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In Chicago, the line is blurred between local and global artists

Ed Marszewski is raising awareness and saving Chicago's underground artist community. He’s that cool guy who knows all the local spots in town and goes to the best parties. But at the risk of being uncool, don’t mention it to his face.

“I don’t like the term ‘underground.’ It’s a word that can be understood by a large group of people,” Marszewski says. “They should understand that art activity is invisible to people who are looking at visual arts casually and not critically.”

And then you’re left dead in your tracks because you realize that unless you devote your life to art, you may never be as hip as Marszewski.

In April 2008, he launched Proximity magazine, a sister publication to Lumpen a free magazine that covers local arts events. Proximity is more ambitious and tackles many national issues facing artists. In a world where blogs and podcasts reign supreme, Marszewski incorporates print. In addition to original material, the publication is an aggregator of news content and links to others in this increasingly tight-knit community.

“The publication was meant to demonstrate the breadth of activity in Chicago. Many people think of the art world as commercial, but we feel there is a vast series of art worlds that focus on public arts, DIY projects, etc.,” he says. “There is a huge tradition of artists starting their own initiatives and spaces out of Chicago,” and Marszewski intends to bring this information to the national stage.

The very definition of underground is a thing of the past. Worldwide networking is making a famously small community bigger and stronger—the very partnering of which is allowing many artists to connect and wait out the economic storm.

“Art doesn’t really depend on the market. Many people are confused when they think that the art world is purely commercial. Groups of artists based in different places link globally [to find success].” The “frenzy,” as Marszewski puts it, associated with being commercially successful has taken a backseat to the joys of simply expressing oneself.

Proximity accomplishes all these things. The new face of social media, Marszewski’s magazine is both watchdog and local news hub. And that nonchalant take on the market? All writers (Marszewski included) work for free.

But it’s the simple pride in his hometown that has Marszewski so excited to draw attention to the good work his community is doing. Mouth audibly turning into a smile, he adds, “there’s a super rich tradition in Chicago.” And you can tell he’s admiring something too.

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