport to my home (produces) a very comforting emotion. It makes me feel less anxious about life.

How has living in Chicago changed the way you view your own identity?
It made me realize that I am an outsider no matter what, and I will always be considered an immigrant by law, so occasionally I feel my stay in Chicago as a very superficial one. Then again, the friends that I have met have definitely re-shaped my idea of myself.

Jillian MusielakJillian Musielak
Undergraduate, fiber and sculpture

Where do you call home?
Logan Square. I lived (in Chicago) until I was nine, moved to the suburbs, moved to New York in 2003, and back here in 2005.

What makes this place feel like home?
I take good care of my apartment and I’ve grown attached to it. I have over twenty varieties of thriving house plants, and three pet birds I’ve tamed. Who I am at this present moment only really started to come together since I moved into (my) apartment. My domestic urges have surfaced while living here and my ideas of what I want to do with the rest of my life have been nearly realized.

How has living in Chicago changed the way you view your own identity?
The differences between Chicago and New York City are so apparent now. I think that living in Chicago has made me more “laid back.” I’m not as highly strung as before, and I’m satisfied with spending my time relaxing at home. In New York, I felt like I constantly had to be doing something.

Josh KaebischJosh Kaebisch
Undergraduate, art history

Where did you move from?
Milwaukee

Do you feel at home in Chicago?
Some parts I do, some parts I don’t. I mean, the geographic difference is no big deal. The thing that really jars my perception on things is the blatant segregation between neighborhoods. I’ve never seen such a phenomenon where sushi bars denote yuppiefication, American Apparels denotes gentrification, and check-cashing places signify possible targets in the future to either be a) sushi bar, or b) American Apparel.

What do you think it would take to feel like a Chicago local?
Pshh… please. Chicago, you can go for miles seeing the same damn hotdog joint, but NONE of them sell bratwurst. What’s the deal with that? I hold my German-via-Wisconsin roots higher than my Chicago sproutlings.

How has living in Chicago changed the way you view your own identity?
In Chicago mode, I’m a bachelor committed to art, and also committed to hating what’s on TV. In Milwaukee mode, I’m a lethargic nincompoop with a sketchbook to dole out my sorry love-sick lamentations. It’s a duality that I hope to merge into a one after, maybe, three years of living in Chi.

Sara JonesSara Jones
Undergraduate, art education

Do you feel at home in Chicago?
I moved here in the Fall of 2004 and I’ve only recently started to feel that I have a good grasp of what Chicago is made up of. You have to get out there and explore on your own. In the beginning I learned where things were by taking chances, getting lost, and finding my own way. I think that type of mindset is necessary for surviving both the city and the School. Motto: Get ready for it because it’s out there waiting for you.

Do you feel that you “belong” at SAIC?
I’ve never liked that word or question. Nor have I ever felt like I “belong” at SAIC. I think that’s the wrong question actually. What does “belong” mean? Accepted? To feel like you’ve finally found the understanding and recognition that you’ve been searching for? Bah.

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