Step back from the cliché, and you can hear multiple meanings in the phrase "make believe." There's our familiar sense of something imaginary, but in the language of urban renewal, there is also a command about building and hoping. Entwine the two notions and you've got the concept for a new urban art project in Chicago. "Make Believe," a competition run by the Wicker Park Bucktown area's local improvement organization, WPB, is currently asking artists to submit proposals for installation pieces. What distinguishes the contest is that all these pieces will be staged in unoccupied retail spaces. "Ten finalists will each be given a stipend and a vacant storefront," says the project's producer, Shannon Downey. The displays will go up in July, and an open vote will determine the winner.
Downey says the idea behind the displays is "to reinvigorate these spaces ... to heighten neighborhood pride and increase pedestrian traffic." Of course, by briefly filling the storefronts with beautiful things, the displays will also point up their usual vacancy, which brings the project back to that double-edged theme. While Downey is cagey about describing any of the proposals they've received so far, they want the subject of the art—not just the existence of it—to conceive a bustling Wicker Park Bucktown of the future, one that wouldn't have vacant storefronts to pass around. In Downey's words, "the project will encourage artists to innovate the next stages of industry evolution." In short, imagination and empowerment can look very similar.
Applications are due May 26 at midnight.