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Performing arts: Homewood Arts Council reintroduces itself to community

At the 2022 Fall Fest, the Chili Cook-Off proceeds went to the Homewood Arts Council. Director Chris Castenada, new in the position then, remembers talking with people, and hearing comments like, “Oh, I didn’t know you guys were still around.”

The organization, which formed in 2018, made its mark with a whimsical 0.3K “run” in 2018 and 2019. It opened an art gallery on Ridge Road in 2019, but the pandemic forced the closure of the gallery, and the council moved art and music projects online.

Homewood Arts Council Director Chris Castenada, left, interviews
Susan Voelz, violinist for Poi Dog Pondering, in Senior Hall at Izaak
Walton Preserve on Nov. 18. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Castenada said the lack of community awareness convinced him the organization needed to do more events and increase its presence.

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“My focus was, we need to try to do four to five events at minimum this year,” he said.
The council held a town hall meeting in November 2022, inviting the community to suggest ideals.

The 2023 season included:

  • A show with John Langford and South of Chi improv at Rabid Brewing in February.
  • A live interview with Glenn Kotche of Wilco at Izaak Walton’s Senior Hall in May.
  • An art gallery at Homewood Auditorium in May.
  • A concert featuring Nora O’Connor and Casey McDonough with local band Six of Spades opening in partnership with Trail Mix Productions, held at Senior Hall in May.
  • A performance by Local H at the season finale Chicago Knockouts bout on Nov. 11.
  • A live interview with Susan Voelz, violinist for Poi Dog Pondering and president of Chicago Chapter Board of the Recording Academy, the organization that selects winners of Grammy Awards on Nov. 18.


Mission accomplished.

Castenada acknowledged that not every event went as well as he hoped, but his approach is to try out likely ideas and learn from experience.

Auditorium opportunities, challenges

One of the organization’s greatest opportunities and greatest challenges has been its lease of the Homewood Auditorium. The council first leased the space from the village in July 2021. The lease was renewed this year and will expire June 30, 2024.

The arrangement is not long term, but the time frame is indefinite. The village is seeking funding to renovate the space, but until the money is available, the council can use the space as-is. That limits the council’s ability to enact some of the ideas people proposed.

“Nothing can go on the walls. You can’t staple anything, nail anything,” he said. That presented challenges for the pop-up art gallery, but with some resourcefulness, the artists were able to display their work.

Getting good sound in the 84-year-old auditorium is a major challenge, but Castenada credited Elliot Dicks of Elliot Sound with help from Max Cichon for “giving the audience the best possible quality of sound that he could squeeze out of the room” for the Local H performance.

The auditorium lease is also an asset for the organization. It brings in revenue. Three organizations, including Wrestle League LLC, a karate group and the Chicago Knockouts, pay to hold regular events in the facility, and that income provides the council with the means to produce its interviews with musicians, concerts and the pop-up art gallery.

The council also continues to fund a scholarship for local art students.

Is roller derby art?

The roller derby bouts have proven popular, but Castenada said he has had people question whether it’s an appropriately artistic use of the space.

He thinks it is.

“It’s always been performance art to me,” he said. “Yes, there’s an athletic side to it, but you know, they, they get into their characters. It’s theater on skates.”

His wife, Liz Castenada, is a roller derby participant.

He said the partnership with the Chicago Knockouts has been productive overall.

“They’ve been essential in reactivating that space,” he said.

In addition to the bouts, the Knockouts give back to the community, providing free skating lessons and starting a league for young skaters.

Castenada said the council is looking forward to building on its work to bring more art opportunities to the community in the coming year.

Roller derby bouts sponsored by the Chicago Knockouts have drawn crowds to the Homewood Auditorium.
(Chronicle file photo)

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