Great Lakes Tour: Part 1 – Lake Michigan

Photographer and University of Kentucky Educator James R Southard was sent on assignment to circle the Great Lakes – Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario – and document artists, their lives, work habits, social networking and physical environments. This begins a series of five installments, one for each lake. 



I came to Lake Michigan with only a vague understanding of the area. I had heard that Chicago was a college city that emptied out during the summer and I knew little to nothing about Milwaukee. Being that Chicago was the largest city of this trip, I felt I’d spend much of my time in art studios and museums combing over artwork I had studied in art school while spending my evenings at restaurants I had read about in foodie publications. Its reputation of being the Second City, I imagined that artists were being priced out all over the city which would make the art community more spread out and reduce the amount of evening art programming. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 



Chicago – First night of my trip, I stopped into Chicago Cultural Center to see a new commissioned performance by national and international artists that were to reference the Goat Island Performance Archive. Apparently, the center is constantly running programing, even in the summer. Happy to hear that Chicago wasn’t simply a college town where it got quiet in the summer. I knew this was a great start to this trip.
Steve Scott-Bottoms and Aram Atamian


Chicago – I met up with Joseph Ravens (director of DFBRL8R) after a performance at the Chicago Cultural Center. Little did I know I’d be spending much of my evenings in Chicago with their performance festival, Bubbly Creek Performance Art Assembly.
Angeliki Chaido Tsoli, Diana Soria and Joseph Ravens

Chicago – Giulia Mattera’s piece at the Bubbly Creek Performance Assembly. She laid in the tub of cold water for hours only accompanied by her pet salamander. Soon after she started, people began to approach to hold her hand and comfort her.

Chicago – Ieke Trinks’ performance for the festival where she swept trash down the sidewalk from the Halsted Metro stop all the way to 35th street. It took her the entire evening and I had the constant urge to pick up trash ahead of her to throw in the trash bins.

Chicago – Santina Amato’s bread dough performance at festival was a reference to the connections between the fermentation of bread rising and the fertilization when the sperm meets an embryo. The smell of the rising dough reminded me so much of my teenage years working at a pizzeria. The final result was so.. organic and bodily looking.

Chicago – Diana Guerrero-Maciá brought me into her amazing home and studio space. She and her husband carved out a great home and work space for both of them. I asked her how many artists in Chicago can afford home studios and she suggested it was more common than you’d think. With studios getting more expensive and available spaces being further and further from the city center, it was just easier to build under their feet.

Chicago – Joe Adamik has built out a work space for him to record his music and to continue his involvement in the Chicago music scene. After his years in the band, Califone, he started playing with bands like Iron and Wine. He schooled me on how musicians get by in Chicago either from small paid gigs and or with other jobs to subsidize their music careers.

Chicago – I visited Paul Catanese in his spacious studio while he was working hard to finish up his opera. His work comes in a variety of forms, performance, sound, sculpture and so on. I would think this would make it harder for him to find a community in Chicago, though it seems this was a very good place for artists working in this fashion.

Chicago – Tanya Gills’ studio practice requires a strong link to India via hand made materials and the unique housing construction she witnessed while on Fulbright in New Delhi. She still continues this long relationship with the textile workers in India’s caste system. She told me that if she didn’t have her studio supported by the Hyde Park Art Center, it would be difficult to find an affordable space in the city.

Chicago – I visited Laura Wetter in her studio in northern Chicago above a beautiful historic church. Aside from her studio practice, she’s a social worker and is extremely engaged with local politics. I hadn’t met someone so knowledgeable about the goings on in the city and it made me eager to attend more city council meetings when I got back home.

Chicago – I read about Calumet Fisheries and was eager to visit this rare spot. This on site smoke house has been here since the 1920s where they still use Oak to smoke all kinds of fish. I stopped by and spoke with Ray Campos about their smokehouse and how rare it was to find people keeping this tradition alive. I have to say, the shrimp were enough to make me want to quit my job and build my own smokehouse for seafood in Kentucky.



Milwaukee is rather passionate about their lake. When reaching out to the local artists, a few told me to meet them at an international commission on the status of the Great Lakes. It was rather inspiring to see the good attendance and how many people were willing to volunteer to make the lakes and waterways clean for drinking, recreation, and for aquatic life.

Milwaukee – Joseph P Mougel showed me his unique photo practice, where he was exposing Ambrotypes to Google Maps via iPads. Interesting way to play with both digital and analog imaging. I must bring up that he showed up and hosted me, even though his baby was just born the day before. He still had the hospital wristband on, so I felt honored that he gave me his time and was eager to help me in my journey.

Milwaukee – I had heard about Nathaniel E. Stern from my colleagues who, like him, taught interactive art. Nathaniel has found a way for the university and state institutions to support up to four studio assistants. The man has a squad of students working directly with him on his projects and learning professional practices in the process. This has made his studio much more productive. I took a good deal of notes on of how he manages his teaching load, family life and studio practice with this available pool of willing assistants and how I could utilize such a workforce back at my own university. I dub him, Dr. Grantwriter.
Nathaniel Stern/ Mary Widener, Sammy Yahiaoui, Josh Passon, Samantha Tan.


When leaving Lake Michigan, I realized how little I knew and how wrong my preconceptions were about the area. Chicago wasn’t emptied out for summer break at all. There wasn’t a single night I was there where there wasn’t a reception or performance scheduled and I had my days booked from dawn to dusk with artists who hadn’t left the city. I also found that getting around the city was much easier than I expected. If one doesn’t need to go downtown, you could easily drive around the city with your materials to your studio. I did find rents going up in areas near the subway lines. Instead of spending the majority of my time in northern Chicago near the blue line, I was in the south end which I felt was much more lively with art events. I was a little surprised to find no artists living solely off their studio practice. In a city such as Chicago, even the most successful artists needed a job to support their studio practice in a city with rising real estate prices. Meanwhile in Milwaukee, I found the city green and alive. Being a smaller city, I expected even more of the population to be gone for summer break though everyone was in their studio or engaged at civic events. When not meeting with people, I spread out into the city to see what the city was like to eat, drink and live. I found a good number of very welcoming people eager to bring an outsider into the fold and exhibit the blindly fast-paced dice game they play at seemingly every bar. 


Contact Links:

Angeliki Chaido Tsoli –

Diana Soria –

Joseph Ravens – & DFBRL8R –

Giulia Mattera –

Ieke Trinks –

Santina Amato –

Diana Guerrero-Maciá –

Joe Adamik –

Paul Catanese –

Tanya Gill –

Laura Wetter –

Joseph P Mougel –

Dr. Nathaniel Stern –

Trevor Martin –


This project couldn’t have happened without the support of UnderMain and the Great Meadows Foundation.

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