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In a society where making art lands you in the unemployment line, artists face an uncomfortable choice. Work a nine to five job and come home too exhausted to create, or balance multiple jobs in hopes of carving out more time for art. Writer and visual artist Robin Hustle knows all about the latter, but she’s found an interesting, if controversial way to fund her art. Hustle first caught my attention after a piece she wrote for Jezebel on coming out as a prostitute to her parents received a slew of passionate comments. She spoke with Our Town about how her “day job” in sex work informs her art and vice versa.

Our Town Artists tend to choose between working nine to five jobs and fitting in art where they can or putting together a hodgepodge of gigs in order to make time for their art. You seem to have chosen the latter. Pros and cons?
Robin Hustle The 40-hour work week was established in 1886. It's shameful that we haven't made any progress since then, that we're expected to take our work home with us, that we have to work overtime to stretch minimum wage into something closer to a living wage. It's a system I'd want to work outside of even if I wasn't an artist. Making a living as I do allows me to wake up early and write or stay up late and draw. It spares me the monotony of a full-time job. After a decade out of school, being self-employed has allowed me to start working toward a degree in a healthcare field without giving up writing and making art.

OT You recently wrote a piece for Jezebel discussing prostitution. What made you decide to write publicly about it?
RH Prostitution has been my primary source of income for about eight years, and I've been writing about it for nearly as long. My zine Mirror Tricks, about working as a prostitute, was also a slide show that I presented dozens of times around the country, and I've written critical essays on sex work, given talks about prostitutes' health issues, etc. Until recently, I'd planned to take a break from writing about sex work because I felt like I was getting too comfortable, limiting the scope of my writing and neglecting other ideas and projects. Then a friend asked me to write some pieces for a mainstream website on the subject, I did it, and I quickly became addicted to the idea of reaching a wide audience really, really fast—something that doesn't happen through self-publishing and small press. When that series ended, I pitched the idea of an ongoing column on sex work to Jezebel, and I'm thrilled that they were into it. There was never a question of whether I should write publicly about prostitution. It fascinates me from a personal and a conceptual angle; it forces tricky questions about sex and feminism and labor and public space. Essentially, it holds all the elements that excite me as a writer, and also happens to be my job, a job that's highly stigmatized and considered shameful, so how could I not write about it?

OT Commentators seemed angry at you for writing from your personal experience, that of a white woman who has chosen prostitution, but isn’t that the point of a personal essay? To write from your experience? Thoughts?
RH Many of the people who responded to my first piece on Jezebel wrote that they connected with it, as a coming out story, as an experience of growing up in a radical family, as a difficult part of being a sex worker, but the loudest voices were the raging ones. Frankly, I don't think those commentators read the piece: they skimmed to see if it said "I'm happy being a sex worker" so they could tell me that my experience is so rare that I have no right to write about it, or that I'm ignoring the plight of trafficked women by writing about myself. A few comments really stuck with me, and they weren't from either end of that spectrum. They were from readers who have mixed feelings about sex work, how it fits into feminism, the degree to which it is or isn't exploitative. They didn't get any answers from my piece but they thought hard about the questions. That's the kind of reader I'm hoping to reach by publishing in such a public forum.

OT Were you surprised by the negativity of peoples’ reactions?
RH I live in an incredible community that shields me, to some degree, from the nastiness of so many mainstream ideas about sex work, but even within that community I've been subject to scapegoating, tokenization, and other less vehement forms of bigotry than what turned up on Jezebel. I'm not oblivious to the gut reactions people have to sex work, or the misinformation they're fed. But it did catch me by surprise, because I thought I was publishing an uncontroversial, sappy piece about coming out to my parents.

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Candy Johnson and SHE ART. Photo by Patty Michels

My idea of home decor is a vat of peanut butter and a futon, but Our Town strives to represent diversity. One of these days, we might even write about sports. For now though, let us turn our collective attention to a couple of LGBT owned Chicago stores.

SHE ART Chicago, first located in Oak Park and now opening in Andersonville is an eclectic celebration of the female form. Co-owner Candy Johnson spoke with Our Town about the store’s ambitions and esthetic.

Our Town What inspired you to open SHE ART?
Candy Johnson I have been a Treasure Huntress for over 40 years, collecting everything from hand painted tiles to antique buttons. When I met my partner Mercedes, she collected women in all forms. In 2004 we were talking about what to do with our collection, and how there were many "Female" collectors out there. We brainstormed and came up with "SHE ART Chicago", a store that would carry the female from all eras. In 2005 we opened "SHE ART Chicago"  in Oak Park.

OT How did your background in art influence your vision for the store?
CJ [Artist renderings of] the female form have been around for centuries; the stories, the history, the eclectic mediums, and textures were all inspirational for us as artists. Our background helped us dig deeper to hunt for unusual pieces from our history. We all have a story and so does art. Art is emotional...both in the eye of the artist and the buyer. We started to appreciate not only art from the past, but current local artists. So, we carried local artist on a commission basis. We totally enjoy being a part of the community of artists, were we share stories, inspiration, and a commitment to make Chicago art available to the public.

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Photo by Patty Michels

OT SHE ART has a new home in Andersonville. What are your hopes for the store/location?
CJ We want to be a part of the community. I will be reaching out to local organizations, schools, and charities to donate space for art shows;100% will go to that benefit. I want people to come in, enjoy the store, know that I am part of their community. In the future we will be exploring growth in other locations in the states and possibly other countries. Right now, I am just enjoying the store, the people, and the hunting.

