Jim Duignan

Tony Scott
September 29, 2016

Associate professor and Chicago native Jim Duignan joined DePaul's College of Education in 1992 and currently serves as founding chair of the university's Visual Arts Education program. An accomplished artist, Duignan has exhibited work throughout Chicago and the world. In 1995 he started the Stockyard Institute - a community center in Back of the Yards that works to collectively design and organize visual projects alongside youth, artists, teachers, community members and the public. This year, he is the artist in residence at the Rebuilding Exchange, a nonprofit that aims to create a market for reclaimed building materials. Read on to learn about Duignan's new residency and how he's fostering community relationships through the arts.

Tell me about the Visual Arts Education program you started at DePaul.

DePaul has a critical and comprehensive Visual Arts Education program that prepares undergraduate and graduate pre-service candidates to teach art in middle and high schools in Illinois. The program is an important department for both the College of Education and Chicago, as it takes full advantage of the projects, resources, networks and relationships of the Stockyard Institute.

I started the program to explore new approaches of pedagogy with art teachers that seek to adjust traditional options for arts education. The program seeks to draw young artists to DePaul to assist youth across the state in realizing how the arts are essential to our lives and to educational institutions.  

Congratulations on the residency at Rebuilding Exchange. What are you working on?

As a sculptor I use material, mainly wood, from old Chicago neighborhoods. I'm currently working on a Chicago swing for the Reykjavik Art Museum in Iceland, incorporating the subway floor from the CTA station at Madison and Wabash that Rebuilding Exchange originally disassembled.

I am working with colleague and artist Rachel Harper, also from DePaul, in building a larger scale exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center, called "PUBLIC SCHOOL." We're transforming the center into a public school. In this project we're relying on the Rebuilding Exchange to aid in the design and construction of large scale objects and furniture as we develop parallel programs at Rebuilding Exchange to support the center's social and educational efforts.

How does this residency fit into your work at DePaul?

The Rebuilding Exchange is an important social enterprise in Chicago, and like all the residencies I am associated with, it complements my work as an artist and as an educator. The Stockyard Institute has always been committed to operating as a vector platform - a way of connecting groups and spaces to enable better work for all involved. The Rebuilding Exchange and the Stockyard Institute complement each other nicely.

My students, alumni and programs use the Rebuilding Exchange as a design and building site. For example, we assist with theatres and school build outs, and sculptures for exhibitions in galleries, museums and centers. This space and others included in its network truly provide a wide array of the best experiences for our students.

You seem to have a real connection to the community when it comes to your art. Where do you go in the city if you want to feel inspired?

I was born and raised in Chicago, and know the city well. I've watched it closely over the years. I walk down alleys and sometimes visit old neighborhoods like Logan Square and Old Irving Park. Looking at Lake Michigan usually lends me ideas and soulful regeneration, too. I honestly could write a small book on this question. But as my travels continue, I'm reminded of some of our world's greatest, most tragic and most baffling histories, which never fail to inspire.