Feature Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Chicago is well known as a hard working city. But no other collective of artists in Chicago works quite as hard at transforming the arts community as the triad, or holy trinity of dynamic divas that make up Tres Colony. With full-time jobs and their own art and organizing to attend to, this dedicated and talented trio aim to defy the individualistic and capitalistic, dog-eat-dog mentality in the art world. They believe, at the root of their practice, that events and organizing art should stand as a tool to bring communities together in celebration. Tres believes art must stand as a means of critique and questioning for society. “Co-founded in 2009,” Tres describes itself as “a collective dedicated to creating space and opportunity among artists of all disciplines, and generating art and programming around multi-disciplinary art.”

Tres Colony consists of three diverse and diligent artists, arts educators and arts administrators:  Shirley Alfaro, Sandra Ivelisse Antongiorgi and Krista Franklin. They run their collective with no home site. Their events, ranging from book release parties, curated art shows, performances and classes, are housed in different venues across the city. Shirley Aflaro shares with Gozamos about her origins in the arts and her involvement with this critical arts collective.

I know Krista and Sandra’s art, but I’m not familiar with your own art. What’s your origin in the arts?
SA: I come from a family of performers. I’m not a shy person. I did the Second City conservatory comedy group. My family is hysterical. But a couple years ago I just stopped to focused on visual art. I’ve worked with Gallery 37 and ASM over the years. I wanted to do stand up, writing material, doing open mics, but I had to stop and focus on Tres. I enjoy the social community aspect. Community is what it’s about. My social justice advocate impulse is satisfied with Tres. The opportunity to bridge gaps for others is really satisfying, but I am going back into performance soon too.

What inspired you all to create Tres Colony?
SA: Looking at the art out there and the lack of opportunities for artists of color. I think, like any visual artist, you want to find your niche. A lot of artists in Chicago are haters, they don’t share knowledge, or show love for each other. Artists can be very competitive, especially when arts’ worth is measures in monetary value. We wanted to do our own thing. We’re all very spiritual. We wanted to break that idea of Chicago artists hating on each other. We believe that there are so many people doing things and we wanted to bring artists together. Young people looking for mentorship can take classes with Krista and Sandra for free. We also hope to provide a space to showcase their art work.

Tell me about working with Sandra and Krista.
SA: Sandra and Krista are two different extremes. Two different women of color telling similar stories in very different ways, through different medias and with different skills and visions. Our humanness ties us together.

What does Tres Colony do?
SA: We’re networking, offering mentorship, building an audience for our own art, and connecting the dots for people. We collaborate and perform art. Tres believes art isn’t a solo show. It takes a lot of people to really do something different.

As a collective of women, what’s your view on the art world today?
SA: Being women there’s obviously a forge with men being on top. We’re artists and this, Tres, is an extension of what we want to see in the community, be it male, female, black, white, rich, poor.

What is Tres Colony’s approach to forming community?
SA: We have a rich bond. We respect each other. We get excited about seeing other peoples’ art, critiquing, and sharing. We wanted to change the idea of what mainstream art means. It becomes a very selective world with the collectors and elitist clubs. It’s hard for new artists to break through. Art is art, it doesn’t matter.

How is Tres challenging the art world?
SA: Here we see all these collectives who don’t want to be connected to galleries breaking the mentality of those who look at art. Who views and consumes, buys and talks about art? We want to put everyone in the spotlight and create visibility. This is what people are coming out to support when they come to a Tres event.

What are your thoughts on the segregation of the arts communities? Like the Northside vs. Southside divides in Chicago?
SA: Tres works to improve and broaden horizons. To unify Chicago. You have your pockets of art places across the city. It’s like sitting in a lunch room. It’s so unnecessary. None of us belonged to those worlds. We’re the odd balls, in our own world. When we all met we thought, “Why not unite and break that shit down?” We’re able to bring different elements of art, bring different art forms together, call and response type, looking beyond our own scope. There’s other influences to your individual art outside of just visual art. People have been really welcoming to us. Giving us opportunities, listening to us. We want people to reach out to us. We want to help people out.

What’s one of the greatest joys and one of the greatest challenges of working as a collective?
SA: We’re all are on the same plain. We try to have a good time. We want people to feel welcome, as if they were in my home, feeling welcomed. We never charge. We do donations. We’re putting money upfront. We hope it all comes back because people are donating. There aren’t very many grants that are supporting collectives. Either you become a 501c3 looking for locations or you fade. Collectivism is a grassroots way of creating a non-profit. Logistically it’s a whole other endeavor. Collectivism isn’t in the vocabulary of grant writers or governmental grants. I don’t think it’s always going to be like that, I hope. The more events and visibility that collectives create, grant fundings and foundations will start to look at collectives more. It’s hard to get sponsorship if you’re a collective that isn’t trying to market some beer or wine. We’re more interested in creating an art space, an art show. Talking to other collectives, we all have our same dilemma. The money becomes the real issue, but we work around it. We still pull it off. It doesn’t stop us. But we have to be realistic.

How has working with the Tres Colony affected your own art?
SA: Being emerged in visual art has helped me a lot. It’s helped me see my life. It’s shown me nuances in my own performance, helped my eye. I see things more clearly. Things have snapped. Seeing art from a different dimension, I feel it more. I feel more empathetic to the art and the message. Tres does a lot of teaching with young people and talking to families. Sandra is very School of the Art Institute, surreal. Where Krista is very street art, urban art. We’re all learning from each other. Sandra can get raw and Krista can get refined with Tres. We have similar concepts, thoughts and feelings but it looks different. That’s the beauty of Tres. What we’re learning from each other is what we’re trying to teach others. Artists love that we’re opening up the idea of interactive events.

What makes Tres events different than other art shows?
SA: We don’t just put up an art show. We put up a show. We want people to have a variety of things to do at our events. I think that for people coming to the events, I’ve seen a change in the way I’ve seen collaborations. Now moreso than ever, artists are struggling. Artists have always been struggling. But, looking at the art education in Chicago, the budget cuts are hurting artists that teach for a living. You see, the arts is very intergenerational. There’s such a range from teenagers to mentors, 20s to 30s. I love that. That’s what people like about our events. The varied people that are coming. We’ve chosen an interesting path.

For more information on Tres visit: www.trescolony.com

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