The Experimental Station is working to build independent cultural infrastructure on the South Side of Chicago. We do this by fostering a dynamic ecology of innovative educational and cultural programs, small business enterprises and community initiatives. Since 2006, we have both built our own programming to address a variety of identified local needs and have fostered, hosted, and sponsored numerous other initiatives.
Blackstone Bicycle Works, our first program, opened in 2006, is a bustling community bike shop, offering repairs and sales of refurbished bikes. It is also the only bike shop in Chicago that offers over 150 youth the opportunity to work in a retail setting, to earn bikes and accessories as they learn the art and science of bicycle mechanics, to learn about how a business works, to discover the satisfaction of a job well done, to participate in the civic life of a vibrant community, to be safe and free of the pressures of the streets, and to have fun.
In May 2008, the Experimental Station launched the 61st Street Farmers Market to bring fresh, organic, and sustainably raised foods from regional producers to the Woodlawn neighborhood and to provide educational opportunities to learn about food preparation, healthy eating, and sustainable agricultural practices. Part of the Experimental Station’s Food Culture program, the 61st Street Farmers Market joins a variety of other food initiatives that we have fostered since 2006: the Woodlawn Buying Club (a bulk foods purchasing club), the 61st Street Community Garden, community bread baking, beer brewing, and the Original Fire Dinners supper club.
The outdoor season begins weekly on May 13th, 2017 and moves indoors on November 4th.
The Experimental Station seeks to increase the affordability and accessibility of nutritious foods sold at Illinois farmers markets for low-income Illinoisans, rebuilding linkages between local agricultural producers and consumers. LINK Up Illinois is a program that helps achieve this goal by providing farmers markets across the state with funding for Double Value Coupon incentive programs for LINK Card (Illinois' SNAP program, formerly known as “food stamps”) shoppers. LINK Up Illinois also provides participating markets with training and technical assistance for implementing these programs successfully.
Arts and Events
Among the many cultural events we have hosted since 2006 are readings by authors Naomi Klein and Thomas Frank, a three-day workshop and performance by the Bread & Puppet Theater, concerts by experimental composer and musician Gene Coleman, the Festival of Democracy, Assata Shakur’s Chicago birthday celebration, Chicago Humanities Festival panels and discussions, a year-long series of events and discussions on (Black) culture, politics, and esthetics, Hyde Park Jazz Festival concerts, Kansas City-based Whoop Dee Doo performances, an audio/photography exhibit by Ben Calhoun and Paul Calhoun, conversations with authors Michelle Alexander, Natalie Moore and Lance Williams, Hyde Park Community Players performances, the annual Tellebration storytelling festival, and most recently Brian Jones in ‘Marx in Soho’.
The Invisible Institute aims to operate like a multimedia documentary production company. Its mission is to enrich public discourse by means of longform reporting across media platforms. Senior Fellows, Jamie Kalven and Steve Edwards (Chicago Public Radio), are working to create the conditions for participating journalists to produce longform multimedia content of the highest quality, recovering the best traditions of journalism and adapting them to the new media environment.
South Side Weekly
The South Side Weekly is a nonprofit newsprint magazine dedicated to supporting cultural and civic engagement on the South Side, and to providing educational opportunities for developing journalists, writers, and artists. They publish in-depth coverage of the arts and issues of public interest alongside oral histories, poetry, fiction, interviews, and artwork from local photographers and illustrators. The paper is produced by an all-volunteer editorial staff and seeks contributions from across the city. They distribute each Wednesday in the fall, spring, and winter, with breaks during April and December. Over the summer they publish monthly.
Build Coffee is a soon-to-open coffee shop in the Experimental Station on the South Side of Chicago. Surrounded by community-driven non-profits and civic journalism projects, Build is designed as a hub of great coffee and radical collaboration.
Build acts as a small venue for performances, workshops, gallery shows, book groups, game nights, and more. They also sell used books, local small press publications, journals, comics, art books, and zines.
Local Small Business Support
Since 2006, Experimental Station has provided discounted long-term rental space to B’Gabs Goodies Raw Vegan Deli, Backstory Café, Roots & Shoots (a Jane Goodall Institute program), and the Yamaguchi Institute (Theaster Gates' artist studio), and since 2007, has provided fiscal sponsorship for AREA Chicago. Since 2009, we have been the host site for the Hyde Park Community Players and Major Taylor Bicycle Club.
The Experimental Station is a not-for-profit corporation. Like all non-profits, the Experimental Station depends at least in part on revenues generated from grants and individual donations to cover its expenses. While generating grant and donor revenues is an often-necessary and desirable privilege, we do not see it as a sustainable, long-term strategy. The Experimental Station's goal, over the next several years, is to become operationally self-sustainable. By building our revenue base through long-term rental to building occupants & projects and through short-term & event rentals of our spaces, we seek to cover our operating and overhead expenses.
Like all corporations, whether for-profit or non-profit, the Experimental Station must create and apply budgets, follow standard accounting practices, pay its bills, bring in revenue to pay them, etc. Despite such similarities, the Experimental Station consciously embraces a business philosophy that is, in significant ways, at odds with standard business philosophies. Underlying the Experimental Station's business practice is the ecological principle of mutualism. Mutualism, like competition and parasitism, is a form of symbiosis ("living together").
We have all long been told that competition brings out the best in us. Indeed, Darwin rooted his evolutionary theory in the notion of competition among species; those that survive are those best able to adapt and to beat out competitors for light and nourishment. The result, we are told, is a more robust plant, animal and, in the capitalist world, business.
Like competition, the goal of which is to leave one man standing, parasitism implies a relationship between two parties that is, ultimately, harmful to one of them. This can be translated into business terms as the "I'm going to exploit all of the resources that you offer as cheaply as I can" mentality. Parasitism is a sustainable strategy neither for the host, nor for the parasite; after killing off its host, the parasite must then seek out another. Mutualism, unlike competition and parasitism, is a symbiotic relationship that works to the long-term benefit of both parties. In a mutual relationship, each party contributes to the well-being of the other, providing one another nourishment, protection, or an array of other services and resources.
Embracing mutualism as our manner of doing business, the Experimental Station seeks occupants, participants, and collaborators that recognize the benefit of creating a mutually supportive environment. As in a natural ecosystem, wherein mutualism between species produces long-term positive effects, we believe that mutualism between the Experimental Station, occupants, projects, and participants will give rise to long-term stability for all and a greater ability to support a broad variety of initiatives.
Hospitality As An Institutional Value
Underlying the Experimental Station’s undertakings is a belief in the singular importance of hospitality as an institutional value. As hosts, we aim to provide a place where people and ideas feel welcome, where individuals matter, and where encounters and conversations are fostered that cannot or are unlikely to happen elsewhere. As an institution, we seek to create a nourishing habitat that invites inventiveness, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, resource sharing, and community.