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Producing Local Color

Art Networks in Ethnic Chicago

In big cities, major museums and elite galleries tend to dominate our idea of the art world. But beyond the cultural core ruled by these moneyed institutions and their patrons are vibrant, local communities of artists and art lovers operating beneath the high-culture radar. Producing Local Color is a guided tour of three such alternative worlds that thrive in the Chicago neighborhoods of Bronzeville, Pilsen, and Rogers Park.

These three neighborhoods are, respectively, historically African American, predominantly Mexican American, and proudly ethnically mixed. Drawing on her ethnographic research in each place, Diane Grams presents and analyzes the different kinds of networks of interest and support that sustain the making of art outside of the limelight. And she introduces us to the various individuals—from cutting-edge artists to collectors to municipal planners—who work together to develop their communities, honor their history, and enrich the experiences of their neighbors through art. Along with its novel insights into these little examined art worlds, Producing Local Color also provides a thought-provoking account of how urban neighborhoods change and grow.

328 pages | 20 color plates, 2 halftones, 7 figures, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Art: American Art

Chicago and Illinois

Sociology: Sociology of Arts--Leisure, Sports, Urban and Rural Sociology


“This is a very good book with a lot to say to sociologists, local history aficionados in Chicago, anyone concerned with the business and politics of art, and people who want to understand the processes of urban growth as they occur at the most immediate level. Diane Grams succeeds in delivering a mountain of interesting information put together in an analytically innovative way. Producing Local Color will add to the literature on the contribution of arts to community development—in all the possible meanings of those weighty but ambiguous terms—as well as to our understanding of art worlds, art organizations, and the art they produce. Grams’s analytic innovations are intelligent, thoroughly grounded in the data, and very useful in understanding what’s going on.”

Howard S. Becker, author of Art Worlds

Producing Local Color is a valuable contribution to our understanding of a subject that sociologists of art have largely neglected, ethnic art, and holds important implications for theories in that field. Diane Grams develops a theory of local art production through social networks that draw on available resources in urban communities and contribute not only to the production of art but also urban redevelopment. Grams’ approach to art as the result of network-based resource mobilization is at odds with the traditional art historical perspective that focuses on art as produced by geniuses as well as the usual sociological approach that views it as produced and consumed by elites. Clearly written, well organized, and accessible, Producing Local Color will be very useful for students and researchers in a wide variety of fields.”

Diana Crane, University of Pennsylvania

“[Grams’] method is observational and her writing tends to be scientific rather than flashy or theoretical. This is a refreshing perspective, like an economist explaining the art market or a chemist detailing an artist’s media. As the local politics and ethnic identities of each case study is so specific, Grams’ micro-lens produces a realistic picture of the city at each turn. Although the material is straightforward, the author’s findings are edifying. Producing Local Color is required reading for anyone seeking to understand why Chicago’s many art scenes feel disconnected or scattered.”


Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
From the Blues to Black Chicago
Art and Urban Places in the Twenty-First Century
Design of the Study
Finding a Research Method
Structure of the Book
ONE / Theory of Local Art Production Networks
From Individual to Network Perspectives
Production of Culture as a Research Perspective
Types of Local Art Production Networks
TWO / Local Places
Chicago as a Model of a City
Revalorizing the City Center and Surrounding Locales
Local People and Local Color
Change after the Modern Industrial Era
THREE / Community-Based Art and the Ideologies of Local Participation
Mid-Century Arts Activism in Chicago
A Museum to Represent “a Community”
Community-Based as Activating a Community
Formalization of the Community-Based Approach
Pursuit of Institutional Legitimacy
Intersection of Political and Cultural Capital
FOUR / Aesthetic Networks and Cultural Capital
Sociology and Aesthetics
Participants and Resources
Distinction of the Black Middle Class
How Collections Manage the Uncertainty of Subjective Judgment
Men’s Work versus Women’s Work
Formal Art Organizations and Art Markets in Bronzeville
FIVE / Autonomy Networks and Artistic Control
Cutting-Edge Artists in Podville
Transnational: Freedom from Ethnicity
A Network of Museum-Quality Artists
SIX / Problem-Solving Networks and Social Stability
A Context of Cultural Diversity and Progressive Politics
Facing a Mile-Long Cement Wall
Problem-Solving Ethos in Rogers Park
Using Murals to Redefine Space
Rogers Park Business and Artists Networking Group
SEVEN / Gentrification Networks and the Whitewashing of Culture
Gentrification and Urban Transformation
Theories of Gentrification
Gentrification in Chicago
Gentrification: Establishment of Arbitrary Privileges
Exclusive Spaces for Elite-Culture Consumers
The Ethnically Driven Stability Machine
EIGHT / Empowerment Networks and the Restoration of Local Culture
A Place That History Passed By
An Empowerment Network
Contradiction and Innovation Surrounding the Bronzeville Landmarks
Local Investment Circuit
Advocates for a Fair Share of the Public Goods
Circuit of Artists and Administrators
Bronzeville as a Symbol of History and the Locale
NINE / Post-Urban Culture?
Researching Art in the Twenty-First Century
Importance of a New Framework
The Future of Race and Ethnicity
Unanswered Questions
Researching Art in the Twenty-First Century

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