Rising Chicago Artists Can Get Exposure — And Food — At Build Coffee’s ‘Meal-Based Residency’ In Woodlawn

Rising Chicago Artists Can Get Exposure — And Food — At Build Coffee’s ‘Meal-Based Residency’ In Woodlawn

WOODLAWN — Naimah Thomas, a Rogers Park-based counselor and art therapist, will debut her “Wounded Healer” project at Build Coffee in Woodlawn on Saturday.

Thomas’ installation will wrap up the first cycle of Build Coffee’s Meal-Based Residency Program, where artists receive a free meal and a drink from the shop at 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. three days a week for the duration of their show. The show begins at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“Wounded Healer” consists of “pieces of art that I’ve made that embody how I feel about therapy; how I navigate the world and the healing process,” Thomas said.

She also hopes to hold monthly “creative processing groups” where art and healing can coincide — one open to everyone, and another reserved for black women. The split is necessary to reject the stereotype of the eternally strong black woman who isn’t allowed to be “soft, empathic and sensitive,” Thomas said.

Thomas is a member of For the People Artists Collective, a group of artists of color whose co-founder, Monica Trinidad, was Build Coffee’s first resident. She credits Trinidad and the collective for encouraging her to apply to the residency and building her confidence as an artist.

Art therapist Naimah Thomas screenprints at a For the People Artists Collective workshop.

“Destigmatizing mental health in the black community is really important,” she said. “Art is a way to bring down some of these barriers, and everyone in the collective has been helpful.”

Thomas’ work will be on display through September.

Applications for the residency program’s next cycle, which will extend into 2020, are due July 31.

The unique meal-based residency “can help people build up that confidence and also be fed, because sometimes you struggle as an artist,” Thomas said.

The constant presence of creatives at Build Coffee motivated co-founders (and best friends) Bea Malsky and Hannah Nyhart to develop a residency program, a dream of theirs since the shop’s opening two summers ago.

“We have no dedicated space and we don’t have a lot of money, but we do have good food, good drink, and a really dedicated community,” Malsky said.

Calling the program a “meal-based residency” is both tongue-in-cheek and literal, Malsky said. The shop cribbed the phrase — with his blessing — from Chicago publisher Marc Fischer, whose Joong Boo Residency series took visiting artists to the namesake Korean market for a meal and conversation.

Build Coffee’s program expanded on that idea with the intent to “nourish and sustain” local artists, whether they be from Woodlawn or across town.

“An artist in Rogers Park might not come down otherwise — it’s connecting the shop to a different side of the city,” Malsky said. “On the other side, we could have an artist who lives four blocks away and will be there every Saturday. We want both to happen.”

The program is open to those without a formal background in fine arts — just ask self-taught Pilsen photographer Alan Epstein, who said the residency program gave him his first opportunity to display his work offline.

Epstein brought his “What Was Breakfast” Instagram project to life during his residency from April through June. He said he’d hang out at the shop, watching people react to his often humorous portraits and conversations in real-time.

“I didn’t want to put these pictures up in a cold gallery setting, where people just look and then walk away,” Epstein said. “It’s a lighthearted project, and it made me happy to see people lighten up just by reading it.”

He said he appreciated the residency — and Build Coffee as an institution — for providing a community-driven “incubator space” to local artists.

“People can show up and have ideas, and people (at Build Coffee) will nurture those ideas,” Epstein said. “What’s more helpful to the community than nourishing and nurturing people?”

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