The West Side’s only regional library now has an artist-in-residence, city officials announced on March 11. Alexandra Antoine will serve in the inaugural role at Legler Regional Library, 115 S. Pulaski Rd. in West Garfield Park. She’ll be in the post for two years.
The new artist-in-residence program is the result of a partnership between the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and Chicago Public Library (CPL).
“I am thrilled to join DCASE and CPL in announcing Alexandra Antoine as Legler Regional Library’s new artist-in-residence,” Chicago Mayor Lightfoot stated in a March 11 release. “The incredible work she will create and lead over the next two years will deeply enhance Legler’s impact on the West Side.”
During an interview with Austin Weekly News, Antoine said she’s most excited about being able to create long-term relationships between Legler and the residents of Garfield Park.
“Right now, I’m most excited about building sustainable relationships between the space and the community,” Antoine said. “I would like to build something that I can pass on to the next artist-in-residence to actively create something that keeps going even when my residency is over.”
The Florida native said she hopes that her artistry will forge relationships with the community that otherwise may have not existed. Aside from holding regular office hours in Legler, Antoine, who once worked within Chicago Public Schools, also spends some time with neighboring organizations and schools to get a sense of what they’d like to see more of in their community.
“I’ve started spending time at Delano Elementary School, getting to know students and teachers to see what they’re into and how we can create programming to nurture what they have going on,” she said.
Antoine said she doesn’t want her residency to be limited to just creating murals. Oftentimes, artists are brought in to beautify a space and give it some vibrancy. Antoine said her art is more multidimensional than that.
“For me, it’s more about how we can activate this space beyond a mural,” she said. “What’s going to happen here after we put up the art? I want to be involved in that process as well.”
Recently, Antoine has connected with local groups including community gardens in order to explore the land and the larger West Garfield Park area. Her time spent with growers in the community has led to her infusing elements of food like spices and seeds into her work.
“My process usually involves looking at tangible things and thinking of ways to incorporate them into my art,” she said. “Even though it is ‘experimental’, it’s also not lost on me that the West Side has food insecurities. That’s why I get involved with the garden and then try to find a way to put it into my work.”
Though she’s not a Chicago native, Antoine considers Chicago home. She said the West Side charmed her.
“People in the neighborhood always speak to each other. I like that,” she said. “There’s always something going on and I try to support when I can.”
She said she knows the stigmas and misconceptions that exist about life on the West Side, but she added that she’s found a community where she feels engaged and invigorated as both an artist and a resident.
“I came to Chicago with just two suitcases and honestly didn’t see myself being here for long,” she said. “But I started to meet amazing folks in the creative fields and that is what has kept me here.”
Now, nine years later, she is still here planting roots in her community through her art and plans to use this residency to not only celebrate a decade in Chicago, but the start of an even more meaningful relationship with the West Side.
Callender’s reporting position is funded by a generous grant from the Field Foundation.