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Fadi Freij’s “Picture Chicago.”

Congratulations to Fadi Freij. Though we received tons of fantastic submissions for the "Chicago" themed photo contest, Our Town judges Amy Harkess and Patty Michels unanimously chose Freij's photo. Here's what the judges have to say:

Harkess: I really appreciate this photographer's use of aperture settings to put emphasis on the subject, but still include details of the background. The bus, headlights, cabs and all the bustle are what makes this image sing Chicago to me.

Michels: Love the crisp focus of the subject and the vivid color. The bokeh provides a warm feel. This is the people's Chicago, not the Chicago tourism bureau's.

And what inspired the picture? Here's Freij:

Freij: It was taken from Millennium Park and is a view down Washington Street at the intersection of Michigan Avenue. The colors and movement of the photograph capture the vibrant personality of the city, while one man stands still photographing the lively scene. The photo manages to convey multiple truths about Chicago; the bustling, fast paced nature of daily downtown life, as well as the residents and visitors alike who pause to enjoy and appreciate Chicago's excitement.

Thanks to all who participated in Our Town’s first annual photo contest and special thanks to judges Patty V Michels (Sun Times/Our Town blog photographer) and Amy Harkess (special events/weddings).

Photographer Info: Based in Chicago, Fadi Freij specializes in portraits, events, and live action photography.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Writer Natalie Edwards wants you to come to her party. A development associate for Ox-Bow School of Art and Artist's Residency, Edwards is on the cusp of all things hip and current—case in point, The Rumpus named her one of the funniest women of McSweeney’s-- but the thing she cares most about was founded in 1901.

“Ox-Bow” she says was established “by artists from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago who wanted to create a place to make work in an environment that was both beautiful naturally, but also one that could support their mutuality of purpose as creative thinkers and makers.” Since its inception, Ox-bow has continued to compel artists and foster their work, and now the artist’s residency needs you. Edwards spoke with Our Town about the Ox-Bow Winter Benefit and what it’s like to be a writer in Chicago.

Our Town What’s so special about Ox-Bow?
Natalie Edwards The artists that participate in Ox-Bow often remark on how productive their time was at Ox-Bow, both in terms of the amount of work they made there, but also in terms of how the atmosphere at Ox-Bow recharges them with fresh energy, ideas, and connections to bring back to the studio after they've left. Most artists spend about one or two weeks at Ox-Bow, but the impact of the experience influences the work that they make for a long time after.

OT How did you become involved?
NE I was a student at Ox-Bow for several years. I took a painting class where I learned that painting is difficult and I am terrible at it. I took a printmaking class where I learned that printmaking is difficult and I'm ok at it, and then I took a playwriting class with the amazing Beau O'reilly where I learned that writing is the best thing ever, and then I learned that producing a play is the most difficult thing I could ever do. Those classes made such a tremendous impact on my personal and artistic life, that when a job popped up there I hopped on it. It's nice to work for a place you care about.

OT Chicago is bloated with gala events. Why is this one important?
NE Well, I wouldn't really call this a gala, because that sounds stuffy. I would call it an awesome art show where you can actually take the art home. I would also call it a super fun dance party. All proceeds from the event go to keeping the place running and in good shape. It also goes to our artist-in-residence program and scholarships and other ways that we can help artists enrich their lives. I think Jerry Saltz said this, and I'm going to paraphrase it terribly, but here goes: even if artists don't become all famous and rich, isn't it good to have creative thinkers out there in the world solving problems in inventive ways? Yes. The answer is obviously yes.

OT What are you most excited about?
NE I'm excited about seeing who takes what home from the auction. I'm always surprised to see what people scramble over. I'm also really excited about drinking the cocktails that City Provisions is providing. We also have beer from Half Acre--they are consistently amazing--and we have wine from this great winery in Michigan called Good Harbor. So I'm excited that I get to be grateful for all these generous people coming together to make this event awesome.

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Attention Chicago Photographers:

Our Town announces our first PHOTO CONTEST.

Theme: Chicago (Take that as you will.)

Judges: Our Town photographer Patty Michels and Chicago wedding and portrait photographer Amy Harkess.

Send Submissions to: Ourtownphotocontest@gmail.com

Subject Heading: Photo Submission. (If you are emailing with a question, put “Question” in the subject line.)

Specifics: You can submit one photo only. Please put your name and contact information in the body of the email NOT on the picture itself. This is a BLIND contest; the judges will not know the identities of those submitting until they have chosen a winner. Please resize the images such that the photo’s longest side is no greater than 800 pixels. Files should be saved as jpegs.

Contest closes at Midnight February 14th.

The winning photo will appear on the Our Town blog!

Ready-set-go!

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

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Photo by Patty Michels

In 2006 I moved from Los Angeles to Chicago to attend graduate school and right away the city seemed a perfect fit. Sure, I spent nine months out of the year shivering at bus stops or worse, wearing a down vest in my own freaking apartment, but have you seen the glazed expression that passes for affability in LA?

I don’t do fake, I don’t do easygoing and I certainly don’t do Sasquatch boots with shorts. So while LA does have its benefits (warm weather, content-less conversation, the possibility of running into Liz Phair at ArcLight (which totally happened to me—double parenthesis!--)), Chicago feels like home.

