Community Spotlight: A Conversation with Sam Kirk

SamKirkMain“When people ask me, ‘What do you do for a living?’, I just say I’m an artist,” says Sam Kirk, because explaining all the things that she is and does would take awhile…

A Chicago-native, Kirk is a visual artist who works in a number of different mediums and fields, including fine art (painting and mixed media), architectural design, and fabrication. “I just like to create shit,” she said jokingly in our recent phone conversation. “For me, it’s the idea that’s exciting. That idea dictates what medium I’m going to work in.”

In a great deal of what Kirk creates, the idea comes from a place of provocation. Her desire is not simply to make static pieces of art that display a story or opinion on canvas, but rather to engage the community in a call to action about important issues such as cultural and racial segregation, gentrification, poverty, and homelessness.

Sam2Coming from a dance background, I’m familiar with artists’ desires to raise questions and facilitate discussion around an issue, but am not sure how this transpires in the visual arts.  How does one accomplish a “post-show discussion” when your work is a painting that hangs in a gallery for a month, or a neighborhood mural under a random viaduct?  In essence, how do visual artists accomplish the goal of provoking discussion?  Kirk hosts gallery openings and artist talks at the galleries and cafes where her work is displayed, and each piece comes with a brief description and link to her website in case viewers want to know more. But fine art has a limited audience, and rarely reaches the people and issues about which Sam Kirk is so passionate.  By expanding into different mediums such as mural art and architectural design, she is able to infiltrate communities that are affected by the issues that inspire her work. As a result, Kirk has become more of a community figure, hosting mural tours at the Mexican Fine Arts Museum, for example.

It was kind of surprising for me to hear that LGBT issues don’t really factor into Kirk’s work.  She’s an out lesbian, but her passions remain in socio-economic and cultural issues that stem from her upbringing in a multi-racial family on the south side of Chicago.

“[We] don’t talk about issues in the way people do on other sides of the city. [We] talk about life issues, and how to put food on the table… being gay was never really discussed. I’m lucky that my family was very accepting of it.”

Sam3When Kirk came out as a teenager, they said, “Ok, you’re gay…now just be normal.”

They meant this in the best way.  Kirk and her identical twin sister (who is also gay), were encouraged to simply be themselves, and by doing so, people would accept them for who they are, not who they sleep with. So, Sam Kirk isn’t necessarily a gay artist, but rather an artist who happens to be gay.

… and she’s a busy one at that.  I have more than a handful of freelancing friends who look a month out in their calendars and see little more than a Netflix marathon, but Kirk has a full calendar that includes a corporate design event in New York, a new mural at 16th and Paulina in Pilsen, and work shown at the Elephant Room Gallery in a Multicultural America Print Exhibit opening August 23 (that’s today!).

There’s more, but when I asked Kirk what she really wanted people to know about in reading this article, she mentioned a re-launch of her website that includes a direct sale shop for her artwork.  Why is this exciting? Typically, a percentage of the revenue from artwork sold at a gallery goes back to the gallery (as a sort of processing and handling fee).  By purchasing directly from her website, Kirk will donate that percentage to select charities and causes – the first of which is the Center on Halsted, where she will be featured at the By Women For Women event October 11.

To check out Sam Kirk and her artwork, visit her newly launched website and online store at

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About Lauren W

Lauren Warnecke is a Chicago-based dance writer, educator, and freelance dance professional. She holds degrees in Dance (BA, ’03) and Kinesiology (MS, ’09) and is currently a full-time Clinical Instructor for the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at UIC. Created in 2009 as a platform for dance-based discourse, Lauren owns and operates Art Intercepts, a dance blog and online resource actively promoting the use of evidence-based practices in dance training and performance with the goal to improve and elevate artistry, dance education, and dancer health. She is a contributing author/blogger at Dance Advantage, 4dancers, and the Huffington Post, and an arts contributor at The L Stop. Lauren freelances as a production/stage manager, choreographer, media relations specialist, and grant writer, for small arts organizations and is a Certified Personal Trainer. She is a master composter who likes to dig in the dirt and bake scones.


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