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Art Exhibition Highlights Chicago's Housing Issues, Potential Solutions


Tuesday, April 26, 2022   

An upcoming art exhibition in Chicago aims to provide a new framework to view the city's struggles with housing, past and present.

Hosted by the Weinberg/Newton Gallery on North Milwaukee Street, the "Key Change" exhibition envisions the housing crisis through painting, collage, sculpture, video and large-scale installations.

Nabiha-Khan Giordano, co-director of the gallery, said the idea is to highlight alternative solutions to the housing crisis.

"Like most private ventures, there's a tremendous amount of asymmetry in private housing," Giordano pointed out. "And it's this very unevenness that many of the participants in the exhibition are compelled to represent."

The exhibit, which opens Friday and runs until July 16, comes as many people across the state struggle to meet their housing needs, since most pandemic-era support programs have ended. A February report from the Institute for Housing Studies estimates about one in four Illinois renters are behind on their rent, and more than half of renters who've fallen behind on their payments believe they could be evicted by May.

Isabel Strauss, an artist at Riff Studio, is an architect by training. Her work for the Key Change exhibit is a collage of images and artwork, some by Black artists, with archival photographs, including homes demolished due to racist housing initiatives. Strauss said part of her goal is to spur discussion on reparations for Black Americans.

"A lot of people shut down entirely when you even mention the idea of reparations," Strauss acknowledged. "But I think most of us -- from personal experience, or through the lens of the affordable housing crisis that's happening now -- I think most of us can understand the need and the desire to have a place to live."

Black people in America have historically been barred from homeownership through intentional urban planning choices and the discriminatory credit and insurance policies known as redlining. Strauss noted those practices have hampered the accumulation of wealth in Black communities.

"Homeownership has been a tool to accumulate wealth," Strauss explained. "It can be a financial asset and also give people a respite from the racial reckoning that we've seen publicly over the past couple years, but also many of us have known and lived with for much longer."

The Key Change exhibition is a collaboration between the Weinberg/Newton Gallery and Mercy Housing Lakefront, an affordable housing nonprofit. According to a news release, Mercy Housing operates more than 5,500 homes, with about 8,000 residents, across Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

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