Yet since moving here, I’ve lost countless friends to the West Coast. This is not ironic, merely irritating. What with winter’s encroachment, I’m making it my mission to fight for our fair city. In that spirit, I’ve compiled the following list.

Things to Do in Chicago this December That Won’t Make you Decide to Move to LA:

1. Attend Nickel History: The Nation of Heat, New Etchings by Tony Fitzpatrick at Firecat Projects.
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Possibly my favorite aspect of living in Chicago, Fitzpatrick seems the ultimate Renaissance Man. A poet, writer, artist and actor, Fitzpatrick is the kind of prolific which usually requires methamphetamines, but as far as I can tell, Fitzpatrick is fueled by nicotine, dirty jokes and the sheer necessity of realizing his artistic vision.

In lieu of electing him mayor (which is actually my goal—the man has more intelligent things to say about politics (and zombies) than any “politician” out there), go see his gorgeous new work on display through Christmas. More information here.

2. Read the brilliant Sara Levine’s highly anticipated novel, Treasure Island!!!
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Okay, technically you could read this sardonic jewel in any location, but Levine is a growing presence in the Chicago literary scene; she belongs to the Windy City man. [Editor’s Note: The author meant to leave out that comma. She is in fact referring to a single entity known as The Windy City Man who she believes nests beneath one of her floorboards. Let’s not disabuse her, shall we?] Having crafted a protagonist as fascinating as she is morally questionable, Levine says, “The literature of malcontents is not without pedigree. Achilles brooded. Odysseus was a selfish jerk. And Dostoevsky's underground man—who'd pick his profile on Match.com? Bernhard, Beckett, Nabokov... obviously my heart belongs to the misfits and misanthropes and criminals.”

And my heart belongs to Sara Levine. Learn more about Treasure Island!!! here.

3. See "Let it Ho!"
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This burlesque-inspired revue features five of the funniest Broadz in Chicago showcasing an unaccountably rare combination of sex appeal and smarts. This year’s holiday show offers two new songs, fresh scenes and the same raunchy hilarity you’ve come to expect. I asked Broadz member Ricky Dickuless (Amanda Whitenack) what she likes about the holidays and she had this to say: “My favorite part is the Ham seasoning. Ham is a versatile and underrated dish. Ham can be served cold on bread or hot in a stew or at room temperature on my thighs to a single man looking for a free meal with benefits. I'm single. I'm lonely. And I have a freezer full of ham. My real number is (773) 484-5623.”

I’m totally setting her up with the Windy City Man. He likes Ham. For tickets to "Let it Ho!" go here.

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“It’s about putting yourself out there and being vulnerable, taking a risk. Not easy, but pretty damn rewarding,” says Chicago artist, Chai Wolfman. A painter, writer and cellist, Wolfman believes not only that each practice informs the others, but that authentic engagement with each leads to work capable of generating a universal sense of connection. “In my writing,” she says, “I use personal stories to get at something that others can hopefully relate to. I focus on telling universal stories with a genuine voice and I think this is true of my paintings as well. I use figures that could be any person, anywhere. I try to leave room for others to fill in the blanks. I guess it’s the same with music, too. It takes being completely in the moment with your body, breath, and mind, to play musically and communicate emotion.”

Our Town You literally cut and sew your paintings, how does that work?
Chai Wolfman I use acrylic paint, chalk, water soluble crayon, markers, and inks to create layered patterns and textures in each painting. Once I’ve completed multiple paintings, I cut segments from each and play with different compositions. They might become a recognizable landscape, my take on a traditional quilt pattern, or an abstract design. The feel and sound of sewing paper is addicting. I love the whole process.

OT Your artwork is inspired by crazy quilting, how so?
CW Crazy quilts are beautiful, chaotic and colorful with intricate detail and visual punch. They are usually made up of fabric scraps in random shapes with decorative stitching. These random pieces together create a vibrant, unified quilt. I like this idea of joining such different elements into one piece – finding some harmony among the chaos. The central theme of all my work--of my whole life, actually, is finding balance, and that is really the root of my inspiration.

OT What else inspires you?
CW City skylines, architecture, music, nature, color, fabric and craft stores, yoga, my daughters.

OT Do you paint every day?
CW I wish! Someday my life will allow for that. Now that I’m a mom I have less free time, but I’m also much better at managing the time I have. I usually have time to do at least one thing for myself each day. I choose between painting, sewing, writing, yoga, napping, and showering. Whatever speaks to me during that day’s afternoon nap is where my energy goes. It’s a balancing act, a wonderful, challenging balancing act. Luckily, I have an amazing and supportive partner who takes the [twin] girls out for fun adventures on Sunday mornings so I have almost the entire day on Sunday to devote to painting.

OT Ever feel reluctant to give up a piece?
CW Never. For me, the whole point of creating work is to put something positive out into the world. It might sound cheesy but I really am trying to bring something good to someone else’s life. A big stack of paintings in my apartment doesn’t have a chance to do that. That said, some of my partner’s favorite pieces decorate our apartment and those would be hard to part with. But if it’s not hanging up in our home, I would much rather have someone else enjoy it.

