Logan Square‘s annual Milwaukee Avenue Arts Fest (MAAF), hosted in part by the nonprofit organization I AM Logan Square (IALS, @IAmLoganSquare, 2644 N. Milwaukee Ave.), is best known for showcasing the talents of local artists, musicians, businesses and vendors of all types. A growing number of residents have begun asking whether the six-year-old festival has deviated from its original roots as an all-inclusive celebration of local art.
This year, the abrupt and contentious removal of an exhibition created by artist Amie Sell has prompted a petition with (as of press time) 251 supporters calling for IALS to remove treasurer Mark Fishman from its board.
Art Abruptly Removed from MAAF
Sell, a nine-year resident of the neighborhood, developed an installation for MAAF called “Home Sweet Home” that juxtaposed household items, such as blankets and chairs, with photos of local apartment buildings. The pictures were accompanied by captions criticizing M. Fishman & Co., the real estate company responsible for widespread rent hikes that resulted in evictions at the pictured buildings.
The installation was coincidentally located at one of the very buildings where residents had been displaced by the company. On MAAF’s opening day, Sell arrived at the festival to discover that a representative from M. Fishman & Co. had removed and bagged up her work.
Complications to IALS
IALS’ board and the MAAF organizers had met independently about Sell’s work and both agreed to keep the exhibit up. As IALS president Geary Yonker explained in a DNA Info article, it was “the official stance of the fest that we were not going to take it down.” However, Fishman & Co. had donated space at a number of buildings for the show, and therefore had the ultimate say in the matter.
As of 2012, the board did not have written bylaws on conflicts of interest, so installation’s removal did not directly conflict with IALS’ policies.
In an email, Yonker says the board is reviewing the agreements that property owners sign to allow them to create MAAF’s pop-up galleries. In addition, the board is working to add a clause to these agreements, effective in 2015, that would “prevent any property owner from removing or altering any installed piece.”
Yonker also says the resources Fishman brings to IALS come hand-in-hand with an unusual amount of controversy, especially for a neighborhood arts organization. Though he believes Fishman would likely only leave the board of his own accord, Yonker says the group would endure without him.
“I AM Logan Square is not made possible by the resources of just one person, no matter how vast those resources may be,” he says. “The organization endures because of success of [MAAF] and because of the effort and ideas that so many people pour into the festival every summer. As long as there are people willing to help create the MAAF, the festival will grow and I AM Logan Square will survive. It’s bigger than any one person.”
According to Sell, the community’s response to the petition urging for Fishman’s removal from the board has been positive. A number of people have reached out to share their own experiences working with or renting properties from the firm.
“This story goes way beyond my art getting removed,” Sell says. “There are droves of people who want to move to [Logan Square] now, and the media’s been complicit in making this a young, hip area. Fishman’s catering to bring in a crowd of new, rich people to the neighborhood while displacing working-class people, low-income people and Latinos. Rents have doubled in some places where he’s evicted residents.”
“What [M. Fishman & Co.] has created is artificial. He’s just fueling the gentrification of Logan Square. This has always been a funky neighborhood, full of ups and downs and both beauty and decay at the same time,” she says.
As of press time, M. Fishman & Co. declined to comment on the matter.