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February 22, 2002

Kill Obscurity

I want to tell you about things to do in Chicago. I want you to get out of Hyde Park more, meet random people, and be useful. I guess the theme here will be community. Build it, find it, support it where it exists.

Chicago is called a city of neighborhoods, often because the atmosphere, racial and cultural makeup, and resource level can palpably shift when you cross some street and land in the next box in the grid. The city catalogs 77 "community areas" and it is the rule, not the exception, that two adjoining "areas" have drastically different demographics. Hyde Park is one of the few that, on the basis of total numbers (if not resident experience), is racially integrated. There's an upside to all this compartmentalization: neighborhood identity can develop around a cultural commonality. Visiting Pilsen or the Ukrainian Village, even as they gentrify and homogenize, still gives a distinct flavor of another place.

One North Side neighborhood stands out as incredibly diverse and lively — Albany Park, a melting pot called home by significant Cuban, Korean, Persian, and Swedish constituencies. A group doing amazing community-building work up there is the Albany Park Theater Project, a youth theater collective which puts on shows written from the real-life stories of the 13- to 21-year-old group members. You get the full range: rending stories of institutionalization and abuse, and lighter fare like pot-toking, lounge-singing grandparents in love. It rises far above the level of teen angst to community storytelling of the highest degree.

Check out their Leaves Growing Trees show this Friday and Saturday at the Vittum Theater, 1012 North Noble Street (not their usual spot, which is in Albany Park).

Or for something totally different? See how guys of the female persuasion are reinventing genderfuck: check out a drag show by the Chicago Kings. Major, tight community not bounded by streets.

Like music? You must check out the Old Town School of Folk Music up in Lincoln Square. They not only put on incredible shows in an intimate setting, but they want you involved. Jam with like-minded locals on the first Friday of every month. March 1 it's Late Night Jazz; pay a suggested $4 and dig in to their community music night.

Pedal with Critical Mass. They're a global organization which promotes the use of bicycles as a mass alternative to cars and car culture. The Chicago chapter has an annual ride with bikers take over downtown for one shining afternoon.

How about art? Volunteer at the nearby Little Black Pearl, an art workshop space at 4200 South Drexel. They do after-school programs, paint murals in train stations, and make beautiful things.

Get involved with Women in the Director's Chair, a support network for women in film which holds awesome screenings. Their festival is right around the corner.

Scavenge at Creative ReUse Warehouse, where you can rescue goodies that corporations and schools have consigned to oblivion. Find rubber, leather, and vellum in industrial quantities; intercept piles of greeting cards, mismatched firefighter gloves, gorgeous old maps, cinder blocks, and twine before they meet their landfill fate. (Note that they recently moved from their UIC location to 222 135th Street, which is far but accessible by public transportation, pending future relocation.)

OK, I just did some serious namedropping, and I'm going to avoid giving detailed info with this easy ploy: any group or activity I mention has a web presence easily accessed by Googling the name. Try it, you'll like it.

—Moon Duchin