Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Untied Artists of Rockford

There's this very small building tucked in between two larger buildings on 7th Street here in Rockford, Illinois. For decades now 7th Street has been the street in our city known for prostitution and drug dealing. If you wanted to misbehave, you went to 7th Street. It is also remembered by older Rockfordians as a grand corridor of factories and furniture makers emblematic of their Swedish heritage and Rockford's glory days. The sound you hear me making is simulated masturbation, because those days are forty years behind us. Those grand building have been sitting and decaying for twenty-five years. A few developers own most of them, and allow them to sit and rot until they can find a way to get the public to pay them to create condos or a retail space that will soon become irrelevant because no one wants to go to Midtown because even if things are changing for the better all they remember is what they've seen on the police blotter all their lives. All of that back history related so I can say this...

This is the Untied Artists Building at 205 7th Street in Rockford, Illinois, America's 3rd most miserable, uneducated, fattest, and dangerous city.  For about a decade I have been walking by it and dreaming I'd buy it and have a creative bureau where all my favorite creators just punched in whenever they damn well felt like it and worked on whatever they wanted. Obviously that will never happen, but I can say in that past decade all of those people have done amazing work and I think they are all awesome. Oh, J painted this. I now own the Untied Artists Building, sort of.
I normally dislike small spaces and buildings, but for some reason this tiny place just captures my imagination. Last night J and I peaked in as we were on our way to Phoenix Traders to deliver copies of the latest Zombie Logic Press book The Blood Dark Sea by Dennis Gulling for his shelves. There wasn't much to see. I don't ever remember anyone being in there, or it having been open for any purpose, but of course one of the local vulture slum lords owns it and has no intention of keeping it up like a decent human being or offering it for sale so someone else can. To let the once majestic structures of a city like Rockford sit and crumble must be some sort of cosmic crime. Of course it's not the type of crime we prosecute in America. In fact, we celebrate vultures who prosper this way, because they succeed, if you call allowing neighborhoods to crumble for years, even decades so you can profiteer from them later being a successful human being.

I don't. But then again, I make things, and tend to evaluate people by what they create, teach others, and contribute to the general pool of ideas and objects that move us ever forward instead of backwards. Rockford is just one of those places that loves the past. And longs to return to a past that will never, ever exist again. The way forward is creativity, ingenuity, and accepting the fact that the world has moved on ,and as a city we need to move on with it.

What I'm pining for here was never more than a small pipe dream of mine. The adult in me knew I was never going to own a building where all my friends showed up and made whatever they wanted and people were going to give us money and everything would be a happy ending. But in that past decade those friends have been incredibly productive here in Rockford. Painters, photographers, musicians, poets, videographers, web developers, dancers, spoken word artists... so it turns out The Untied Artists Bureau is just a metaphor for the life I live already, and am so proud of and grateful for. And neighborhoods like Midtown and Downtown are now coming back. Soon we won't even be able to afford to live in the places we helped survive the darkest days of decay and paying for the sins of the past.

But that's ok, because we'll be somewhere else creating and dreaming and breathing life into places others left for dead. 

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