Spaces: The Plaines Project

posted in: Etta Sandry, Spaces | 0

My interest in Do-It-Yourself spaces as a contributor for Make Space comes from a variety of perspectives. I think that DIY spaces are important for artists and creators that often don’t fit into main-stream venues, whether those be concert halls or commercial galleries. DIY spaces are places where those artists can convene, share, exhibit and collaborate. I am curious about who runs these spaces and why they started them. What is their mission? Who do they show? How has the space changed since it was first started? I am interested in these questions as an artist, as a student, as an urban resident, and most importantly as a fellow DIY arts-organizer. Through my investigations of these spaces, I hope to learn a lot from other organizers. The Plaines Project seemed like a logical place to start. I still don’t know much of the history of the place and plan to investigate it through an interview with Carter Lashley later this month. From there, I will branch out to other DIY spaces, starting in Pilsen and then broaden my focus to the rest of Chicago and beyond.

Plaines Project

Located on Desplaines, it’s namesake street, in the east part of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, The Plaines Project is a two-story brick faced house – Chicago style where the first floor is actually located four steps above street level with the basement underneath. The front door opens onto a hallway and staircase whose linoleum surface has been painted a bright navy blue. Walking up the stairs brings you into the kitchen where years’ worth of photos, posters, and various other objects line the windowsills, walls, and refrigerator. Off to the side, there’s a library with a diverse collection of plants, books, zines, and newspapers. After the kitchen is the living room, in which the house’s VHS tape collection resides, along with a faded old dusty couch.

If you take the blue hallway straight back into the house from the front door, you’ll head into the gallery space. The walls are tall and white and brightly lit when all the track lights are on and the floor is black and shiny after it’s just been mopped. A cramped set of stairs in the corner takes you down to the basement. The ceilings aren’t as tall down there, the floor’s rather grimy and there’s one of those musty, damp basement smells. This is where the music shows usually take place, although we sometimes mix it up and have quieter sets upstairs when we’re trying to make things cozy. A dimly lit, cement floor hallway takes you to the back of the house, into the backyard. Lit with strings of lights and full of mis-matched chairs and objects in varying states of wholeness, eclectic and magical are two words that can aptly describe the backyard. During shows, this is where people smoke cigarettes and convene in between sets or after they’ve made their way through the gallery.

I moved into the Plaines Project in May of 2011. I had only been to the space a couple times before moving in and didn’t know much about it or its history as a Chicago DIY arts space and music venue. When I first moved in, I completed a house of four residents, including Carter Lashley, one of the founding members of the Plaines Project. We are now five residents, plus two cats, but I’ve heard of times when there were eight (or maybe ten?) people living here at a time. The house has been in existence as “The Plaines Project” five years now and for some time before that, was a space called Dogmatic. One of the doors to the basement still has the name, DOGMATIC, stenciled in purple on the blue, chipped, paint.

Carter, the last remaining founder of Plaines Project moved out in September. At first it was disconcerting. How do we continue this space with so much past history? How do we keep it going? Can we? As time has passed, these questions have become less concerning. As with any other collective space, the Plaines Project goes through phases and constant flux is inevitable. Each resident brings his or her own contribution to the space through the types of events that are organized, the music that’s played in the kitchen, by creating infrastructure in the house, or even by doing the dishes. This confluence of input adds dynamism as well as balance to the house. The result is an exciting calendar of music, arts, and sharing events organized by all members. Within the last couple months we’ve had a variety of music shows, from acoustic/folk to drone to punk. The bands consist of friends from the Chicago music scene and local projects we admire, as well as touring groups who we want to support. We are partnered with the ACRE residency program and are putting on a series of art shows with ACRE artists. The gallery space has also been host to a stuff swap, a costume photo shoot, and a literary reading. The future holds more to come, with the next few months already filled up with two to three events per month.