Switzerland & Midwest Connections: The Lucerne Artist Studio in Chicago

In 1998, the cities of Chicago and Lucerne entered into a sister city partnership, which was ratified in Chicago by Mayors Richard M. Daley and Urs W. Studer a year later. Prior to that, several cultural exchanges already took place, with the Lucerne Carnival band “Noggeler” visiting in 1991 and bringing an age-old Swiss tradition to Chicago. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra enriched the Lucerne Festival on various occasions and also performed as orchestra in residence. For Lucerne — a medium-sized Swiss city — this was a unique opportunity to shape its international orientation. Not that the city was unknown outside the region. Lucerne has been an important stop on the trade routes connecting Northern and Southern Europe since the 14th century. Beginning with the Easter Festival in 1453, the city has become a popular global tourist destination as well as a European cultural hub. The city also has an innovative side and is a leader in renewable energy. Lucerne has been converting non-recyclable waste into clean thermal energy since 1971. By comparison, Chicago disposes on average 8 million cubic feet of waste into landfills every year.

In 2001, the then newly founded private association in Lucerne was committed to the project of an Artist Studio in Chicago and raised the necessary sponsorship funds together with financial support from the city and the canton of Lucerne. In Chicago, with the support of the local Lucerne Committee and the Consulate General of Switzerland, the association found suitable premises in Wicker Park. In early September of that year, with the dark clouds of 9–11 on the horizon, the first two artists, Catherine Huth and Pia Frey, traveled to Chicago, and in early November the opening of the studio was celebrated. Since then, twenty years have passed and the studio has been continuously busy until spring of 2020, when the Covid pandemic forced an interruption. During that time (65) artists from all walks of life stayed at the studio and created films, music albums, novels, paintings, theater pieces, dances and illustrations. Among the many notable projects is film maker Stephan Wicki’s “1001 American Smiles”, which has been renewed with “253 Americans” on the occasion of the studio’s anniversary.

At the heart of sister city relationships are human connections and it is important for the artists to experience the city as it is. Many friendships and collaborations were forged, some which continue to this day and they have connected the cultural scenes of Lucerne and Chicago. The stay in Chicago repeatedly presented the Lucerne artists with unexpected challenges, which they always mastered with the support of local acquaintances from their sister city. The openness and cordial curiosity of the people of Chicago has inspired all previous artists in residence. For the city of Lucerne, the artist studio has been a unique cultural project which has had full financial support even in difficult years when it easily could have been the victim of budgetary cuts. This speaks for the broad international horizon of the people in Lucerne and their commitment to the partnership with Chicago. The artist studio remains even after twenty years an example of cultural engagement and is a unique, artistic showcase that is the envy of our neighboring countries.

For its 20th anniversary, the Lucerne-Chicago Sister Cities Association has awarded three commissions to former artists who will collaborate with Chicago artists. The presentations of the work commissions will be shown to the public in Lucerne in 2022. In addition, a publication illustrating the history of the artist studio in Chicago 2001–2021 will be published — with contributions from all former artists. Follow us on Facebook for details of the Festivities and which artists will arrive at the studio in the future.

The Lucerne Artist Studio in Wicker Park.
Artists at the Studio.

Please visit the website at www.luzern-chicago.ch for more information on the Artist Studio Project.

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