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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

With $25,000 Award, South Shore Designer Norman Teague Wants To Open An Accessible South Side Art Studio

"I have so many friends that are like, 'Oh my God, there isn't a work studio on the South Side that's affordable or feasible or accessible,'" Teague said. "I'm investigating ways for that to happen."

Left: "Self Portrait," a bookcase created by South Shore designer Norman Teague and modeled after high-profile wheels. Right: Norman Teague with "Dependency #1," a side table with parts that completely depend on one another to complete its function.
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SOUTH SHORE — Norman Teague considers himself a “designer” in the broadest sense of the term, with a focus on furniture and other functional objects.

The South Shore resident’s body of work and commitment to the area’s artistic community won him $25,000 from local nonprofit 3Arts.

He’s one of ten Chicago-area artists to receive the prize, and one of three South Siders alongside tap dancer Jumaane Taylor of Chatham and multi-instrumentalist Sam Trump of Canaryville.

The grant money is unrestricted, 3Arts executive director Esther Grisham Grimm said. The organization recognizes that many artists hold down multiple jobs, or have life expenses unrelated to their art.

But Teague said he has bigger designs than paying off personal bills. He has his eyes on a South Shore industrial property — he won’t say which one yet — and is using his background in architecture to draft renderings for an open art studio.

“I have so many friends that are like, ‘Oh my God, there isn’t a work studio on the South Side that’s affordable or feasible or accessible,'” Teague said. “I’m investigating ways for that to happen — not just to fuel my making capabilities, but also to make ways for others to do the same.”

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Norman Teague.

Teague has lived in South Shore for the past two years with his wife Leslie Cain-Teague, “an advocate for raising up her community and keeping it black.”

He’s bounced around Chicago neighborhoods his whole life, with his “fondest” memories in Englewood, Bronzeville and South Shore.

Teague named the Hyde Park Arts Center and Bronzeville’s Blanc Gallery — which hosted his first solo show — among the many “supportive” institutions that have driven his career.

His work was recently acquired for the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection, and he is a member of the exhibition design team for the planned Obama Presidential Center.

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In background: “Armoire Assemblage,” a collage of objects erected for a U.S. history of design book. Shelving: “Owo Foro Adobe Shelf,” made from found wood at 43rd Street and Michigan Avenue and inspired from the Adinkra symbols meaning “snake climbing a raffia tree,” symbolizing doing the impossible. Chairs: “Talk Shit Chairs” made from plywood and leather, insinuating the need for uncomfortable conversations.

Teague’s blKHaUS studio was a co-curator of the 2018 Back Alley Jazz Festival in South Shore, a nod to the area’s past that’s become a community-driven spectacle.

In planning this year’s festival, the studio took a backseat to other community organizers. Seeing his neighbors take over an event that lifts up local history and culture was his goal from the jump.

blKHaUS “really pushed looking at what [back-alley jazz] did for communities and allowing the community to take ownership of that. That’s when the pride really comes in — ‘We did it ourselves,'” Teague said. “If I had to think about anti-gentrification, it’s things that are brought to life by the people who actually live there.”

Despite a lengthy résumé, Teague wasn’t given the award solely based on his artistic merits, Grimm said.

Panelists from Chicago and across the country take a holistic approach, diving deep into the artists’ work, personality and career goals.

“What [judges] saw in Norman and in all awardees is somebody who’s doing something that’s really distinctive, compelling and having an impact,” Grimm said. “They responded to him and other awardees as full human beings.”

Beyond a mandatory financial planning course, there’s no obligation for grant winners to maintain ties with 3Arts, Grimm said.

Yet few turn down the opportunities for free professional development, like guidance on fundraising or creating making works accessible for audiences with disabilities, that come with the award, she said.

Teague sees the grant as a foot in the door with an organization that can help him continue his community-focused work.

“Money comes and it goes, but the professional development is something that kind of sticks with you forever,” Teague said. “I’m looking forward to … working with them over the next few years to increase my practice, as well as how can I be of help to others.”

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Teague’s A/Cute Collection of chairs, made from white oak and poplar and painted like Now & Laters, Teague’s childhood favorites.

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