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“Masks,” says Jeff Semmerling, “are tools of revelation” rather than “disguise.”
A Chicago mask-maker and Filament Theatre Ensemble advisory board member, Semmerling is not only an internationally renowned artist, but also a mask historian and teacher. Though he started out working with puppets after graduating from Northwestern’s Theater Department, he zeroed in on mask making after visiting New Orleans in 1981. Semmerling spoke with Our Town about his work with kids, sources of inspiration, and how one of his masks came to be shown on America’s Next Top Model.

Our Town When did you first become interested in masks?
Jeff Semmerling I played with puppets as a child quite seriously, then got very involved in the theater. Masks were right there under all the things I was interested in. Theater was interesting to me mostly because of the ‘we’ thing of working on something bigger than myself. Masks do the same thing in a more direct way. They make us less about ourselves and more about a spirit of ‘we.’ [Masks] melt social restraints and distance. So damn healthy!

OT Your bio says you have the “unique ability to understand masks and how they relate to their wearer from the inside out.” Can you talk a little about this?
JS When we sell masks we set them on tables, hundreds of masks, and we stand behind the table and we watch people play with the masks. I've watched people fall in love with a mask, but leave without buying it, only to dream of it that night and come back the next day for it. Part of it, and it is only part, is that when you obscure the "identity" self the playful self is set free to be playful. The mask invites people to step out of their walls of protection, not just the wearer, but people who encounter the extra-terrestrial being that is, yet is not, before them. They are forced to be here now! Art at its best makes us really perceive.

OT What inspires you?
JS When I wintered in New Orleans [after college] and saw what happens when a whole city shuts down to party in costumes and masks, my eyes went up like roller blinds. Everything I loved about watching and doing theater was all happening at the same time with no line between the audience and the performer. These days, my customers, serious costumers, and the theaters, dancers and opera productions that need masks. I also love to play, so wearing [masks], that keeps me going too. When I travel I always make sure to have a pocket size silly face-changing mask, it makes it all so much more fun than if I were just getting pictures of myself in front of famous sites. You meet people and have some really genuine connections. The masks are like an open invitation for the best stuff to happen.

OT I hear one of your creations has appeared on America’s Next Top Model.
JS A fellow named James St. James has one of my Crazy Smile Masks and has made several appearances on the show. One of his resume pics features the mask and they always show that photo when they introduce him. It is quite a striking image. Those smile masks are really powerful!

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A Kansas born outsider, artist Ellen Greene is compelled by contradictions. Feminine and masculine, highbrow vs. lowbrow, all inform her current project, the vintage leather gloves she reworks with flash inspired tattoo imagery. On display starting September 16th at Firecat Projects, Greene’s show, Ballad of the Tattooed Lady “finds beauty in repetition,” showcasing gloves linked by themes both visually apparent and subterranean.

Our Town Why gloves?
Ellen Greene Just two generations ago a woman wore gloves to every formal occasion, every wedding, funeral or dance. They remind me of a certain time and a certain woman, one who was very formal and followed rules. As a daughter of the 70's, I find that formality exotic. I’ve always picked up odd things to paint on. Painting gloves came from a love of fashion, punk rock, myths and painting on non-traditional surfaces. I have been working on gloves since the late 90’s, but I was unsure how to present them. They were awkward to just stick on the wall; unwearable because of their delicate size and the paint I used, or expensive to [frame.] I would make them once in a while, try and find some inexpensive shadow box [but] never was happy with how they looked, [though they] always sold. It wasn’t until I met Tony Fitzpatrick and showed him a pair and he said “make more, I want to see a whole show of just gloves” that I finally got serious.

OT What might inspire a particular pair?
EG Songs, mythic stories, movies or personal experiences. I have a whole file system of images I look through to gather inspiration. My pin-up women are usually beastly and aggressive while my sailor men are feminine. I use words like 'faggot,' 'witch,' 'slut,' 'whore,' which some may see as offensive. I grew up around a lot of narrow-minded people in my small town, so my friends and I were treated to those names on a daily basis. There's still a lot of hatred toward people who don’t conform to religious or social norms. I see the gloves as representative of social norms-- conformity and chastity. The tattoo images represent the underside or shadow experience of that woman who wore those gloves. The act of making them is a ritual balance between these opposites, like letting the ugly underside of human experience come to the surface. I think of each pair of gloves as a person each with its own story to tell.

OT Is there a specific type of tattoo to which you’re drawn?
EG I am very interested in the old American style tattoos. They are classic in their basic vocabulary- skulls, daggers, clipper ships, sparrows, naked ladies, stars, jaguars; often not that well drawn. The tattoo artists weren’t art school trained, at the worst they were con men just trying to make a living at a carnival or dime museum. I like the crude way the designs are drawn.

OT Where does your aesthetic fit in on the art scene?
EG I deal with personal issues in my work but strive to make art that touches a wide variety of people. I don’t hide behind stuffy concepts. Though I went to art school, I was very much against how I saw the system working. People were rewarded by the way they fit into popular conceptual frameworks or by social climbing. My work is much more related to the traditions of folk art, the art of the mentally insane, the kind of art that is made by people who hear voices. So my imagery comes from a lot of lowbrow sources; pulp magazine illustrations, fashion magazines, old photographs, tattoo flash, circus freaks, belly dancers, strip shows, punk rock posters, B-movies, Mexican folk art, and American folk art.

