Visions for Chicago book
Daniel Tucker’s book reinvents the campaign sign.
When Daniel Tucker asked 100 Chicagoans to make their own campaign signs last fall, he wasn’t trying to influence the mayoral election. The founder and former editor of AREA Chicago recruited friends and acquaintances all over the city—including activist Bill Ayers, artist Ellen Rothenberg and ReBuilding Exchange executive director Elise Zelechowski—to create posters that would articulate their “long-term visions for Chicago” rather than “reproducing a politician’s brand,” he told me by phone last month.
Tucker’s Graham Foundation–funded book Visions for Chicago (Green Lantern Press, $10), which launches at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum Monday 16, compiles portraits of his collaborators with their inspiring handiwork. An essay by Progress Illinois reporter Micah Maidenberg and Tucker’s Q&A with threewalls program director Abigail Satinsky put Lauren Cumbia and Hillary Anne Strack’s photographs in context.
None of the signs posted in the creators’ yards praise or slam Rahm Emanuel or his former opponents: Instead, they tend to call for better schools, jobs, affordable housing, immigration reform and an end to police brutality. (One sign asks Chicago’s white guys to stop “wearing shorts in 30-degree weather.”) Some reflect the skills of professional artists, others the enthusiasm of little kids; most sport hand-drawn, stenciled or collaged illustrations. Musician Graham Stephenson’s incorporates twigs.
Tucker acknowledges that the mayoral candidates addressed at least some of his collaborators’ concerns during the campaign. But the process “is so personality-centered that, ultimately, it’s all about what Rahm or Miguel or Carol say about prisons or schools, rather than…the complexity that has to be considered to actually change the system,” he says. Having lived here for ten years, “about half of Daley’s reign,” he believes the record-breaking length of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration hindered Chicagoans from imagining a different city: “Having the same person in office [for that long] takes that question of long-term vision off the table.”
Despite the signs’ hopeful messages, some were torn down within hours, according to Tucker. Others “lasted all winter,” and their creators “would watch people stop in front of their house and have discussions about [them].” Most public space is so tightly controlled, Tucker observes, that campaign signs are among the few forms of communication that can spark dialogues between neighbors.
The Visions for Chicago contributors seem to reflect the city’s racial and economic makeup; the people posing proudly with their signs include individuals, couples and families, as well as students from Humboldt Park’s Orr High School. Their diversity makes the similarity of their dream cities pretty poignant. “I wanted people to articulate ideas that can’t be accounted for in any meaningful way [on] a yard sign,” Tucker admits, “but that actually are what are on people’s minds.”
For more information, visit visionsforchicago.wordpress.com.