By Michael Workman
There has always been a side to maker and DIY culture that eschews commercialism. Cultural fests like Figment and other similarly minded affairs step outside the standard corporate model, often employing a politicized slant.
I’m interested in the undergrounds of these types of events, especially ones expanding the range of cultural inclusiveness, often a diametric opposite to purely commercial events. That includes groups that organize around issues of sustainability, like the World Naked Bike Ride, the monthly Full Moon Jam and the litany of regional Burning Man events that take place across the country.
Ultimately, these sorts of events constitute the current state of the concentration of cultural capital around well-tread historical notions of what the grassroots mean to our society. So it’s notable when a group comes along like the O+ (pronounced O-positive) festival whose mission is to bring together the members of the maker and wellness cultures and initiate an active exchange between them.
Scheduled to take place in Pilsen over the September 3rd weekend, I originally heard about the event from local maker Cheryl Casden, who has worked tirelessly with her sister Jody and multimedia artist Amy Jo Arndt over the recent several months to bring a version of the event to Chicago.
I sat down to discuss the project with Arndt, who is director of the Chicago effort.
Can you start off telling us a little about the DIY history and mission of O+?
The O+ Festival got its start in Kingston, New York in 2010 by a small group of artists, musicians, a primary-care doctor and a dentist. It has always been a grassroots effort of friends and people who hear about the festival online or by word-of-mouth. Together, we work with what we have access to, strengthening ourselves, our relationships and the community.
And what is your involvement in the fest?
I am the O+ Chicago director, or “Festival Momma!” As the story goes, I spoke with Joe Concra, one of the co-founders of the Kingston festival, the day I found out I was pregnant. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle both the role of mother and the role of director, so I decided to make them one. I am a mother to my son and the festival!
Why is it important to you to invest your time and effort for free in O+?
On my quest for better health, greater awareness, higher creativity and more collaboration, I stumbled upon the O+ Festival. This festival is about everything that I stand for and it’s important for me to share it. I know many others feel the same way, so it is equally as important for them to have a platform to share their ideas and expertise. I gift what I have to offer and you gift what you have to offer. Simple.
Fantastic. So what does O+ actually do for the Chicago community?
The O+ Festival is a three-day, community-run celebration of art, music and wellness. The participating artists exchange their contributions for health/wellness care from art-loving doctors, dentists and other wellness providers at the O+ Clinic. It’s a grassroots, band-aid solution to inaccessible healthcare for the creative community. By programming the festival’s art and music events in venues throughout the neighborhood, O+ supports and unites local businesses and residents, artists, musicians, and doctors, strengthening the fabric of the community to make it stronger, more sustainable and more vibrant. Chicago is proud to be the third city in the US to host the O+ Festival this year.
How have you and the O+ team organized to make the fest happen?
We have a board of directors, each of whom is assigned a different role. The Chicago O+ Festival is organized by a group of passionate artists, musicians, actors, health and wellness providers, local Pilsen business owners and many others who are ready to see a change in the way we think about and receive healthcare. Everyone is very excited to see the O+ Festival coming to Chicago! My team and I are so grateful for the love and support of the Pilsen neighborhood and Chicagoland at large!
O+ Festival Chicago takes place September 3-5; the group’s next fundraiser takes place June 26 at the Edible Alchemy Food Co-op, 2042 West 21st. $20 donation with free Lagunitas and food by the co-op. More information is available on the event’s website at opositivefestival.org.
Ben Schulman is the editor of the design section of Newcity and co-host of “A Lot You Got to Holler,” the Newcity podcast on design, architecture and urbanism. His work with Newcity is one of many ventures he engages in to communicate the value of design and cities. Ben serves as the communications director for Small Change, a real estate crowdfunding platform that works to catalyze the development of transformative real estate projects. Previously, he was the communications director for the Chicago chapter of The American Institute of Architects, editor of Chicago Architect magazine and communications director for the urban think-tank, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). His writing has appeared and been noted in outlets such as ARCHITECT Magazine, Belt Magazine, ICON, New Geography, Streetsblog, The National Review, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pop City Media and as a contributor to The Urbanophile, among others. When not writing about cities, Ben serves as an editorial assistant for the journal New Media + Society, and helps head the Contraphonic Sound Series, an attempt to document cities through sound.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org | Website: benschulman.com