LOGAN SQUARE — An art display critical of gentrification and one of Logan Square's largest landlords, Mark Fishman, was pulled from the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival after a representative of Fishman objected to the exhibit, which was located in a building where Fishman had donated space, the fest's organizers said.
Geary Yonker, president of I AM Logan Square — which helps coordinate the festival — said Monday that an exhibit by artist Amie Sell was taken down Friday, before the festival began that evening.
The exhibit, called "Home Sweet Home," included photos of buildings owned by M. Fishman & Co. The photos included descriptions critical of Fishman for raising rents or converting buildings from single-room occupancy in the booming Logan Square neighborhood.
Yonker said a property manager of Fishman's building at 2779 N. Milwaukee Ave., where Sell’s art had been installed, called him to demand the work be taken down. Fishman couldn't be reached for comment Monday, and a property manager did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
After two group meetings, one with I AM Logan Square’s seven-member board and one with Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival organizers, both groups decided to stand in favor of keeping Sell’s work up. While Fishman is a member of I AM Logan Square, he was out of town and not at the meeting, Yonker said.
“We refused to take it down. It’s the official stance of the fest that we were not going to take it down. We spoke as a group there,” Yonker said.
But as the property owner that had donated the space at several buildings for the show, M. Fishman and Co. had the final say, Yonker said.
Yonker ended up communicating that to Sell Friday night.
"The important distinction that I was trying to make sure was clear here, and to Amie, was that we supported her and her right to show her piece and it was taken down by the property owner,” Yonker said.
With Logan Square's new bars, restaurants and the newly made-over Logan Theatre — which Fishman bought and renovated in 2012 — the neighborhood has become blazing hot for young renters. The demand has driven prices up.
Sell, whose work had been highlighted in festival promotions, said she agreed with the removal only out of concern her refusal would impact other artists' chance to be seen.
“I agreed that my intentions were not to shut the space down or impede the showing of other artwork, but to create a climate of dialog about what is currently happening in the neighborhood as the gentrification and displacement of people is hitting a peak,” Sell wrote on her website blog.
Sell said Monday she was very disillusioned by the decision to remove her artwork.
She recounted in an interview and on her website that she sought to be involved in the local art show in May because she often did work on the topic of "home vs. house" and knew it was a hot topic in the rapidly changing neighborhood. On June 2, she said, organizers told her "they would would love to have me create an installation."
They showed her three potential display spaces on June 9, which she quickly realized were all owned by Fishman. Over the next several days, she took photos of buildings owned or being acquired by the company and then spoke with tenants of his buildings who had been displaced.
When she was told the final location for the show, at 2779 N. Milwaukee Ave., she realized it was a “serendipitous” location to deliver her message since the units "above my head were the actual apartments of people that were displaced from 3335 W. Diversey Ave., a former SRO."
She installed the artwork between June 16-26.
On Friday morning, the day the show was to begin, she said she learned the art might be problematic.
On Friday night, she learned her installation was removed, placed in bags and moved off-site before the exhibit was officially opened, she said.
Sell says she is now disappointed by the whole experience.
“I guess I’ve learned that the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Fest is not a place for dialog for any issues important to the neighborhood,” she said.
But she said other individuals and groups have offered her space to present her “Home Sweet Home” installation in the days since the work was removed from the festival, she said.
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