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A blogging bonus: meeting interesting people through artists I already admire. Take Lauren Levato. An insect obsessed visual artist with a background in journalism and women’s studies, Levato’s current exhibition, “Lantern Fly Sex Cure: New Insect Drawings,” is now on display at Firecat Projects. Although I initially knew Levato only as Tony Fitzpatrick’s publicist, as I learned more about her, I felt a growing kinship. When I read on her website that she was raised by wolves, I knew we had to talk.

Our Town When I was eleven, my best friend and I communicated by howling at each other (in public). What’s your proof you were raised by wolves?
Lauren Levato My family. No really, we used to say that a lot when I was a kid and one day, when our family was in a particularly destructive era, I was like “actually…yes.” It’s used as an implication of lack of manners or refinement, but when taken in terms of a fairy tale it means you have something other – an intelligence that goes beyond human capacity or understanding. There are examples in literature and mythology of the feral child having a preternatural intelligence. I identify with [that]. It’s one of the reasons I can walk into a room and tell you where the insects are in seconds.

OT Why the insect obsession?
LL My grandmother [collected] Monarchs and their mimics and I remember collecting with her. I found a jar of her specimens in my studio one day in 2005 and since I’ve focused on insects almost exclusively. [Also], I grew up in Indiana and that place is lousy with insects, especially cicadas. Everyone was horrified to walk through hundreds of them on the sidewalk but I remember clearing a space and sitting down in this massive pile of them with their orange-red eyes.

OT You call insects stand-ins for humans. Why?
LL We share many behaviors and sometimes their anatomy reminds me of ours. People can call it anthropomorphizing, but here’s a great example: When faced with fire the scorpion will sting itself. We all know people who self-destruct when faced with a threat.

OT How has your background in women’s studies played into your art?
LL My best friend and I [ran] a non-profit organization that helped survivors of sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence use art and writing as a way to process through stages of healing. Rewarding, but it took a lot out of me. [Women’s Studies’ influence] is much more subtle now, [but] those concerns that take a person into a women’s studies program and that are generated in such a course of thought are always there.

OT Take us through how you create a drawing from inspiration to completion.
LL Having an obsession helps, that’s for sure. I read a lot of scientific writing, biology books, and mythology. Read them all together and you start learning and combining really different ideas. Or you stumble across some interesting tidbit that stays with you forever. For example, the poster image for “Lantern Fly Sex Cure” is the piece “From the Bodies of Dead Horses” and that title and idea come from the old belief that wasps sprung from the bodies of dead horses. Now this was an observable fact – some wasps are carrion insects and their young hatch from a dead body. Or they swarm and take nutrients they need. Whatever the case, people saw wasps emerging from horse carcasses, and the folktale stuck. Pair that myth with my imagination. When my dad was having quintuple bypass ten years ago, I got through the surgery by imagining when they cracked open his chest, the doctors would get hit in the face with a field of Gerber daisies. Or bats would fly out and circle the room. I laughed at these ideas, especially because dad was a real cranky dude. When it was time for the show, I started drawing an anatomical heart and the wasps made their way in and there you have it. Years worth of research and mental imagery came together into one piece.

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My journalistic credo is borrowed from the theater world: don’t steal focus. As an interviewer, I’m a supporting player, my subject, the star. To this end, I strip questions to the bone, cut most personal asides, and shy away from quoting those capricious compliments the average interviewee pays.

Enter artist Tony Fitzpatrick; generous, insightful and endearingly loquacious—not your average interviewee.

I worry that including my end of our discussion appears self-indulgent. However, in the interest of accurately rendering Tony, I’ve put my usual reticence aside. As personable as he is talented, Tony has plenty to say about his politics, his travels, his inspirations, but he’s also genuinely curious about others. To interview Tony is to step into an ongoing conversation, one he carries on through his visual art, poetry and acting; one he has with neighbors and hobos and strangers who quickly become friends. Here's my contribution.

Our Town What inspired your new play, Stations Lost?
Tony Fitzpatrick I went to Istanbul to meet Muslims. I realized I didn’t know any. I had some a**hole at a dinner party tell me that the world wouldn’t be a peaceful place until we dealt with the Islamic problem. I said, “what do you mean by that,” and he said, “well, till we get rid of all the Muslims.” I said, “jihadists are like two percent, you understand that, right?” He goes, “name me one place in the world where Islamic people live in peace.” I said, “Istanbul, since 1927.” So, then he slides his glasses down his nose and he goes “have you beeeeen to Istanbul?” I said “no, but I’ll tell you what, the next time we speak I will have been.” And I went. And I’ll tell you, I found more brotherhood and kindness and generosity among a culture of Muslims than I did driving across America. So much for who we fear.

OT This is your second show with Ann Filmer. To what do you attribute the success of your collaborations?
TF Her laser sharp ability to adapt. We carved away a lot of great pieces and went down to the most muscular ones. Just as with [first collaboration]This Train, she very gently told me where the lines were, let me know what was germane, helped prune what didn’t belong and shape it into a really dynamic piece. Were it up to me she would have taken a co-writing credit for Stations Lost, but she said, “every word is yours.” I showed her my diaries and told her, I think there’s a show in here about fear and faith and the folly of wanting faith. I worked in radio for ten years. When I hear O’Reilly and Limbaugh, these are the guys who chased me out of radio. They’re the reason I didn’t want to work there anymore; it became this culture of hate. They wrap it up in fear and they kite tail it with faith, like if you’re a Christian you believe this or that; well, thank God I’m an atheist. So, the show is about the aural wallpaper that surrounds us as Americans and how they attempted to teach me faith as a kid. Now look, this all sounds really heavy, but it’s really funny. You’ve seen my shows; I’m a funny motherf**ker. So what’s going on with you?

