Quare Square Collective, Inc. gives the spotlight to Chicago's queer-identified artists of color.
Chicago native M Shelly Conner, Ph.D., is a multidisciplinary, multigenre writer and scholarand the founder and executive director of Quare Square, which she calls "a labor of love." In addition, she has a novel she is exploring publishing options for, has a comedy Web series in development with OpenTV and is pitching different types of journals for her essays. Her writing talent extends to writing a travel blog on Tumblr called "Dapper Vista" that is aimed toward dapper queer women, like herself. For that project she has been traveling domestically and internationally and visiting social spaces with an interest in what it looks like and what it means to be a dapper queer woman of color in these different spaces and locations.
Also, she has done academic work and presents at academic conferences. Last year she taught at Loyola University.
"I was looking for support being a queer woman of color and also an academic and an artist," said Conner. "I just didn't find a lot of places out there. It was creating a space for people like me that we don't often see and a resource especially on the South Side of Chicago because most of the time when you think LGBTQ, everything is located on the North Side. So we do, artists of color, pack up and we haul ourselves to the North Side time and time again to support events and organizations and we don't really see that same level of support coming across to the other side of the city. I wanted to be able to be a part of that solution by building a bridge between the two communities that are very much divided by race."
Quare Square began in May 2013 as a monthly open-mic event for queer women of color and allies. POW-WOW, Inc. ( Performers or Writers- Women on Women's Issues ), Conner said, is the group's "literary foremother. "POW-WOW hosted weekly open mic nights on Chicago's South Side, specifically for Black lesbians and their allies until 2012. Quare Square differs with its openness to all queer-identified LGBTQ people of color and all artists, including visual artists, culinary artists, singers, dancers, actors and filmmakers.
"It left a hole in the community, particularly on the South Side," Conner said about the end of POW-WOW's open mics. "So, I started the open mics [for Quare Square] and then I just realized there was so much more work and support that the community needed, particularly for queer artists of color, largely located on the predominantly Black South Side of Chicago. So, I decided to make it into a non-profit that provided more programming and services and networking for that community."
Quare Square's mission statement, as stated on its website, is to be "an artists collective that seeks to support LGBTQ artists of color in the Midwest by facilitating collaborative works; marketing and advertising; and publication and performances."
Quare Square does open its open mics every second Tuesday night of the month at Jeffery Pub, 7041 S. Jeffery Blvd. The group also co-presents Street Dreamers open mic every first and third Tuesday of the month at the pub. Conner described the open mics as friendly, welcoming and interactive.
The organization also offers Sistah Sinema, a bimonthly screening of films by or about queer women of color. Quare Square delivers Sistah Sinema in partnership with UIC's Gender and Sexuality Center and Gallery 400. The event is held at Gallery 400, located at 400 S. Peoria St.
"Initially, the idea was to have a network of queer artists of color to serve as a support system for them, but also a place where people knew where to go and look if you really wanted to have a more inclusive representation and events and things like that," said Conner.
Currently, Quare Square is a small non-profit organization with four board members, four leadership roles including Conner and a total membership of less than 20. Conner said the priority for 2016 is to gain more interest. She added they are actively seeking new members, tech savvy interns, program/event sponsorships and donations.
"We're looking to increase our membership and increase our partnerships with other organizations and venues, so we can do more programming," said Conner. "We'd like to be able to host writing workshops and retreats for our members and other members of the community at large and one of the personal projects I would be really interested in doing some fundraising because I would really like to provide scholarships to our members who have been accepted to present or attend arts conferences. That's what's in the works."
Conner added her biggest dream for Quare Square is that it someday resembles Cave Canem, a non-profit organization for Black poets.
"It's just this cadre of black poets, so I would like Quare Square to be similar to that; to be able to host writing retreats like they do, boast a really great membership like they have and also be able to command a certain amount of respect and interest from the arts community at large," said Conner. "That's my vision for Quare Square, to be that type of organization that people are submitting membership applications to all the time and then we're also able to make good on the level of support that I'd like to be able to provide our members with. One of the other things I'd like to be able to do is have an annual collaborative project for our members."
For more information about Quare Square Collective, Inc., visit www.quare2collective.org .