Chicago artist Kamau Patton awarded $100,000 for a new project

Kamau Patton uses audio and photography to show audiences how people preserve history.

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Artist and art educator Kamau Patton is creating a new project with award he received from Creative Capital, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2020.

Artist Kamau Patton is creating a new project with a $100,000 award from Creative Capital.

Ahlaam Delange/Sun-Times

Kamau Patton invited himself to Chicago four years ago to perform alongside artist and musician Terry Adkins at Lone Wolf Recital Corps.

“I came here to make music, to play music, and it was interesting,” said Patton. “There is an attitude about preservation [in Chicago] that is really interesting to me.”

Patton, 48, is an interdisciplinary artist. He uses audio and photography to show audiences how people preserve history. He became interested in Chicago spaces, specifically how the Stony Island Arts Bank functions as a hybrid gallery and community center.

“All this stuff was inspirational,” said Patton. “When you’re thinking about being an artist and working in artists communities that are ... creating infrastructures of support and production ... model that flourishes here in Chicago.”

A transplant from Brooklyn, Patton works as an art educator at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

He created “Opener 32: Tel_” to stage a program of dialogues and workshops that engage people with museum collections at the Tang Teaching Museum in Saratoga Springs, New York.

He received a master’s of fine arts from Stanford University in 2007 and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Patton was inspired by the sustainability and diversity of the art scene in Chicago, and it influenced him to stay on the “third coast.”

“You’ve got folks that [are in] arts incubators, you’ve got a big DIY scene, punk scene and house music,” said Patton.

His upcoming project “Tel” will question how the nature of memory has changed with cyberspace and transmission technologies. The project name refers to the archeological term for a mound formed by the accumulated remains left by communities occupying a site over time. He wants to look at the scale of this “residue.”

“I think less about the outcome and more about the process,” Patton said. “To bear witness to that process through photography, through note-taking, through video, through audio recording and then putting all that stuff back out.”

Patton will fund the project with $100,000 he received from Creative Capital, a cultural philanthropy organization. Creative Capital was formed in 1999 after the National Endowment for the Arts ended a majority of its grants for individual artists. The group offers financial support, counseling, networking opportunities and career development services for artists.

“From the start, we set out to really support artists that were ready to take a leap and want to do a more ambitious project,” said Susan Delvalle, president and executive director of Creative Capital.

Devalle said artists often must consider the motivations and agendas of other institutions they work with, which influences the breadth of their work.

“Creative Capital [has] offered an opportunity to continue this work with an increased agency,” said Patton. “An increased freedom to define things in my own terms.”

“I can define my own terms of sight,” said Patton. “Because now I have the means and I have the resources of this institution that has dedicated itself to artist independence.”

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