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Local Artist Stands Up for Rights, Might Go to Jail

Chris Drew is a master of the silkscreen. He runs a youth art program at Uptown Multi-Cultural Art Center and has for years. Drew’s program at UM-CAC works “to promote the multicultural diversity of Uptown and Chicago by bringing together artists of many ethnic backgrounds to establish art exhibitions and workshops.” Read more in stories by Patrick Smith (Columbia College Chronicle)  and Curtis Black (Community Media Workshop.) You can read Chris’ own version of the story posted on Jan. 7, 2010.

“They are censoring using prior restraint,” Drew said of Chicago. He said the need to clear his art before it is sold basically guarantees it won’t have a relevant message. “If Mayor Daley does something outrageous today, it will be no sooner than next month that you can sell a statement about that downtown.” — Patrick Smith, Legal battle begins for freedom of speech for the Columbia College Chronicle.

“Drew’s alleged crime was tape recording his own arrest, in conjunction with a videographer who was documenting the day’s events. He was arrested standing at State and Washington, wearing in a red poncho marked ‘Art For Sale – $1,’ after he refused police orders to stop.” — Curtis Black, A First Amendment two-fer – Newstips Blog.

Drew believes that art and creativity can be a pro-social path to economic self-sufficiency for economically disadvantaged youth. His t-shirt art site features work by a variety of artists, including Carlos Cortez, Lee Groban, Diane Berek and others. The fabric art images range from folk-art to political, like Cortez’s well-known image of labor martyr Joe Hill. This is art that aims to engage you. These shirts aren’t meant to be mass-produced and sold at Wal-Mart, but diversity is the spice of life.

Drew sells his work at music festivals, in parks, at public meetings, and around the city. As a proponent of net-neutrality, he’s sold patches and shirts at FCC hearings around town.

Over time, the restrictions on artists’ rights to sell work in public places has been grating on Drew. In a post from July 2006, he captured his exchange with a Segway-riding Chicago policewoman (at left) about peddling licenses and just where licensed peddlers could vend their wares.

Flash forward to 2009, and Chris Drew decided to challenge one law requiring artists to get their art work cleared through City Hall, and a second that makes it a crime to record police in action — as evidenced by the charges against Drew, who attempted to document his own arrest.

Drew will appear in court at 9 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 29 at the Cook County Criminal Court at 26th Street and California Avenue.  Curtis Black, of Community Media Workshop, reports that Drew and his artist allies will be giving away art patches outside downtown colleges in the afternoon.

Chicagotalks will update this story.

shot of Chris Drew artist blog
Chris Drew's blog

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