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Rent Hike Forces Cultura In Pilsen Out Of Art Center's Longtime Home

By Jackie Serrato | August 26, 2016 8:27am
 Cultura in Pilsen has been priced out of its longtime home.
Cultura in Pilsen has been priced out of its longtime home.
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DNAinfo/Jackie Serrato

PILSEN — A long-standing cultural hub in Pilsen has lost its home.

“Cultura in Pilsen,” a non-profit arts organizations that operated at 1900 S. Carpenter for  years, recently made the decision to pack their bags when the landlord doubled their rent.

During a June meeting, building owner Lisa Hamidani informed Cultura in Pilsen (CIP) staff that she would be giving them a month-to-month lease for $2,500 or the option to move out by August.

“It was impossible for us to cover that, especially with such short notice,” said Moira Pujols, co-manager of CIP and the executive director of Contratiempo. “We are a space that was managed on a volunteer basis and provided programs that are accessible.”

The building was the headquarters for Contratiempo, a Spanish-language magazine written by and for immigrants in Chicago, and it was the home of Gozamos.com, an online platform for first-generation Latinos.

Two immigrant defense groups also met there regularly, Chicago Community Workers Rights and Organized Communities Against Deportations, and oftentimes CIP was the gathering or ending point for marches.

“We raised the rent because everything is going up in Pilsen — our water went up, the garbage fee — and we have to compensate,” said Sarah Devalk, Hamidani’s daughter and co-owner of the building. “Our property taxes went up and we hadn’t raised the rent in many, many years.”

The Cook County Property Tax Portal shows the building is paid off and the property taxes for 1900 S. Carpenter have increased by about $400 since the year 2011. 

Moira Pujols, of Contratiempo, Ilene Palacios, of Gozamos, and Jennifer Smith, of Cultura in Pilsen, stand outside their former building at 1900 S. Carpenter. [DNAinfo/Jackie Serrato]

“We paid our rent on time all the time and kept up the place. But we had differences of opinion with the landlord regarding the upkeep and maintenance of it, and there were some events she didn’t like,” Pujols said.

Cultura in Pilsen hosted numerous cultural events that sold out, like a one-of-a-kind tribute to Selena in the form of karaoke and drag performance, and their Frida and Day of the Dead exhibitions.

But the late-night events made Devalk nervous, who claims the attendance was beyond capacity.

“We didn’t know they were subletting until we saw they were hosting events and collecting money. The parties were spilling out into the street and neighbors were complaining about the smoking and drinking,” she said.

Luz Chavez, CIP co-manager and editor of Gozamos, said the events ended at midnight and they got along with their neighbors.

“We had a hip-hop event and the landlady called me worried about the type of people this specific event would attract,” she said.

Devalk said her mother is highly respected by the Mexican community and they want to make sure the building remains an art center, “but better.” They are remodeling the space to welcome a new tenant who fits their vision.

Area residents still remember the property by its former name, Calles y Sueños, founded by Jose David and later managed by Christina Obregon, which moved to that corner in 1994 from 17th Place and Halsted.

They encouraged the production of radical art that was intertwined with the politics of Chicago, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Central and South America, and hosted underground performers and punk bands like Los Crudos.

That collaborative spirit is depicted in a mural by Bill Campillo on the northern facade of the building, which reads: Be Cool To Each Other.

“A tour bus rode by as we were moving out and they were taking pictures of the mural,” said Chavez. “And there’s a sort of irony in that. The increased tourism — those buses are another effect of what’s going on in Pilsen.”

Pujols said there’s a larger trend of non-profits from Pilsen scraping to get by, and then having to close, consolidate, or move westward or south of the city.

“It is one of the few communities in Chic​​​​​​​​​​ago where working people live side by side with artists and feed each other. If you start taking out both, the workers and the artists, I don’t know what Pilsen is gonna be like in 10 years,” she said.

CIP and its partner organizations are not leaving Pilsen, they said, and are looking to move into a larger space close to the National Museum of Mexican Art by the end of the year. It’s important that the new location is tolerant and inclusive of various gender, racial and minority communities, they said.

CIP is accepting tax-deductible PayPal donations at info@cuentosfoundation.org

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