Chicago’s Poster Biennial grows up

biennial duo

[Tom Biederbeck] Since its birth in 2008, the Chicago International Poster Biennial has been masterminded by a devoted group of volunteers, led by Lance Rutter and his partner Yann Legendre, formerly of the design firm Legendre+Rutter. Now Rutter and Legendre are moving on in their careers, with Rutter heading to California and Legendre returning to France … and the 2012 Chicago Poster Biennial is evolving, too. This year funding is being sought through Kickstarter (closing April 8). I talked with Rutter about the challenges of putting a biennial together and how the public can help make it happen.

Lance Rutter, left, Yann Legendre, right, and in the background their poster for the 2008 Chicago Biennial

The poster occupies a unique position in public media — especially outside the U.S. — with its potent mix of text, graphics and immediate impact. It was in part to raise the profile of posters Stateside that Chicago’s creative community united four years ago to make the city part of the icograda-endorsed network of competitions held from Iran to Finland. Today the Chicago Biennial is the only event of its kind held in the U.S. But as Rutter and his Chicago compatriots know, accomplishing something as massive as this takes organizing power — in popular parlance, “boots on the ground” — to round up financing and sponsorships, and organize and run events.

In 2008, an outdoor exhibition of winning posters was installed in Chicago’s Grant Park. The logistics and the expenses of mounting a biennial can be daunting, says Rutter.

Why did you turn to Kickstarter to fund the 2012 Biennial?
Rutter: From the beginning, we wanted events to be open and accessible to the public. We don’t charge a fee to enter the competition, so we don’t make money that way. We don’t have a professional grant writer on board.

2010 exhibition space in Chicago

We’ve had success getting space for free, but the events themselves have associated costs. One thing the Kickstarter money will help us cover is material costs for printing the posters. Graphic Arts Studio in Barrington, Ill., has done wonderful work for us; we want to cover the cost of their materials. We’ve been able to get paper donated either by the printer or a paper company, and we hope that’s the case again this year.

We thought about what the minimum would be to put a biennial on, and we came up with $25,000. That’s what we’re going for.

Some of the finalists from the first biennial in 2008

Do you have some surprises planned for the 2012 Biennial?
One exciting thing we’re adding this year is the theme of “musicality.” Because we have members on our jury this year like Niklaus Troxler, Jason Munn and Finn Nygaard, who have all done a ton of music posters in their careers, this just made sense. We’ll have a separate category in the general competition with a prize for the best music poster. And jury members will be doing presentations on the theme of “design as music” at the Art Institute of Chicago’s auditorium.

Music posters by 2012 juror Finn Nygaard of Denmark

We’re also partnering with the City of Chicago to hold a student competition this year, again with a music theme: One student entry will be chosen as the official poster of the 2012 Chicago Jazz Festival — a tremendous opportunity for a young designer. The city will hold an exhibition of the top 10 student posters at the jazz festival.

Artwork from posters by jury members is scanned and printed on fabric, then made into one-of-a-kind dresses, which are auctioned off to raise money for the event. This year, the dresses will also be offered to those who contribute at the $10,000 level to the Kickstarter campaign. Artwork by Holger Matthies, left, and Paula Scher, right.

We’re doing dresses again this year, which we have made from fabric printed with the judges’ poster art and auction off. This year the fashion designer Antonio Ciutto has agreed to design and fabricate the dresses with his students at the Fashion School at the Art Institute.

There are loads of great rewards for people who contribute to the Kickstarter campaign … including the opportunity to own one of these one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable art, for a $10,000 donation. For smaller contributions, there are rewards like a set of the judges’ posters and the 2008: First Editions exhibition catalog Yann Legendre designed for the first biennial, printed by Graphic Arts Studio on Mohawk paper.

What are the important dates?
The entry period for the student and professional competitions is April 1 to June 1. We expect to get more than 2000 poster submissions from 50 countries. Judging will be June 7–9, and presentations by members of the jury will be June 8. An exhibition of the jurors’ works will open June 9 at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. In July, the winning posters will be exhibited at the Harrington College of Design.

Where do things stand with the judges?
We have a truly amazing jury, every bit the equal of past years: Niklaus Troxler, Switzerland; Woody Pirtle, USA; Finn Nygaard, Denmark; Jason Munn, USA; Alejandro Magallanes, Mexico; Joanna Górska, Poland; and Ronald Curchod, France.

Each judge has committed to create a poster for the biennial. [Two of them are shown at the head of this article — Ronald Curchod's at left and Niklaus Troxler's at right.] The Chicago designer Joseph Essex, who’s been on our board of directors from the beginning, will host and moderate the jury again this year.

2012 jurors: From left, Pirtle, Troxler, Curchod, Nygaard, Górska, Magallanes, Munn

You’re moving out of Chicago soon. How do you feel about not being present to pull the 2012 Biennial together? Do you feel like you’re abandoning your child?
At the beginning, I wanted to give birth to the idea, not raise the child — to help shape it, then say, “OK, Chicago design community, how can we collectively keep this going?” At times I’ve felt like a single parent — with a lot of help from friends who were willing to baby sit, of course. This is another reason the Kickstarter project seemed like the right approach; it can give us the foundation for our nonprofit to carry the effort forward. It’s time for the Chicago Biennial to move out, find a job, and get its own place!

Learn more about the 2012 Chicago International Poster Biennial Kickstarter project and the swell rewards you can get for contributing here. And watch the biennial website for updates and announcements.

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