In the city of Chicago, notorious for its extensive redlining practices and the production of highly segregated neighborhoods, there is a 30-year gap in life expectancy between the Streeterville and Englewood neighborhoods, the largest in the nation. Poor public health statistics are also a measure in part of environmental injustices, when poorer and racialized neighborhoods are saddled with toxic emissions and contamination, lack of green space, heat islands, and overall disproportionate health hazards.
Grassroots organizers have responded to these abuses, and they have had many victories. In order to support their work, many organizations gave toxic and educational tours as a way to educate the public about these injustices and their campaigns. Now in the time of Covid and social distancing, when these tours have largely stopped, Chemical (Re)actions makes some of this information available remotely and invites artists, activists, designers and filmmakers to respond to these legacies and strategies as propositional methods for further inquiry on the limits and potentialities of the tactics proposed by these groups.
On December 14, 2020, Chemical (Re)actions will launch The Tactical Gardens, an open call for video essays to engage with the legacy of Hazel Johnson, the community of Altgeld Gardens and the work of People for Community Recovery. Programming will continue into 2021 with panel discussions, lectures, and virtual screenings in collaboration with selected artists, environmental rights organizations.
Chemical (Re)Actions: On Environmental Struggles in Chicago, a project by the Goethe-Institut, launches an open call for video essays to engage with the legacy of Hazel Johnson, the community of Altgeld Gardens and the work of People for Community Recovery.The Tactical Gardens is the first of three platforms exploring questions of pollution, remediation, class struggles, segregation, industry and real estate development in collaboration with environmental activist groups in the city.
The Tactical Gardens invites artists, designers, architects, writers, filmmakers, community organizers and activists to engage with the history of Altgeld Gardens and to further explore the ways in which we think and deal with environmental injustice, racism, inequality and toxic burdens for minoritized communities around the globe and in the city of Chicago.
Three works will be selected by a jury of curators and members of the community organizations and will be shown in a virtual screening hosted by the Goethe-Institut Chicago.
Open Call details and submission guidelines
On Jan 19, we discussed Environmental Activism and the Arts in South America with Argentine curator and arts researcher Leandro Martinez Depietri and Chemical (Re)actions curator and artist Alberto Ortega Trejo on Instagram Live.
Sites of Engagement
She and her collaborators successfully held the CHA accountable for asbestos removal from Altgeld Gardens and all public housing projects, brought city water lines to the residents of Maryland Manor, achieved a moratorium on landfill expansion, shutdown municipal incineration and helped to achieve a federal commitment to environmental justice principles through the signing of the Executive Order #12898 in 1994 by President Clinton.
Throughout this time, PCR cultivated community training programs to educate residents on environmental subjects specific to living in a zone of contamination. After School Matters trained teens in culinary and horticultural skills, while Minority Worker Training taught skills for working safely with hazardous materials. Programming topics have also included photography, gardening, and lead safety. Hazel Johnson died in 2011, and was succeeded by her daughter Cheryl who continues her work and carries her legacy.
The Tactical Gardens
Now, this stretch along the I-55 industrial corridor has been gentrifying and shifting economies. The competing interests of heavy industry, affordable housing, retail and public health are only a few of the stakeholders who will decide the future of a neighborhood.
The project is a cooperative effort with People for Community Recovery, an original founder in the environmental justice movement in this country, the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, who have fought successful campaigns against lead pollution in the air, soil and water; and Friends of the Chicago River, who work to improve the health of 156-mile Chicago River system which includes the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River, widely known as Bubbly Creek.
Project concept and coordination by Joshi Radin and Alberto Ortega Trejo.