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The 312: Breaking down barriers to connect the city

From left: Joe Erbentraut Kristen KazElizMyrie participate Monday an On The Table dinner discussias part citywide effort sponsored by Chicago

From left: Joe Erbentraut, Kristen Kaza and Eliza Myrie participate Monday in an On The Table dinner discussion as part of a citywide effort sponsored by the Chicago Community Trust. | Photo by Jaclyn Elizabeth

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Updated: June 23, 2014 11:55AM

Supping with strangers to solve Chicago’s problems? Sounds
like a plan.

That’s the whole point behind On The Table, a 12,000-person meal spread out among thousands of homes and businesses. By encouraging dining with a new crowd, the Chicago Community Trust, which sponsored the event Monday, hoped to spur ideas and dialogue about what’s right and what’s wrong with our fair city.

“A lot of our conversations were centered around the inherent value of art and how our communities and cities can support creative people better,” says Kristen Kaza, a table host and owner of event planning company No Small Plans Productions. She carefully curated her meal, held in the underground dining space of award-winning Lake View interior designer David Hopkins. Each course, created by the chefs behind Yo Soy Supper Club, was themed, so as to invite conversation. Between courses, they danced to Earth, Wind and Fire’s hit “Boogie Wonderland” and traded seats. “We tried to mix it up so it wasn’t creative people having the same conversation they already had.”

Even farther south that night, the Rebuild Foundation invited artists to mingle with local neighborhood residents to “demystify” the foundation’s goals. The foundation is perhaps best known for being affiliated with artist Theaster Gates’ multipronged efforts to improve the greater Grand Crossing area.

“I think the big takeaways from it were the possibilities of collaborating with neighbors who really are just kind of down the street,” Jeffreen Hayes, director of Rebuild, said. “Plus, the conversation with etaCreative Arts Foundation was for me our big takeaway. There is very much a need for the creative arts industry, particularly for artists of color. . . . There is a need.”

One event held at WBEZ’s South Side bureau engaged residents in their wish to change the narrative of Chicago, so that people know the city for something more than the violence of Al Capone on up to the gang violence of today. Another, held at Wood Street Urban Farm in Englewood and hosted by Growing Home, Potluck Chicago and Grow Greater Chicago, led residents in a discussion of how to create a healthy community with greater access to a wider range of fresh foods.

The best of these ideas will make it to Chicago Ideas Week, coming in October, when like-minded folks get together to figure out how these ideas can be enacted for the greater good.

“We want to trigger more caring,” said Daniel Ash, spokesman for the Trust. “I was in a session, and one quote stuck in my head all week: We need to share more Chicago with Chicago. We need to break through the barriers, be it race, or North Side versus West Side versus South Side, or suburbs versus city, or south suburbs versus north suburbs. We need to break through these historical barriers and shatter them and connect people with people.”


Twitter: @adriennewrites

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