“Chicago Sculpture International: A Helping Hand to Sculptors”

Chicago Art Magazine

Written by Carrie McGath on Mar 3, 2011

Since 2004, Chicago Sculpture International (CSI), an affiliate of International Sculpture Center (ISC), has been an invaluable organization for sculptors, art professionals, and general lovers of sculpture and the arts. Bob Emser, the President of CSI and Terry Karpowicz, the Membership Chairman of CSI, spoke with me about their organization.

The mission of CSI is to assist sculptors in Chicago and throughout the world with practical advice, equipped with a community where ideas are exchanged and facilitated. The organization began with an exhibition on Navy Pier called Pier Walk.

Emser recalled the early days of the show. “Terry and a couple of other sculptors started a show called Pier Walk. Around 2001 it was a sculptor-run, sculptor-sponsored show.” Karpowicz elaborated, “The show went from a few sculptors to 178 sculptors. We had started an international community. It was a beautiful time for art in Chicago.”

CSI began after Emser and Karpowicz, as well as the other Pier Walk artists, realized they were building something, a community. Emser said, “We realized we liked being with each other and talking to each other. We didn’t need to have the show to still do that. So it was a handful of us — Terry, myself and sculptor Barry Tinsley — who got it CSI started.”

With that, Barry Tinsley and Bob Emser went to New York to speak with the Board of Directors for the International Sculpture Center, an organization that publishes Sculpture magazine and holds international sculpture conferences. Chicago will be host to the next ISC conference in the fall of 2012. Emser explained this important meeting, “We suggested they have local chapters and that Chicago ought to be the first one. We set up a business plan, and we became the first affiliate with ISC. We had our first meeting, expecting about fifty people, and about a hundred and fifty showed up.”

CSI have about four general meetings per year and these meetings all have different themes designed to help sculptors work efficiently and successfully, even safely. Art professionals come to the meetings and give practical talks to members. The upcoming meeting is about studio safety with a speaker discussing studio insurance with another guest who will teach the sculptors CPR. These meetings function as a time for this community to get together, but also to learn practical and significant aspects for someone who is a career sculptor.

In addition to the general meetings, there are also Open Studios when a member invites friends, family, and colleagues to their studio. “It is their night. The only thing discussed during an Open Studio would be that artist. They are informal but in-depth,” said Emser.

Chicago has a rich history in sculpture and public artworks, and Emser and Karpowicz both had a lot to say about why the city is such a hub. “Chicago, of any place in the United States, is a sculpture city. In Chicago, within walking distance of the Loop, a sculptor can find a place to work,” explained Emser.

Karpowicz continued, “There is granite, glass. A sculptor can get so many materials without even leaving Chicago. It is a port city, too. It’s easy to ship work all over the world. To ship to Australia only costs a few hundred dollars.”


Work by CSI President, Bob Emser; from bobemser.com

These morsels of information such as the costs and the how-to of shipping overseas is the kind of practical help and knowledge CSI passes on to its members. Emser elaborated on this, “Then our sculptors think, ‘I should enter that show in Italy I wasn’t going to enter since I thought it would cost thousands to ship my work.’ We pass this information we learn on to our members.”

Now CSI has begun an ongoing exhibition project called, Art on the Boulevards, beginning on Franklin Boulevard. Karpowicz explained, “The show we just put up on Franklin Boulevard brought culture to a community that didn’t have any. We installed ten sculptures there. When we were setting this up, people came out of their houses, they were so excited.” Emser added, “No tax dollars were used. It was paid for by the individual ten artists who created the work.”

The goal with this ongoing exhibition is to make artwork available to those who may not have ever had it in their neighborhood, much less right outside their front door. The hope is that many boulevards in Chicago will have sculpture by the International Sculpture Center’s conference in Chicago in October of 2012.

But the benefit, according to Emser is also a benefit to Chicago as a whole. “In the end it economically stimulates Chicago because people come here to see the sculpture and spend their dollars in the city.”

CSI will be a part of ArtChicago again this year with large-scale sculptures on Orleans as well as their own booth during the fair. Karpowicz explained CSI’s own show in the fair, “The exhibit is 6x6x6. There will be one hundred and forty works of art in our booth that is a 6x6x6 parameter.” This is an intriguing project for the members of CSI who pay only forty dollars a year to be members. Karpowicz expounds, “When the world comes to Chicago to see art, you want to be a part of it.”

So CSI’s large view of the importance of art in the world? Karpowicz says it well, “Art has the ability to educate. I always say you can tell a lot about a society by the art it leaves behind. Politics change, art stays the same.”

Very true indeed.


Libbie Beaudet