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Easy Art Networking in Wicker Park

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The Canvas Primer Event Promotes Conversation and Collaboration in the Chicago Art Community

Photo Courtesy of Alan Skalaski

I arrived on Thursday evening to the courtyard of the Canvas Primer — more simply known as Canvas — event. A mural “totally funded and supported by the Puerto Rican Congress of 1973’’ adorns the wall to the left. To the right, there is a wall featuring work from a collaboration of artists, which is regularly changed. The bright palette of these walls would serve as a backdrop for a night of communication between attendees. As I spoke with Preston Jones, the Director of Operations at Canvas, it became clear that the aspirations of this collective and community reached far beyond the wonderful space that we currently occupied.


Photo Courtesy of Alan Skalaski

Preston Jones and Vincent Napes, a musician and artist also known as DRMBT, began searching for spaces in 2013 to live and hold events in. They eventually landed at the space on West North Ave in Wicker Park. Canvas began as a small creative community and has grown exponentially over the last two and a half years. Canvas’ goal, according to Jones, is to create “uncommon events.” The premise of Canvas is to create a culture within the event space where the artist’s idea is really communicated and attendees are presented with an unexpected experience.

“The artists emerged as leaders of their own events,” said Preston, “which is exactly how the goal of creating uncommon experiences has been achieved.” The artists involved with Canvas serve as representatives of the organization, and more than once have I ran into Canvas community members at other art events around Chicago. Canvas Primer takes the edge off of a traditional networking event and creates an all-inclusive space for collaborations, creation, and communication.

After speaking with Preston, I turned to my left and introduced myself to Sanja Sedlak, an attendee of the Canvas events for about a year as a writer and reporter. She’s done interviews with many artists in Chicago, including Lefty, a resident artist at Canvas.  During this conversation, I had my photo taken by Kevin Lemon, a photographer who always seems to capture the best moments of Canvas events and many others.


Photo Courtesy of Alan Skalaski

While drifting around the steadily growing gathering, speaking with first time attendees and veterans alike, I met Pugs Atomz, a musician and presenter at this event. Not long after, we were called inside for the main Canvas Primer event, where presenters pitch their ideas and projects to an audience. Paintings by the featured artist, Marco Miller, watched over the full room as everyone gathered inside, still talking.  Preston appeared on stage as the eye of the storm, quieting the crowd and introducing the space and presentations.

The first presenter was for Rejuvenate, a yoga and art event company. They are having a guided meditation with musical accompaniment in Wicker Park at the Chop Shop on August 22nd.  Other presenters included Crafty, a craft beer and art company, which is holding a Craft beer and art event on September 12; Bandwagon, an app that makes customers promoters by lowering the ticket price if more people agree to attend; a fundraising initiative for Consensus, a community based arts center on the South West Side; Pugz Atomz with Iridium Clothing, a clothing store and venue looking for proposals for shows; Right Brain Rendezvous, an event that happens monthly at the Canvas space; and Cosmos night, a free showing of videos of topics like space and time at the Canvas location.

Artwork by Marco Miller and Photographed by Alan Skalaski

Artwork by Marco Miller and Photographed by Alan Skalaski

After the presentations was a performance by Kiara Lanier and DrmBT.  I listened to a few songs while enjoying a beer from the Sweet Water Brewing Company who sponsored the event. Outside, about half of the audience was conversing about ideas, art, and upcoming projects. While outside, I spoke with Marco Miller, the featured artist.  The three portraits on display at the event have abstracted features displayed through textural strokes and grit within the paint application. The teeth are prominent in each painting, standing out in a visceral way. As I spoke with Marco, he described how hip-hop saved his life. Before truly finding his style, Marco suffered through a three-year depression. The first of the series he created during this time was a painting of Notorious B.I.G. Through repeating his favorite song by the artist, he used the music to influence his portrait. Marco wrote a poem on my note paper while we talked, and it’s something I plan to keep.

If you are an artist or want to organize an art event, Canvas Primer is certainly an event to attend. Even people otherwise unassociated with the Chicago art scene can find themselves enamored in great conversation, beer, and music. Canvas, as an organization is always welcoming and open to newcomers. It seems that every weekend there is at least one event that Canvas is promoting, so there is never an excuse to stay inside. The next Canvas event is scheduled for September 17.

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