Chicago loves to put things on wheels. Despite the city's well-publicized attempts to thwart the growth of its small food truck community, many of the businesses have continued to soldier on.
Given the popularity and perseverance of Chicago's mobile food vendors, other types of businesses have also turned to the mobile model, including HOTBOX, an art gallery space established in 2010 inside (and outside of) an old UPS truck by Tara D., a designer and illustrator.
After two years of staging numerous shows and art events within Chicago's city limits, the folks behind HOTBOX are looking to bring their show on the road. Starting in July, HOTBOX will wind some 11,000 miles through the country before arriving in Miami for the acclaimed Art Basel exhbition in December.
In order to get their tour off the ground, HOTBOX has launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign. The Huffington Post recently spoke with Tara D. about her ambitious quest to bring her gallery-on-wheels to some 25 cities from coast to coast.
Tell me more about how HOTBOX originally came to be.
HOTBOX was born in 2010. I was working in advertising at the time and felt like I was using up all my creative powers on projects and things that always ended up feeling really empty and I could feel my spirit breaking. This sounds dramatic, but it's true. I always loved to travel, so my immediate thought was to quit my job and just become an American gypsy, but I also had to redeem this side of me that I felt like I sold to the corporate world, so I knew it had to involve me creating something that I would be really proud to stand by. And one day it just clicked. I wanted to be totally free and travel the country, having people paint on my car/house and I would live this amazing life full of stories and adventures and connect with amazing artists, other people who also felt like they had something good to give. So I bought a small UPS truck and took off.
But we all have bills to pay, so after taking a small trip to the East Coast, I came back to Chicago a little unsure of what to do next. I was connected to the small art scene in Chicago and met a lot of artists just by going to shows regularly. But I noticed it was usually a lot of the same people at the shows and the work seemed to be more of an excuse to get together than to really show good stuff and it was getting kind of boring.
Traveling to places like San Francisco and New York made me realize the conversation that happens in the street, with public and street art, is really significant and exciting and Chicago was really lacking this because of its super tight graffiti blasting program, a program that had no discrimination on what it decided to paint brown. And the more I started to pay attention to this idea, the more important it became for me to do something about it.
(Scroll down to check out photos of HOTBOX.)
What were you seeing around you in the Chicago art community that made you feel the impetus for this initiative?
Graffiti/street/public art is an expression of a city and the people in it. It shows you what they care about and believe in, so I decided I wanted to make a conscious effort to celebrate these people and sort of try to show Chicago what it doesn't even know it's missing. Then, I lived in a little renegade gallery in Wicker Park, called HappyDog, and got a chance to be behind the scenes when it came to art shows. It was so awesome realizing how much goes into a show besides the actual show and watching a team of people come together to make it happen was really magical to me. But HappyDog wasn't about shows, it had a whole other agenda, and I felt like the entire year before prepared me to try again.
My gypsy dreams combined with my passion to contribute to Chicago's art scene and the small bit of know-how from HappyDog joined forces like Voltron and I got my ass to work. In two months, the truck was completely built out, websites were launched and the plans for a summer of shows were laid out. Of course it was challenging, but everything that made HOTBOX come to life seemed to happen in perfect time. This whole adventure has taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life: the power of following your heart.
What inspired you, now, to take your show on the road, outside of Chicago?
Like I mentioned before, the idea of HOTBOX was born out of the idea to somehow travel the country and really explore and listen to the art that was being made everyday, particularly in the cities that had it most. And after two years of doing shows around Chicago, I know there is something magical and real about infiltrating positive artwork into peoples' lives and I want to share this with the rest of the country. HOTBOX connects us with something simple and true and not controlled by money and the commercialism that we are submerged in. It has one purpose: to spread love.
Tell me more about the logistics -- are you getting in touch with folks in each of the cities you have listed as planned stops? How has the response been from the tour stops?
We started contacting artists the day we launched and its has been a full-time effort since. We have about 32 amazing artists who have committed to the project if its successful, with more e-mails waiting to be heard back on. All in all, the response has been pretty rad and a little unexpected. I would say we got about 75 percent of the people we asked and they are all really excited and just plain kind, welcoming us to their city, and sometimes even their couch.
When I say a bit unexpected, it refers the lack of response in the really big cities, like New York, LA and San Francisco. I mean, artists live there to do work and be working artists, so I know they are most likely busy and have their hands in a million things, but I definitely expected them to be more open and hyped about the project. It has been smaller cities like Seattle, Houston and Detroit that have really responded and reached out to us.
The final stop is slated to be at Art Basel in Miami -- tell me about that decision.
The Art Basel festival in Miami has become one of the most epic events in the U.S. art world. Within the last few years, it has grown to an insane degree and is now seen as one of the "most prestigious art show in the Americas." And even without the prestige, artists have begun to flock there every year, from all over the world, to see who's doing what right now. There's really nothing else like it in the U.S. Art is spilling out of every corner and to even think of having the opportunity to go there and share stellar work from the entire country through HOTBOX, while representing the spirit and ingenuity of Chicago at the same time, is really spectacular.
What has been the biggest challenge you faced in turning HOTBOX into reality?
As cheesy as it might sound, my biggest challenge was myself. This project is completely self-initiated, so I have to keep to my own deadlines and try to stay focused while at the same time allowing myself to be open for trying something totally new and foreign. I would tell people about my idea for a mobile art gallery and it wasn't always met with enthusiasm, so I had to keep believing that it could happen and that it needed to happen, even when I may have felt like I was the only one thinking it. This year I've been lucky enough to have the talented NiceOne join my team to really help take HOTBOX to the next level and it's great having someone who sees the big picture too.
Anything else you think is important for people to know about HOTBOX, the tour and its Kickstarter that I didn't already ask?
I think it's important to note that this project is about a lot more than a bunch of young guns going nuts and painting a truck while road tripping. It's about shining a light on public art in Chicago and around the country in general, and really appreciating one of our last opportunities to really connect with each other and to give back to the cities that give so much to those of us who live in it. We really hope we can inspire Chicago in ways that go way beyond HOTBOX and its four wheels.
As of Thursday, the HOTBOX Mobile Gallery Kickstarter campaign has raised just over $3,100 of their $25,000 fundraising goal -- with one week to go in the campaign. Click here to learn more about the planned tour and learn how to help turn it into a reality.
Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a Chicago area-based Kickstarter or IndieGoGo project that you'd like to see featured in our "Can They Kick It?" series.