OT Me? I have a book coming out next spring.
TF It’s about time, goddamnit.

OT I don’t know what to expect-
TF Expect to spend no small amount of time promoting it and let me know what I can do to help.

OT That’s really generous, but you don’t have to do that.
TF I’d like to. You want to do a book signing at the gallery? My gallery is a cool place; people come there.

OT Tell me a little about your gallery.
TF Firecat? It was my studio for seventeen years and I closed it as a studio and turned it into a gallery where we show artists who I think deserve to be better known. You know, Stan [Klein] and me made a list of artists, and everyone on the list it was like, why aren’t these men and women a bigger part of the conversation? I said to Stan, “what could we afford to lose between us,” and he said, “comfortably, maybe $3000 a month.” We figured that was enough to budget the gallery. We take no percentage of the artists’ sales. We print a poster, do a mailing and invite all our collectors. Our friends from 3Floyds supply the beer, and then we usually throw a little after-party at my house.

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Photo by Andrew Nawrocki

Fashionable people astound me. Whereas others roll out of bed and into the perfect skinny jeans/plaid shirt/mussed cardigan/Converse combo, when assembling an outfit, I apply the sort of concentration normally associated with defusing a bomb, and still wind up realizing hours into my day that what seemed fresh and daring in my early morning mirror actually makes me look like I was styled by an Olson twin and K.D. Lang, each drunk and angry. Plus I almost always forget to brush my hair.

Amy Creyer faces none of these problems. Currently a DePaul graduate student studying the role of public policy in the fashion and apparel industries, Creyer eats sleeps and breathes fashion. As the owner of chicagostreetstyle.com, a website dedicated to providing high quality street style photographs, Creyer captures Chicago’s most fashionable perambulators. A self-taught photographer, Creyer’s influence is two-fold. Not only does she showcase cresting styles, but by virtue of what she chooses to photograph, she also shapes trends.

Our Town First off, what are you wearing right now?
Amy Creyer My Proenza Schouler for J. Brand paint-splattered jeans, Erin Gordon for Sarca bracelets, a Graham & Spencer top, my black leather Chucks, and a Giorgio Brato leather jacket.

OT You grew up in Greenwich. Style-wise, how is NYC different than Chicago?
AC In New York, people are very concerned with wearing the right brands or the hottest designers. You see a lot of clothing straight off the runway. I love to photograph and wear designer clothing, but I find the authenticity in Chicago far more interesting. There is an organic and authentic development of personal style in Chicago that I think is directly related to the absence of a strongly entrenched fashion establishment.

OT Describe your website’s genesis.
AC I was the little girl who always wore dresses to run around the playground. My website is the culmination of my lifelong love of fashion and decade long obsession with street style. Every aspect of being a street style photographer, from stopping random people on the street to using social media to connect with my followers, came naturally to me.

OT How do you choose and reel in potential subjects?
AC I constantly scan my surroundings for anything unusual; perhaps a woman's unique hairstyle or the way a man tied his scarf. Sometimes there's skepticism, but I always cut through with my charm. As the art form becomes more popular, individuals are excited about getting stopped for a photo, and I am definitely seeing stronger style on the streets as a result.

OT Do you shoot daily?
AC [Initially] I had too many experiences where, grocery shopping or running errands, I saw someone I would have loved to photograph. Now, I'm always armed with my Olympus PEN and prepared to capture a subject to share with my readers.

OT You study the role of social media in fashion marketing. What role do bloggers play?
AC Bloggers are essentially innovators and trendsetters, early adopters in marketing terminology. These people hold considerable influence over their networks, and social media has dramatically increased that sphere of influence. Before the rise of blogging a trendsetter like Tavi Gevinson would have been limited to influencing people in her local community, but with the Internet she can set trends across the world. Her sway in the fashion industry stems from her authenticity as a consumer, which is extremely valuable to a brand. I'm really interested in how brands build relationships with bloggers and the role of authenticity in those partnerships.

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Chicago illustrator Freddie Levin has seen me naked; apparently at the time, I asked her if she’d ever held a gerbil in her hand. I can envision the headlines now:
“Prominent (my imaginary headline, my word choice) Blogger and Botanical Artist Eat Shrooms and Cavort Nude.”

I’m throwing the drug reference in there because the gerbil question--and the fact I don’t remember asking it-- make me sound completely high.

Truth is, I was two years old and in the bathtub when I asked Levin, a longtime family friend, my very important rodent question. Years later, I still get naked for artists, and Levin remains a thriving illustrator and business owner, successfully marrying art and commerce.

Our Town Was becoming an artist always a goal?
Freddie Levin I'm not even sure I would say I 'became' an artist any more than I 'became' a girl. I think the wiring was there from the start.

OT Describe your aesthetic.
FL I'm an illustrator. All my images are pieces of stories. There is always text even if it is wordless. I don't know what you would call my style, quirky, maybe? I like to put antlers on everything.

OT Who influences you?
FL Joseph Cornell, Maira Kalman, French Medieval Manuscripts, George Cruikshank, Vermeer, Mary Zimmerman. I'm all over the place.

