About the Experimental Station
The Experimental Station is working to build independent cultural infrastructure on the South Side of Chicago. We do this by fostering a dynamic ecology of innovative educational and cultural programs, small business enterprises and community initiatives. Since 2006, we have both built our own programming to address a variety of identified local needs and have fostered, hosted, and sponsored numerous other initiatives.
Blackstone Bicycle Works, our first program, opened in 2006, is a bustling community bike shop, offering repairs and sales of refurbished bikes. It is also the only bike shop in Chicago that offers over 150 youth the opportunity to work in a retail setting, to earn bikes and accessories as they learn the art and science of bicycle mechanics, to learn about how a business works, to discover the satisfaction of a job well done, to participate in the civic life of a vibrant community, to be safe and free of the pressures of the streets, and to have fun.
In May 2008, the Experimental Station launched the 61st Street Farmers Market to bring fresh, organic, and sustainably raised foods from regional producers to the Woodlawn neighborhood and to provide educational opportunities to learn about food preparation, healthy eating, and sustainable agricultural practices. Part of the Experimental Station’s Food Culture program, the 61st Street Farmers Market joins a variety of other food initiatives that we have fostered since 2006: the Woodlawn Buying Club (a bulk foods purchasing club), the 61st Street Community Garden, community bread baking, beer brewing, and the Original Fire Dinners supper club.
Our Invisible Institute program aims to operate like a multimedia documentary production company. Its mission is to enrich public discourse by means of longform reporting across media platforms. Senior Fellows, Jamie Kalven and Steve Edwards (Chicago Public Radio), are working to create the conditions for participating journalists to produce longform multimedia content of the highest quality, recovering the best traditions of journalism and adapting them to the new media environment.
Since 2010, through our EBT For the City or Chicago program, the Experimental Station has provided EBT/LINK service to the City of Chicago farmers markets, enabling recipients of federal nutrition benefits (food stamps, or ‘LINK’ in Illinois) to purchase foods at designated City of Chicago farmers markets with their LINK cards. In 2010, we provided service at five City markets. In 2011, we are now providing EBT/LINK service at ten City of Chicago markets.
In the past year, the Experimental Station has launched LINK Up Illinois in partnership with Wholesome Wave and the Illinois Farmers Market Network, with support and initial funding provided by Fresh Taste and The Chicago Community Foundation. LINK Up Illinois has been created to provide other Illinois farmers markets with funding and support to make fresh and healthy food accessible and affordable for those on LINK by doubling the value of federal food stamps when used at the participating markets.
Currently, Experimental Station is providing discounted long-term retail rental space to B’Gabs Goodies Raw Vegan Deli, a woman- and minority-owned start up business that sells prepared raw foods and beverages, a wide variety of herbs and spices, teas, and essential oils. Since 2006, Experimental Station has provided discounted long-term rental space to Backstory Café, Roots & Shoots (a Jane Goodall Institute program), and the Yamaguchi Institute (Theaster Gates artist studio), and since 2007, has provided fiscal sponsorship for AREA Chicago. Since 2009, we have been the host site for the Hyde Park Community Players and Major Taylor Bicycle Club.
Among the many cultural events we have hosted since 2006 are readings by authors Naomi Klein and Thomas Frank, a three-day workshop and performance by the Bread & Puppet Theater, concerts by experimental composer and musician Gene Coleman, the Festival of Democracy, Assata Shakur’s Chicago birthday celebration, Chicago Humanities Festival panels and discussions, a year-long series of events and discussions on (Black) culture, politics, and esthetics, Hyde Park Jazz Festival concerts, Kansas City-based Whoop Dee Doo performances, an audio/photography exhibit by Ben Calhoun and Paul Calhoun, conversations with authors Michelle Alexander, Natalie Moore and Lance Williams, Hyde Park Community Players performances, the annual Tellebration storytelling festival, and most recently Brian Jones in ‘Marx in Soho’.
Underlying the Experimental Station’s undertakings is a belief in the singular importance of hospitality as an institutional value. As hosts, we aim to provide a place where people and ideas feel welcome, where individuals matter, and where encounters and conversations are fostered that cannot or are unlikely to happen elsewhere. As an institution, we seek to create a nourishing habitat that invites inventiveness, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, resource sharing, and community.