Gen Art was a non-profit organization that nurtured young talent. Filmmakers, artists, musicians, and above all, fashion designers. The
were always a revelation of the best of young talent – they gave us some of the brightest lights in today’s industry. People like Zac Posen, Lara Miller, Vena Cava, Rodarte, and Philip Lim were supported by them. Sadly, after 16 years, Gen Art is out of the game. Trouble with financial backing and alleged mishandling of the organization’s funds have led to a final dissolution of the company. They will be sorely missed by the artistic communities they so aggressively promoted.
I volunteered for Gen Art back in 2005, when I was still living in Chicago. They were the most glamorous, and the most cutting edge group in a city known for conservative attitudes. I remember working backstage at the Fresh Faces show, helping to dress models, and found myself meeting Mayor Richard Daley as I watched model/actress Patricia Velasquez talking to press across the room. The after-party for that show was held in a huge tent, and we were treated to mini-hamburgers and delicious cocktails as local artist Liz Phair rocked the crowd. It was amazing.
The next year, as a writer for the Chi-town Daily News, I was on the media list instead of backstage. Out of all the events that I got to attend, Gen Art’s were always the high point, and the ones I looked forward to the most. One event was sponsored by Alberto V05, and they had hairdressers on site. The goodie bags were insane, full of product and freebies. Some people even got hairdryers and curling irons.
Another party featured a rock band and DIY art projects, as we were all invited to participate in creating our own mini-masterpieces. A Gen Art event allowed you to mingle with a wide selection of people, all races and economic backgrounds. They weren’t afraid to tackle tough issues, either. I remember attending the film festival in 2006 and viewing a film about female circumcision. Gen Art was the best of both worlds: decadence and activism, fashion and purpose. Party, party, party – but don’t forget that others don’t have it as good as you do. They were never too cool to care. It’s sad to think that they won’t be around anymore.
An "insider" told Gawker that they’d been in trouble since 2008, due to the recession – they weren’t being supported in the same way since people were having to tighten their belts. After years of open handed-generosity, they found themselves short of cash, and it killed them. I went to the Fresh Faces show in Chicago last October, and you could see that they had been hit hard. Instead of free cocktails, we were given bottles of warm water. No hors d’oevres. The goodie bags were still there, but definitely not as full. They soldiered on, however, promoting new local designers like Imaginary People and Jlee Silver, bringing us back to the point of the show: the talent, not the extras.
Receiving the email that announced the closing of their doors is like the end of an era. The closing of Gen Art leaves a vacuum that one hopes will be filled soon by others who think that art is something that needs nurturing and support. The party might be over, but the memories, and the legacy, remain.
All photographs are of Gen Art events in Chicago from 2006 to 2009, taken by Faith Bowman,www.faithbowmanphotography.com