Rhoda Rosen & Billy McGuinness, School of the Art Institute
Faced with the appalling statistics issued by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which estimates the number of Chicagoans experiencing homelessness in the course of the 2014-15 school year at an inexcusable 125,848, service organizations scramble to provide access to food, shelter, medical treatment, case management, and job training. This basic assistance is incredibly important of course, but studies show that providing vital services alone does not lead to any significant decline in homelessness. In fact, much poverty research suggests it may even entrench inequality by treating the condition of homelessness as a stable trait of a person’s identity, rather than a malleable set of circumstances. Just as a meal is handed to a person “in need”, so too may be his or her identity as a “homeless” person.
The Red Line Service art collaborative addresses this problem head-on by proposing that only cultural and intellectual enrichment has the capacity to expand the imaginative world of all people, including those who might currently be experiencing homelessness. It is our belief that providing soup for the belly is necessary but limited, while providing soup for the mind helps people author and shape alternative realities for themselves. Moreover, we invite fellow Chicagoans (homeless and otherwise) to join us, not as audience or recipients of programming, but as co-participants in an art practice that employs as its raw materials: meals, cultural and intellectual programming, field trips, and critical conversations. By refusing the entrenched narratives of need and service, by reclaiming Chicago and its cultural venues as our laboratory, together we re-imagine our city as caring and just, carve out spaces for alternative realities to take root, and generate new possibilities for ourselves to flourish, outside of our limited legislated selves.