Q&A with Rhoda Rosen, Executive Director, Red Line Service
Monthly Lunch & Learn
Location: Chicago, Illinois
The “Monthly Lunch & Learn” program seeks to address educational and opportunity inequities among the houseless population in Chicago. The goal is to create a monthly series of 10 presentations between November 2022 and August 2023 to provide information around research into houselessness as a structural issue.
Red Line Service
Founded in 2014 as an initiative to provide overnight dinners on either end of the CTA Red Line, Red Line Service (RLS) has since developed into a full-fledged organization whose mission is to “use the arts to destigmatize houselessness, decrease social isolation, develop social cohesion, and provide channels for artistic talent to be recognized.”
Q: How do you see the arts/culture/humanities as being essential?
Rhoda Rosen: The institutions in which culture is produced, authorized, consumed, and enjoyed are surrounded by very high and very exclusionary gates. Red Line Service (RLS) works to remove these barriers so that all artists, including passionate houseless artists, find a cultural home in the establishment art world. When cultural institutions open their doors to help mainstream RLS artists, it is a transformative experience for all participants – housed and unhoused – and one that only art can provide. The value-add of this genre of art, in which experience is the subject matter of the work, is nothing short of the refiguring of the field of art from its reliance on the market into a loving, thriving, supported community of makers, thinkers and audiences, in which all flourish.
Q: What is the most important thing people should know about your work?
Rhoda Rosen: RLS is a unique and innovative organization which uses the arts to build community for passionate artists with a lived experience of being unhoused. There are three aspects to RLS programming:
- Providing a platform and scaffolding for houseless artists’ work
- Providing art workshops, field trips, speaker and film series, exhibitions, and professional skill-building in the arts to artists with a lived expertise of being unhoused
- Collaborating with museum colleagues to provide further access to the arts for the RLS community
These cross-cultural collaborations create unique opportunities for care, decrease social isolation, destigmatize houselessness, and develop social cohesion. The signature aspects of RLS programming are that
- We are the only arts organization in Chicago and one of the only arts organizations worldwide, led by people with lived expertise in houselessness. Per our by-laws, at least 50% of the RLS board must consist of people with this lived expertise.
- All aspects of RLS programming are co-created, which means that people with lived expertise in houselessness and professionally trained cultural workers create, enjoy, and consume art together. To this end, in addition to a board with lived expertise, we have several guiding committees: programming, recruitment, and sales, also stewarded by people with lived expertise in houselessness which guide Red Line Service work.
- Cultural labor isn’t something you do for free to open a door for the future. It is valuable work, capable of transforming the social landscape, and should be compensated. All RLS houseless artists, board, and committee members are paid for their labor.
Q: How did you arrive at doing what you do?
Rhoda Rosen: I came of age in late apartheid South Africa. My very first job in Art History, while I was still a student, was teaching Art History in Soweto to students hungry for access to college-level courses. Since then, it feels like it’s been a way long career of provocation within the field. But these personal details are unimportant next to the unbelievable courage that brings a houseless person to Red Line Service programs. It is their arrival to an art history or humanities lecture after a night of riding the trains, sleeping in a shelter, surviving an eviction, fleeing an abusive partner, being attacked while sleeping on a bus, that is the real story of how powerfully art builds a space of community, of intellectual regard, and of personal agency that is the focus and joy of the project.
Q: Who makes your work possible?
Rhoda Rosen: The Red Line Service community is intentionally organized to minimize having a single face that represents it and, rather, honors the talents of each individual artists’ contribution to it. The community of Red Line Service artists, the funders who support us, the audiences who join our programs, our colleagues in the Illinois cultural landscape, are all critical to recognizing, and mainstreaming the work of unbelievably talented artists and thinkers whose presence have been outside the throw of the spotlight for so long.
Suggested Reading by Rhoda Rosen:
I highly recommend Voices from the Margins, a Red Line Service publication of art history essays written by people with lived expertise in houselessness. The book is inspirational in the way that it demonstrates what art history would look like were we all to be housed within it. In producing the book, the community agreed that artists would retain copyright of their essays and that all profits would be divided amongst the participating artists. Anyone can own a copy by making a $30 donation on our website at www.redlineservice.org by clicking the donate menu option at the top of the page.
About The Illinois Humanities Grantee Partner Spotlight
Illinois Humanities highlights the work of our Community Grants program partners through our “Grantee Spotlight.” It shines the light on our grantee partner’s work, offering details about the organization and the funded project, as well as a Q&A with a team member at the organization. More: ILHumanities.org/Spotlight
About Illinois Humanities
Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community and strengthen civic engagement. We provide free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration. Founded in 1974, Illinois Humanities is supported by state, federal, and private funds.