ACRE Bridges Urban and Rural Creativity in Illinois and Wisconsin

Arts Midwest

By Kate Mothes / 11.6.23

The non-profit organizes residencies and exhibitions that connect emerging artists in Chicago and the village of Steuben in Wisconsin.

Along a stretch of the Kickapoo River in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area stands the magnificently rustic Steuben Lodge, a multi-use accommodation space constructed from reclaimed timber. Each summer since 2010, it has served as a locus of creativity for ACRE, a Chicago-based non-profit organization with a mission “to support emerging artists develop, discuss, and present their artistic practices.”

ACRE, which stands for Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions, is unique in its ties across state lines to both an urban center—its office and year-round programming center in Chicago—and a series of summertime residencies a little over 200 miles to the northwest in the rural Wisconsin village of Steuben. The residencies aim to connect people and ideas, focused on providing artists with time, intellectual exchange, and an opportunity to immerse themselves in the area, which is known for its organic farms.

“ACRE has an almost mythological reputation,” says artist Ricki Dwyer, who splits their time between San Francisco and Brooklyn and has participated in multiple residencies and projects with the organization. “I am generally not someone who is attracted by residencies which are social in nature, but ACRE changed my perspective on that. Being run by artists, there wasn’t the ‘fancy guest’ feeling of engaging with an institution. Everyone there was a visitor, an artist, and a potential collaborator.”

An Ever-Expanding Creative Community

Each year, three 14-day sessions invite dozens of artists to Steuben who work in a range of disciplines, like visual art, sound and music, performance, writing, curating, science, and culinary arts. Engagement and cross-pollination between practices is central to an environment of flourishing ideas, and participants have access to communal work spaces, a screenprinting studio, an outdoor wood shop, an art and tech facility, and studios for fiber, sound, and ceramics.

In addition to the summer program, ACRE presents events and exhibitions of residents’ work in collaboration with venues in Chicago. Ranging from music gigs to fundraising events to gallery shows, the team strives to create diverse opportunities to celebrate showcase artwork.

“Participating in an ACRE-affiliated gallery exhibition years after I attended as a resident artist meant getting to deepen the relationships I’d made,” Dwyer explains. In 2021, they curated a show at Southern Exposure in San Francisco, which included three ACRE artists, and another two-person show in 2021 with an artist who Dwyer also first met in Steuben. “Artists I have met at ACRE continue to be some of the more genuine connections I have made in my art life.”

Collectively Shaping the Future

With “cooperative” right in their name, ACRE actively involves artists to help determine a future roadmap. The 2023 residency took a forward-thinking approach, inviting its 100 participants to “take part in learning, reflection, and discussion about how we want to shape our future as an organization,” says Development Director Erin Nixon.

This fall, ACRE embarks on a new initiative in collaboration with John Supera, whose real estate company gives back to the Chicago community by supporting initiatives that impact homelessness, hunger, social services, and social justice initiatives. ACRE and Supera will launch a satellite studio residency and pop-up space in the Lincoln Park neighborhood later this fall, granting a Chicago-based artist an opportunity to work and exhibit in the city.

“That dynamic of ‘take it back to real life’ is something particularly special about ACRE,” says Dwyer. “It’s not just a space you visit, it’s definitely a community you join.”

Applications are currently open for Summer 2024 residencies in Steuben. The deadline to apply is November 20, with an early-bird fee discount for applications received on or before November 10.