OT What’s your daily process like?
FL I draw every day. I'm either working on a book or an assignment from a publisher or a series of botanical works or filling sketchbooks. I keep several sketchbooks - one for ideas, one for observational drawings and one for planning. I take ballet and yoga classes in the morning and spend the afternoons and evenings on art work. It's a pretty sweet routine.

OT What’s your favorite medium?
FL For illustration, I have these wonderful overpriced Swiss crayons. For sketching I like Prismacolor pencils. For botanical illustration I have two methods: gouache on black illustration board or sepia ink on toned paper. I love art supplies. Forget candy or jewelry. I can be wooed with pencils.

OT Where do you find inspiration?
FL For my botanical work, I am constantly struck by the elegant way a plant is organized. I find beauty in very ordinary things like a twig or a seed pod or a feather. The rest of my imagery is just the crap that is floating around in my head and which I find endlessly amusing.

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Welcome to 2011, a time for new beginnings (a really stupid word pairing when you think about it). This year, I’ve resolved to strive for balance and moderation. For example, instead of sitting in a desk chair, trolling facebook five hours in a row, I will sit on one of those balance balls. If I get the urge to eat an economy size bag of pita chips, I will have a moderator yell at me while I do it. Simple, achievable goals are the secret to sustainable change.

Take my crushes. Perhaps I’ve seemed overzealous in the past. Even “scary” as the beautiful redhead I followed into an alley last week accused. From now on, I’ll endeavor to be a kindler, gentler fan. I’ll do this by offering handkerchiefs and foot massages to those I approach. Speaking of tantalizing offers, I tried to get the first crush of the New Year to wear a diaper and a top hat. Sadly, I was denied. But enough about my sex life.
Please welcome Emily MacArthur, a shiny new crush, for a shiny new year.

Hometown: Park Ridge, IL
Profession: First year Art Therapy student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hobbies: skiing, painting (houses and canvases), curling, bagpiping, bottle blowing, motorcycling, camping, biking, drinking, metal working, hockey.

Our Town Bagpiping is an unusual hobby. Why did you start?
Emily Macarthur I guess to be different. In the mid eighties, my parents researched our Scottish roots, and we went to a Highland Games where I saw all the pipe bands in that day's competition play en masse. It was such a powerful sound that I wanted to learn. My mom looked for a band [with] young people, which turned out to be the Midlothian Juniors, run by the highly respected Ian Swinton. Unfortunately she got mixed up and enrolled me in lessons with a total hack who also a bit pervy [but] eventually, I made friends with people that knew better. With their help, I’ve been slowly improving for twenty-one years.
OT Any amusing piping experiences?
EM [During] the seventeen-year cicada summer a couple years ago, I was competing with [the] City of Chicago Pipe Band on a polo field in Oak Brook. [In competitions], you have to play together in a circle, standing like wooden soldiers when it's one hundred degrees and you're covered in wool and your knees are shaking. Turns out the frequency of a bagpipe’s drones is the same as a cicada's love call, so every time we played, the cicadas would descend. [When] I felt something on my ass, I thought, "Oh, please let that be sweat,” but sweat doesn't crawl upwards! Damn thing wanted to mate with me.
OT How do you find time for your varied pursuits?
EM I've most of my hobbies on the back burner while in grad school, [but] last month I performed with the St. Luke's Bottle Band to raise money for an orphanage near Juarez, Mexico. I just learned to weld so I've been playing around with metal work. My family is in a manufacturing business, so I can play my pipes in our shop and dig in the scrap bins, think about getting my old Kawasaki running, that kind of thing. I go bonspiel-ing (a curling tournament) one or two weekends a year, which is about as much as my liver can handle.

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Prince Paul
9 p.m. at The Shrine; $10
For as much as De La is responsible for ushering in the Daisy Age, none of that would have been possible if not for the work of Prince Paul. His offbeat skits, bugged-out sense of humor and encyclopedic knowledge of breaks decorated De La's first three albums, which to this day stand as one of the most innovative bodies of work hip-hop has ever known. It's been a while since he’s been to Chicago, but the last time he was here he put on a set that covered everything from hip-hop and funk to deep house cuts and even a little classic rock. (J. Min)

Doodleganza
6 p.m. at Museum of Contemporary Art; free
Local artist Paul Nudd leads this installment of the monthly free-form workshop for aspiring artists (as well as those of us with no artistic talent whatsoever). Materials and direction is provided. The imagination is up to you.

Perfume Genius, Sebastian Blanck
8 p.m. at Schubas; $10
Threaded about the audible foot-pedal thumps of Seattle-based singer-songwriter Perfume Genius are usually nothing more than his angelic – yet intensely raw – coo and maybe a scratchy synth line for warmth. But that's it. All that's left are some achingly tender anecdotes about writing letters to siblings and daughters holding their mothers, that float forever in the room like cathartic ghosts. New York baroque popster, Sebastian Blanck, and Chicago’s Mazes, open. (Gavin Paul)

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BY SARAH TEREZ-ROSENBLUM

It’s that time of year again, and The Chicago Art Department is trolling for funds. Dedicated to the watering and feeding of burgeoning Chicago artists, CAD was founded in 2004, and since has generated exhibitions, artist residencies, classes and workshops.

