NNWAC was founded by artists, teachers, and social activists. The purpose continues to resonate after twenty-six years: to share the power of creativity building a network of resources that supports a vibrant arts environment, in a neighborhood context.
Why do we need culture? And what does culture do for community? It adds value, attracts investment, engages students more deeply, builds and sustains social groups.
All human intelligence including scientific and political knowledge is derived from artistic creativity. Everyone needs to be creative.
NNWAC, an artist directed non-profit organization founded in 1986, strives to create, protect, design and manage space for multidisciplinary arts activities. This includes services for local artists, space for arts education workshops and exchange with international artists.
In the past twenty years NNWAC has organized arts festivals, outdoor film programs, public art installations, arts education workshops, and hosted exhibits that launched many careers.
NNWAC is artist directed and as such, fostered programs that linked mature, experienced artists, with emerging artists and students. NNWAC’s goal is to engage the public in a year round cultural programs that encourages participation in life-long learning.
The prevailing opinion is that arts activities create a measurable economic impact; for every $1 invested there is an $8 return. Grants from government and corporate sponsors generally account for less than 15% of arts budgets. The majority of arts organizations that create new work operate on annual budgets of less than $50,000. This indicates that the artists themselves subsidize most creative work. The NEA and Columbia University Center for Creative Culture reports that artists typically earn less than $5000 per year from their art, which makes their work unsustainable.
Residents, artists and business owners within the Wicker Park Bucktown community are fearful that the commercial district is losing its unique character and is being displaced with high style retail. The Wicker Park Bucktown SSA commissioned a cultural audit in which artists complained bitterly about displacement and suggested ways to collaborate.
Back in 1985, when Harold Washington was Mayor, Fred Fine was the city's first Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, NNWAC was initiated in a series of town meetings organized by local artists. NNWAC worked with the chamber of commerce to host studio tours. Face the Street was a guerilla arts festival, a challenge to artists to engage local audiences.
NNWAC created its first home at the Flat Iron Building from 1986 to 1996, initiating an artist’s district in hosting exhibits, poetry, performance, video and studio tours serving more than 2000 artists in programs year round. NNWAC has always reflected the energy of artists not as a gatekeeper but as a resource open to new ideas that activate creative space in a professional manner and engage an inter-generational audience. In the early years, the economics were easy. Storefront space was cheap and plentiful.
All it took was a good idea, a handshake agreement and an exhibit, a theater event, or a public art festival was launched.
The arts activity successfully refocused economic investment in the neighborhood. If gentrification is vicious, it may just eat the heart and soul of what makes the neighborhood vibrant. The artists set the stage, but lacked access to capital to earn back the early investment.
Board of Directors
John Ketterson, President
Martin Rathgeber, Secretary
John Paige, Director
Laura Weathered, Executive Director
investors + partners
Urban Theater Company
NeuroKitchen Arts Collective
National Trust for Historic Preservation
City of Chicago, City Arts Grants
Chicago Artists Resourse.org
Nelson Algren Committee
Illinois Arts Council, a state agency
Chicago Food Coop
Trust for Public Land
Community TV Network
Law Project for Economic Development