The intersection at 35th and King Drive, circa 1936. (Image Credit: IDOT Chicago Traffic Photograph Collection, IDOT_2f_176_1563_36, University of Illinois at Chicago Library, CARLI Digital Collections.

Opening Reception and Trolley Tour:
October 7, 2011 at Blanc Gallery (4445 S. King Drive)

The Project.

The Future’s Past is a pilot curatorial project that consists of several public window installations and a collaborative exhibition completed as part of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC) Fellowship in Chicago, Illinois. It combines new technology and new media to create an introductory glimpse into the histories of Chicago’s Black Metropolis that can be found in a variety of locations, including the archives of the member institutions of the BMRC. For this project, information from the archives and other sources will be pulled and curated into five light and image installations in windows based on significant art and culture locations along South Parkway, which is now King Drive, between 35th Street and 47th Street. Coinciding with the exhibition and installations, new technology in the form of QR codes and a website component with additional content will make a selection of the archive and information from the research I’ve been doing accessible to the public.

The purpose of this project is to introduce the youth and current community to the history within the streets, buildings and spaces in which they live their everyday lives through a language they can understand–technology. Doing this will simultaneously introduce the archives of the BMRC and other resources to a new audience, showcase the rich history found in these collections and promote their use.

The Exhibition.

The exhibition at Blanc Gallery serves as a starting point and the space that brings together the wide reach of this project. Work by artists Stephen Flemister, Krista Franklin, Emmanuel Pratt and Amanda Williams who individually and collaboratively created visual responses to the historic locations and the premise of The Future’s Past, in addition to a selection of research materials and technological components will be on view through November 11th.

The Installations.

Grand Boulevard was renamed South Parkway in 1926, then, on July 31st 1968 it was renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. This particular stretch of land was chosen because it holds some of the richest history in Chicago. Many musicians, performers, writers, journalists and activists who shaped the Chicago we know today built their enterprises and solidified their undeniable talents within the spaces and on the stages of South Parkway.  Since I will be focusing the majority of my information around events and histories that took place between 1926 and 1968, you will more often than not see the street be referred to as South Parkway.

Postcard of Grand Boulevard, 1908. (Image courtesy of Bronzeville Visitor Information Center.)

Installation Sites.
While some of the buildings are still standing, others like the Regal Theater and Savoy Ballroom were demolished in the late 1960s or early 1970s.  For this reason, the buildings that are currently in those areas will be used for the installations. Some installations will only be up for the opening while others may be up for the run of the exhibition.  The following are the five locations that will be highlighted.

Note: If you own a smartphone (iPhoneAndroid, etc.), you are highly encouraged to download a barcode scanner before coming to the show in order to take full advantage of the interaction with the installations and exhibition.

For more information or to schedule a walk-through of the exhibition for yourself, class or other group, contact the curator, Tempestt Hazel, at tempestt.hazel@sixtyinchesfromcenter.org

Curatorial Statement.

The Future’s Past uses technology, media, modern forms of communication and the public sphere to engage historic materials and draw connections between the past and the present for the next generation of leaders in arts, culture, journalism and activism. As the saying goes, you don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. This exhibition seeks to not only provide a point of entry into this rich history, but also give a sense of pride, value and perspective when thinking about how we can approach our own individual legacies and ultimately the future of the Black Metropolis.

The music you listen to. The clothes you wear. The streets you walk. The school you attend. The places where you live, work, play, socialize and create new memories with family and friends.

Each of these things has a history. If your stomping ground is anywhere within the Black Metropolis then chances are these daily experiences are directly connected to the history of this community and hold a cultural legacy that goes far beyond the borders of Chicago, crossing state lines and oceans.  Bronzeville, or the Low End as it’s often called, is a neighborhood with global significance that can be seen through today’s arts, culture and all forms of expression.

The entrepreneurial spirit alive in modern-day moguls like Russell Simmons or Sean Combs was seen back in the early 20th century in the work of Robert S. Abbott, Earl B. Dickerson, John Sengstacke and when John H. Johnson created Ebony and Jet Magazines out of a closet-sized office in the Supreme Life Building.

The celebrated writing skills of Jay Z, Kanye West, Nas and other lyricists would lack a certain level of sophistication without early word mastery of poets like Langston Hughes who regularly contributed to publications born in Bronzeville or Gwendolyn Brooks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who found much inspiration on these streets.

The Spike Lees and Tyler Perrys of today’s Black cinema owe a great deal to the storytelling of Lorraine Hansberry who got much of her subject matter from her experiences on Chicago’s South Side and the early films of Oscar Micheaux, which were often screened in Bronzeville theaters. Also, Paul Robeson, an actor who brought dignity and raised the caliber for the Black image in popular visual culture in the early 1900s, played a significant role in making a place for the actors and actresses we cherish now.

Jazz, blues, gospel music–the sounds flowing through your headphones on a regular basis, they all continue to find inspiration from the musicians who often provided a soundtrack to these streets at the countless jazz clubs, lounges and churches that flourished in those days. The multifaceted percussion of The Roots’ Questlove, the smooth tracks of Tall Black Guy Productions or the fresh sounds from the trumpet of Chicago’s own Corey Wilkes are each testaments to the impact of the jazz greats who pushed the limits of sound to reach new heights, often experienced in Bronzeville in the early 20th century.

Curated by Tempestt Hazel.