This year their telethon-themed benefit will feature a tuxedo-clad host wrangling all manner of entertainment, including Paper Machete, a live magazine focused on political and cultural commentary. A guest of Paper Machete, Chicago jack of most trades Robin Okrant will perform.

I’ve known Robyn since, as students in The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s masters program, we met in some forgettable performance-related class. Robyn proved more memorable. Not only does she remind me of everyone with whom I made Challah at Jewish day camp, but endlessly creative, she always seems to have some new endeavor up her sleeve.

Our Town: You’re perhaps most recognized for your “Living Oprah” project. How did that come about?
Robyn Okrant: My inspiration for “Living Oprah” was a burning desire to learn why the media and celebrities have such a strong influence over women. I decided to be a crash test dummy for a whole year and see what would happen if I lived according to Oprah Winfrey's Best Life advice. I thought of my project as part social commentary, part fascination with Oprah's fervent fans, part honest investigation. Is it even possible to live according to someone else's ideals and find happiness? And if it's not, why are we knocking ourselves out trying to live up to a bar that's set impossibly high?

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BY SARAH TEREZ-ROSENBLUM

I’m thinking of a cultural object: Bigger than a breadbox and founded by Caroline Picard, The Green Lantern harkens to Chicago’s grassroots literary history and DIY philosophy.

Despite coincidental Trekkie and comic book connotations, The Green Lantern has nothing to do with GenCon and everything to do with art. Simultaneously a non-profit paperback press and gallery, GL publishes and distributes emerging and/or little-known works.

Additionally, as a venue, it showcases emerging and mid-career artists of all media. Begun out of Executive Director Picard’s Wicker Park apartment, GL was recently shut down for lack of a business license due to improper zoning. Now, however, the ambitious and newly relocated GL is back with a parade of upcoming projects and Gallery Director Abby Satinsky on board. Picard took a seat in the captain’s chair (ba-dum-bum) to discuss her multifaceted brainchild.

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Gold Coast Art Fair
Friday-Sunday in Grant Park; free
The 53rd annual art fair attracts 450 artists and nearly 350,000 visitors. This year it moves to a new location in Grant Park, just across from the Art Institute.

Love's Labour's Lost
Through Sunday at Oak Park Festival Theatre; $10-$20
Oak Park Festival Theatre had a critical hit with its season opener, a sorrowful, starlit take on "Of Mice and Men." Its second show of the season is more typical outdoor summer fare, a Shakespearean comedy that's billed, alarmingly, as a bardic version of "Sex in the City." That warning aside, this should be a deft, enjoyable picnic of a show.

North Side Summerfest
Friday-Sunday at Lincoln and Irving Park; $5
This new fest (only in its fourth year) is all about the party, and you'll need to let off some steam after a grueling festival season. The music lineup includes all the festival staples, like Sixteen Candles (Friday), Too White Crew and Wedding Banned (Saturday) and Hairbangers Ball (Sunday).

Superstars of Burlesque
10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday at Music Box; $20
America's top teasers descend on the Music Box for a weekend of glitz, debuachery and highly creative pasties. This two-night-only event, organized by Michelle L'amour (the Chicagoland area's duchess of skin) is guaranteed to be a fancy affair. Why? Every single performer holds a world title from the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

Demitria Taylor, Rob Blaine
9 p.m. Sunday at B.L.U.E.S.
One of the Eddie Taylor prodigal spawn, daughter Demetria doesn't get the limelight her brothers enjoy. But that'll be a passing phase when people start to pick up on her Memphis Minnie meets Koko Taylor sass, which she's been slinging in spades from B.L.U.E.S. to the Chicago Blues Festival without the fam. Opening guitarist Rob Blaine, 29, has seen stints with both the late, great Little Milton and The Chicago R&B Kings, heartily recruited for his ability to keep in time while traversing through blues, soul and funk, albeit armed with his most lethal weapon: a bearish growl channeled in '70s roadhouse lore.

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Chicago writer Jill Pollack founded Story Studio Chicago the year she turned 40. “Maybe it was my own little mid-life crisis,” she says, “but I closed a different business and decided to devote myself to my fiction writing.”

Noting a fiction community deficit, Pollack dove into creating a resource for writers of all levels. Seven years later, primed to embark on a new semester, Jill answers a few questions for Our Town.

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I’ve just about had it with street fests. Market Days sent me over the edge. If I ran a street fest we’d serve fruit cups and cucumber water. Who are these people who can deep throat an Italian sausage in the blazing sun?

And speaking of phallic stand-ins, who actually thinks it’s a good idea to bring a snake to a packed festival? Would you invite Death or Public Speaking? No, because just like Snakes, thousands fear them.

When I leave the house in summer I’m prepared to confront exes who’ve spent winter hibernating, road construction and drunken blonds in Cubs shirts and stilettos; but add snakes and humidity to the mix and agoraphobia’s looking better by the day.

Which brings me to refrigerators, specifically those dotting the Magnificent Mile. An ostensibly snake-less summer attraction, the contraptions, dubbed “Fine Art Fridges,” are part of an art exhibit sponsored by ComEd. Representing everything from architecture to the gulf oil spill, the exhibit features work of local artists like Lucy Slivinski, whose piece, “In the Land of Love, There is No Garbage” is located at 505 N. Michigan Ave. Other artists including Mike Helbing and Nicole Beck also contribute, offering a total of nine inventive iceboxes.

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