Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam Launch “The Great Poor Farm Experiment”

August 3, 2009 · Print This Article

Picture 34In 1999 artists Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam co-founded The Suburban, a domestic art space in Oak Park, Illinois that in its decade of existence has become one of the Chicago area’s most highly regarded alternative galleries.  This coming weekend will mark a new chapter in The Suburban’s history with Grabner and Killam’s launch of The Poor Farm and Poor Farm Press.

Located in Waupaca County in central Wisconsin, The Poor Farm (aka the Waupaca County Home) was built in 1876 as part of the American Poor Farm system. Now, this 2.7 acre compound will function as a larger offshoot of The Suburban, its “rural cousin,” as Grabner and Killam put it. They’ll be mounting yearlong exhibitions in the Farm’s over 8,000 square feet, which includes 2500 square feet of dormitory space for artists and writers to live at the Farm for extended residencies. Poor Farm Press will produce catalogues and other printed matter that normally fall outside the purview of larger publishing houses. In short, a place that once represented the end of the line for the region’s poor–an institutional space of despair, destitution and servitude–will now be an open-ended space of transformative possibility and creative intervention.

Although the Poor Farm itself is still under renovation, Grabner and Killam are ready to kick off their newest venture by welcoming everyone who wants to join them for a weekend-long camp-out/inaugural exhibition opening this weekend, August 7, 8 and 9. On view will be numerous works of performance, painting, sculpture, and installation by artists such as Lesley Vance, David Robbins, Shane Aslan Selzer, Olivier Mosset, Philip Vanderhyden, Brad Kahlhamer, Shane Huffman, Sabina Ott, Pedro Velez, Guillaume Lebion, Nicholas Frank,  Joe Pflieger and many others that engage the The Poor Farm’s history as well as its many idiosyncratic spaces, which include a jail in the basement and a cemetery in the back cornfield. If you go, you can camp out on the grounds or stay at a nearby hotel, if camping’s not your thing, and dive into a range of super family-friendly activities like river tube floating, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. And, of course, there’ll be cookouts galore.

About the upcoming Poor Farm ventures, Grabner and Killam note,

Like the Suburban, The Poor Farm will be dedicated to artists. In a recent interview we stated that “we believe in artists and we believe in the imagination.” We also happen to delight in and value our mid western, middle class, middle-age life with a mortgage and three kids. Voila: The Suburban, The Poor Farm and Poor Farm Press. Now, we can further negotiate our beliefs, share resources, and widen a space for artists and other curious minds.

What a beautiful way to spend a weekend. If you’re interested, you can download more information on The Poor Farm/Poor Farm Press and the opening weekend “jamboree” by clicking below.

Info on the Suburban and The Poor Farm Fact Sheet.

Great Poor Farm Experiment.

Grabner and Killam are already well known to this blog’s local readers, but if you’re from outside of Chicago and want to learn more about the incredible history of artists’ projects that The Suburban has presented over the past decade you can start by visiting The Suburban’s website. Then, listen to Grabner discuss how she and her family blend art and everyday life on episodes 12 and 19 of Bad at Sports’ Podcast (Grabner also interviewed artist Gaylen Gerber for Episode 93). And finally, the Highlights conducted a terrific interview with Grabner just last June; you can read it here.

Picture 36

Waupaca County, Wisconsin

The Suburban

The Suburban, Oak Park, IL

The Poor Farm

The Poor Farm