—story by Bianca Betancourt @bybiancabee
Though Chicago has always been considered a more mellow contender in the eyes of its rival booming artist communities—hello New York, Los Angeles and even you, Austin— the city’s residents and active creatives know that while acknowledged or not, amazing work is being produced in the Midwest metropolis.
The allure of the undiscovered is what inspired Vincent Martell along with fellow founder and partner Jordan Phelps to start VAM Studios; a Chicago based creative studio forcing attention to the city’s most promising artistic talent.
“VAM started out of a frustration with the artists that we loved not being picked up by mainstream media,” said Martell. “Usually the really commercial artists or the artists that come from a family of wealth, those are the artists in Chicago that thrive. Very rarely do you get really cool underground artists who are taking over Chicago.”
Though the talent is prominent, city-wide attention isn’t, and the lack of attention on underground work is what prompts so many young creatives to flee to the east or west coasts in order to find social and financial success.
“VAM started as a way to keep these people in Chicago and show them that they are valued and that their talents are respected,” said Martell. “They don't have to go to the east or west coasts to get mainstream attention. We're trying to reinvent what ‘mainstream’ means.”
VAM’s approach to artistic promotion is as unique as the creatives they feature day-to-day. Instead of focusing in on a specific creative niche or specific type of artist (ie: only feminists, only LGTBQ members, or only people of color) they embrace talent from all walks of life that speaks true to the VAM mission, which is simply creating unapologetic, honest and boundary-pushing work.
The studio’s hard push for teamwork and collaboration comes from the fact that Chicago is a city that's known for being stubbornly independent.
“Every artist we've interviewed or done a video feature on we ask them what can Chicago improve on? And the answer is always collaboration,” said Martell. “For some reason in Chicago we feel that we can do it on our own without the help of someone else whereas like in New York—they have those communities—LA, they've established those communities decades ago. Chicago is still trying to figure it out and a lot of it has to do with the politics of the city and with it being one of the most segregated cities in the country.”
A history of segregation doesn’t mean Chicago doesn’t have what it takes to become a nationwide artistic destination, however.
“It's sad because we have the opportunity here—it's not as expensive as New York, it's not as spread out as LA—you don’t have to drive everywhere to collaborate or to meet someone,” Martell explained. “I think people are starting to get that now slowly...but there's still a lot of work that needs to done. Which is why VAM happened—people in Chicago aren’t willing to reach out to you if you don’t have a platform already established so we really had to create this new community of people that's really worked out in our favor. We created our own world, our own community, and didn’t search for someone else's to be a part of.”
VAM starting a new community of creatives also coincided with them bringing new life into Chicago events. Aside from their artist profiles and feature stories on burgeoning creatives, VAM has become known for producing game-changing events that have woken up a slightly stale party scene. Their events, like this year’s “Fantasty”, bring together different realms and staples of the city’s art scene—club kids, the queer community, punk bands, live art—and force them together under one roof to concoct a night that under all circumstances, shouldn’t make any sense, but nevertheless, feels beautiful and right.
The studio’s next big event—set to happen in January 2017—is a Alice in Wonderland inspired dinner party celebrating VAM’s 50 favorite creatives—followed by a sure to be insane dance party open to the public.
“We're planning for it to be as interactive as possible and using it as a way to celebrate the people who have inspired us this past year,” said Martell.
Whether it’s through their events, their interviews or their films, VAM will continue to be dedicated to reshaping how Chicago sees and treats the artists it breeds.
“[VAM is] a multitude of things but what makes it different is reaching out to multiple communities and bringing them into one which doesn’t happen often enough,” said Martell. “We're forcing people to feel a little uncomfortable. We're trying to break all the boundaries.”