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A.V. Club Chicago Interview: Ed Marszewski

Q&A with Chicago publisher, artist and entrepreneur Ed Marszewski about the MDW art fair. (Thumbnail image courtesy of MDW Fair)

Bridgeport artist-come entrepreuner Ed Marszewski keeps pretty busy. He is editor and publisher of Lumpen and Proximity, two Chicago-based art publications. He mans the helm at the experimental art center, Co-Prosperity Sphere. Along with his brother Mike, he keeps the drinks flowing at Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar, the watering hole named for his mother. He and wife Rachael have a ten-month-old baby, Ruby Dean.

Now, Marszewski is gearing up for his newest project, the MDW (pronounced Midway) Fair, an art fair happening this weekend at Geolofts (3636 S. Iron Street) in his own neighborhood, Bridgeport. After teaming up with fellow arts organizations threewalls and Roots & Culture, Marszewski rounded up 66 local arts and media groups to participate in an “independent exhibition” as part of Version Fest 2011. The A.V. Club swung by Maria’s to chat with him about the fair, Chicago’s islands of art neighborhoods and the finer points of running a bar.

A.V. Club: How long have you been in the neighborhood?

Edward Marszewski: I’ve been here on and off for the past 20 some odd years. I grew up in Evergreen Park, one of the farther south suburbs in Chicago. I lived in 32nd and Parnell and 33rd and Wallace and now I live on 32nd and Morgan. I either lived in Wicker Park or here for the past 20 or so years.

AVC: How did the idea for the MDW Fair come about?

EM: A bunch of us had been wanting to do an independent art fair for years. Each year we’d keep looking for spaces that were close to the Loop or the West Loop. Each year we’d fail. I did a bunch of Version Fest programming at this place called the Geolofts years ago. That was when we started doing our big Brideport-based festival stuff.

[Geolofts] seemed amenable to doing something. There’s a group of us that hang out and talk once in while from Eric May from Roots & Culture and Shannon [Strattor] from threewalls. Anyways, I don’t know what happened. We decided to not do this other fair called InfoExpo and to make this more specifically a visual art fair in the true sense. I just called them up and we said, “Let’s do it.”

AVC: There are a bunch of different galleries and organizations participating. You have smaller scale spaces like Roxaboxen but then more commercial places like Packer Schopf.

EM: There are non-profit organizations, like the Hyde Park Art Center and even the city of Chicago is participating. Apartment spaces, like Second Bedroom and 65 GRAND are coming as well. It’s a wide variety of what comprises the art ecology of Chicago in terms of spaces and groups. We also are including nomadic spaces like the 12 Galleries Project to Linden Warren Gallery, Western Exhibitions and, of course, Roots &Culture, threewalls and Co-Prosperity Sphere.

AVC: Is the fair more exhibition-based of informational? What’s the main goal for getting all these groups together?

EM: It’s definitely an art fair so it’s mostly exhibition along with a talks program and a few performances the first night. It’s a straight deal. Come in, on the first floor you’ll be able to check out a curated sculpture garden. On the second and third floor are the different booths and spaces showing at the fair.

AVC: Was combining this diversity of organizations part of the mission to begin with? Was this art fair meant to be more community focused and an alternative to the larger art fairs that happen at Merchandise Mart or Navy Pier?

EM: It was meant to show the independent face of what the long-running entities in Chicago can do along with younger groups. If we could find space somewhere else, even Navy Pier, I’d do it there. The key is to make it really affordable for everyone. It’s affordable to do things in Bridgeport. We looked into doing it at a hotel but that fell through as well. The opportunity with this particular space arose so we took the opportunity. If we had [more] money we’d do it somewhere else.

AVC: You would do a more central venue if you could? It wasn’t about being in Bridgeport from the beginning?

EM: Closer to the Loop, maybe. I don’t know. If there was parking. However, we used the initials of Midway airport, MDW, to represent the South side base. Midway has all different kinds of meanings depending on what you want to read into it.

The opportunity arose and the three groups wanted to do something together. It was pretty easy. Really, in Chicago, you can do anything you want to do if you’re working with the right people.

In this sense, working with those guys is fantastic. Partnering with them has been an ideal thing to do because we all love Chicago. We love what happens here in the independent art scenes.

AVC: What is it about Chicago?

EM: You’ve got the great schools here. You’ve got affordable space.

AVC: Is it the lack of pretension that maybe some other cities in the art world have?

EM: There are definitely pretentious artists here. We work together because we want to be open to other organizations, groups and ideas. We like one another. I think most art spaces like one another in Chicago. Most people get along.

AVC: So it’s more supportive, less self-serving?

EM: Jeez, I don’t know. If it was self-serving I guess I’d have a huge Co-Prosperity booth [at the MDW Fair.] We don’t even have a booth.

Our mission is just to support what happens in Chicago and to export that to the rest of the world and to try to explain how great Chicago is as an art community or an art ecology.

AVC: How do you characterize Chicago as an art community?

EM: You look at anything from the institutions, like the schools and the museums, along with other non-profit spaces, put that with the locations of different storefront spaces and apartment galleries, and you can see how the different art worlds work. If you’re based in North Side or Wicker Park there are certain groups of people that work together. If you’re located in the West Loop there are different groups of people working in the contemporary world or the secondary market. Together, these scenes overlap.

AVC: On that note, do you think there’s a danger of Chicago becoming too neighborhood-centric? People get isolated in these neighborhood islands?

EM: Everything moves, everything is always in transit depending on real estate value. It really doesn’t matter.

AVC: You don’t think neighborhood cultures develop?

EM: For sure, in some ways. If there’s a place that’s more affordable for artists or creative types to live, more activity is bound to happen there. It’s just based on simple economics.

But you’re always going to have commercial venues downtown and then spaces forming around where those artists are living. It makes it difficult to navigate for those who are new here but if you’ve been here it’s easy to discover what’s happening. All you have to do is talk to people at shows or look online.

AVC: You do tons more than just the Version Fest/MDW Fair organization. How’s the transition been moving from the art world into the business world with Maria’s?

EM: It’s all pretty much the same thing. Whether you’re doing art or publishing or writing or whatever it’s all in the realm of people and having a venue for projects. So many of my memories involve that bar. It’s a meeting place, it’s for the community so it works well with other things I do.

A.V. Club Chicago Interview: Ed Marszewski