Envision this: a creative haven for artists both local and global to come together and encourage the economic growth of a community. A neighborhood place where artists, intellectuals, community activists, students, and visitors can work collaboratively towards creative expression and community building. Marguerite Horberg, drawing on over 20 years of experience with the acclaimed performing arts center HotHouse, hopes to make this lofty vision a reality with Porto Luz, an arts and culture center scheduled to open on Chicago’s South Side within the next year. Through this venture, Horberg plans to show the world a model for responsible economic stimulation of a creative community.
As Horberg writes it, her resume reads like an invitation for a challenge: “Catalyst, Artist, Unrepetent [sic] Socialist and Innovator.” Go ahead, try me, I dare you, she seems to say. Since her start as a Chicago-based entrepreneur in the late ‘70s, Horberg has been responsible for the creation of two now-defunct artisan clothing boutiques, Studio V and the Salon of Modalisque, as well as HotHouse, an internationally recognized nightclub and cultural center. After nearly 20 years at HotHouse, Horberg departed from the venue in 2006, a move that fueled her fire to found Porto Luz. With this, her latest enterprise, she pushes forward by laying down a serious plan ahead of time, hoping to disprove previous notions that her talents with HotHouse lay only as proprietor of artistic vision and mission.
In early July of 2006, Horberg was forced to discontinue her work at HotHouse after she and its board of directors had a falling out over a restructuring of executive leadership that took a significant amount of power away from Horberg. Her suspension, the following media coverage and web-board arguments, and the subsequent closing of HotHouse a year afterwards are all behind Horberg now. HotHouse was a revolutionary model for an artistic community space and venue, presenting many emerging artists to the community and its South Loop location from 1998 to 2006. In Horberg’s time with HotHouse, the venue showcased a wide variety of music, but it was known especially for promoting jazz and world music including fado from Portugal, cumbia from Colombia, and Afro-Cuban music. Horberg, then, has much experience in drawing together international dance/pop artists, members of the world music community, and proponents of jazz and creative improvised music, having worked with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Charles Sanders, Hugh Masekala, the Women’s Jazz Festival, the Latin Jazz Festival, the Improv Music Festival and the South African Jazz Festival.A big hope of Horberg’s is to take the experience gained from her time at HotHouse and use it to create an intimate setting for people to interact with musicians and artists—a salon of sorts—and channel it into a more culturally responsible setting. Horberg envisions Porto Luz as a model for artistic communities worldwide. But these visions are not Horberg’s alone; Porto Luz is the project of Partisan Arts International, a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to furthering progressive arts and culture communities in urban settings. While Horberg was instrumental in the founding of Partisan Arts in 2007 and has since served as its executive director, the organization is a collaboration between Horberg and about 40 other dedicated individuals, most of whom have backgrounds in the arts and community activism. Horberg and the team at Partisan Arts International are interested in building sites that “foster progressive community and innovative cultural expression,” that provide a community with a cultural space as well as high-quality arts programming. The idea is to take parts of urban cities that are underdeveloped and forlorn and use the arts and culture to stimulate economic development in those areas. The members of Partisan Arts, some of whom worked at HotHouse with Horberg and followed her when she left, hope to combine their myriad art-industry-honed talents to create culturally responsible model art communities, specifically through Porto Luz as well as Chelsea Social, a project underway in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Horberg explains that in the case of Porto Luz, this will primarily include a performing arts space, a new theater housing around 600 seats, a meeting place, and a restaurant. Porto Luz as a venue will be not only a resource for local artists, providing a space in which to work on their projects or plan activist events, but also a more personal space where they could host events such as weddings and quinceañeras. Horberg refers to this as a “Cultural space, with a capital C.” Partisan Arts feels that Porto Luz will be a much more socially considerate venue than HotHouse was, and hopes to help in the economic growth of its community by stimulating businesses growing around Porto Luz.
This project has been in the works for years now. Although Horberg explains that it was difficult not to immediately jump back into the scene and fill the void left by HotHouse, she wanted to prepare for this new venture better than she did for HotHouse, as her first time around she was more focused on getting a location and taking it from there. But experience has taught Horberg that much strategic planning and organizational development is required to build a strong foundational business plan. This time around, all the groundwork will be laid down before the group sets foot on location.
However, the location is key. Again, as the goal is to stimulate the economic development of an underserved community, Partisan Arts has a committee devoted to securing the ideal location. Current hopes place Porto Luz within Bronzeville, with plans in motion to secure a location within the year, understanding that the following six months would be required to renovate the site.
And yet, those familiar with Horberg’s work and restless for the old HotHouse life won’t have to wait that long. Even before ground is broken for the renovation of the site in Bronzeville, programming will be available to start building back the old HotHouse base. Porto Luz will be rolling out itinerant events as early as September. Horberg asserts that the public can expect a stronger Porto Luz presence in terms of visibility on the Chicago scene within a month or two. The first project is a big program launch with the 2009 World Music Festival. On October 31, the team will celebrate Day of the Dead with groups flying in from Mexico. Within this production, all elements will have a multi-disciplinary piece—for example, a visual component that will be set up in the memory of those who have passed within the community. This fall, the team also intends to put on a commemorative event for the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution. Horberg assures that all events are designed to get the community learning, dancing, and excited for the new space.