Q&A: Chicago Urban Art Society

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Peter Kepha, 30, and his big sis Lauren Pacheco, 32, executive director and co-founder of Chicago Urban Art Society (CUAS), have a hard time labeling the art they house in their 4200 sq. foot space on 2229 S. Halsted. Though this isn’t their first foray into art curatorship (they, along with two other partners, formally ran the now defunct 32nd & Urban, in Bridgeport), the duo continuously develops their voice in the Chicago art world. Lauren says that creating a pretension-free, non-judgmental environment is key for their space’s philosophy.

As third-generation, Mexican-American Chicagoans, Peter and Lauren’s roots and life experiences are very present in their explanations of their influences and decisions in paving their path. Peter, formally trained at the American Academy of Art, first came into his own in graffiti art. Lauren, a University of Illinois-Chicago graduate, has a background in social work. Remezcla sat down with the Brighton Park sibs and talked art and community, as their not-for-profit celebrates its first anniversary this June.

What influenced you to turn “not-for-profit”?

Lauren: We reference our neighborhood, where we’re from. When you think of the community dynamics 25 years ago, you think of this community that was devoid of any after-school programming, any arts program initiatives, devoid of any positive youth environment. So we think about that.

And we think about how to create an environment where we connect people; we give them opportunities that they wouldn’t have normally had. And I think maybe my social work, and having been trained to have strong interpersonal skills, it all sorta of fit and worked.

Was location important when looking for CUAS’s new home?

Peter: Very much so. I refuse to go anywhere else. The Southside will always be my home. I told Lauren that if the opportunity came up to do something really cool in the Northside, I just couldn’t be a part of it, I just won’t leave the Southside. We just need it too much over here.

Lauren: One, there isn’t space this big and affordable on the Northside, so we all recognize that, right? But secondly, you recognize that we could sell out every show up north. And I feel bad sometimes dealing with artists, and we’re looking at price points, but we just wouldn’t have the same flair, the same passion for what we’re doing.

We’re just 10 blocks from our old gallery in Bridgeport. We didn’t want to move up north. We wanted to stay rooted as close to our home as we could. We wish we could have opened up a space in Brighton Park… our community is just not ready for that right now. We hope one day to go back there and set something up.

What kind of work do you hope to continue to show?

Lauren: It’s a true reflection of what we hope to accomplish, to have people come in and see things that they would see in the street and the beauty that they would see in the street, that they see here in the gallery.

Peter: I came up in graffiti; obviously I’m going to like urban things. I run a graphic design business, so obviously I like graphic things. You know, I wanted to be an architect when I was little, so obviously I’m going to like structural kind of things. You know I love working with my hands, so I like things that are built. You know I’m a garbage picker, so I like things that look a little rough. I’m always going to have this urban aesthetic. You know I love the city, we grew up on a busy street, so we’re used to constant noise. I need noise. It’s just all that combined.

As you approach your one-year anniversary, what do you envision for your center’s future? What kind of space do you want to create for this community?

Peter: I just want to create what I craved as a youth; somewhere comfortable somewhere that I could come and be myself; and not have to worry about being judged. Something where these kids don’t have to go and take four trains, two buses to get to this one place where you could be with like-minded kids. Creating that kind of environment where we could reach people further out, those that often feel forgotten.


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