Creative Director and author Dave Reidy talks with Esthetic Lens about how the pandemic has altered his creative practice and what he has been up to over the past year. Reidy shares a list of fellow creatives who have used the pandemic to their advantage and inspired Reidy along the way.
- How are you holding up?
I am holding up well.
That’s the right answer for me when considering the question in the context of the multiple crises—health, social, governmental—Americans are enduring right now and their disproportionate impact on people who do not benefit from privilege to the extent I do. Any other answer would conflate the inconveniences and annoyances I’ve experienced with the existential threats and realities—including but not limited to eviction, food insecurity, unemployment, loss, illness, and death—under which so many of our neighbors have been living and are living still.
- Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?
Though my foray into nonfiction (after years of writing fiction almost exclusively) began before the pandemic, the crises around COVID-19 have led me to continue to write essays. I wrote a family history centered on an under-explored area of housing discrimination called yellowlining—a decades-old historical phenomenon with present-day negative effects, especially in the lives of Black and Latinx people.
On the same day I respond to these questions, I am writing a review for South Side Weekly of a book about housing activism in 20th-Century America. My friend Emily Benfer’s brilliant and meaningful work on eviction has stoked my interest in continuing to write about housing, as she, her co-authors, and her fellow activists have repeatedly demonstrated, in the long shadow of this pandemic, that housing is indeed healthcare.
In my work as a creative director, COVID-19 has pushed me and my teammates into an all-virtual working relationship. Every week, we do something creative that one year ago I would have sworn required our being face-to-face to do well. Their excellence and grit continue to prove wrong my old conceptions of how we work best.
- Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?
COVID-19 has reacquainted me with a truth that had once informed my own choice of housing: a short commute (or no commute) leaves more time to make things.
When I moved back to Chicago after getting my MFA in 2006, I found a place only a few blocks from the agency that hired me. I wrote in the morning and walked to work. The needs of a growing family have pushed my residence further away from that office. Working from home, while not without its challenges, has returned time to my life, and I have poured some of that found time into my writing.
When the pandemic lifts, I hope to be able to work from home at least a few days a week, in part to sustain my creative practice. I recognize that this is yet another way that the pandemic has served people in my privileged position even as it forced others into dangerous or even desperate situations—all the more reason, I suppose, for me to write nonfiction about issues that impact those threatened daily by COVID-19.
Another good reason: a 2018 study that found, amidst all the evidence that little if anything convinces Americans of anything they are not already inclined to believe, that op-ed style newspaper writing is persistently persuasive.
- Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?
The list below, of artists and makers I admire for the work they are doing during the pandemic, is long, varied, and incomplete. As for how they’re handling the pandemic beyond the work they produce, I can’t speak for them. At the very least, they are creating their way through it.
- Emily Benfer (see above)
- Oriel Davis-Lyons, Creative Director at Spotify, co-founded ONE School, a portfolio school that is free and, in Oriel’s words, “unapologetically Black.” The inaugural student cohorts completed the course remotely and under pandemic conditions, so the students, too, have my great admiration.
- Lindsay Hunter and Alex Higley launched their podcast I’m a Writer But, featuring their fellow authors in conversation about how they manage (or don’t) life with work and kids.
- Sculptor pal Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford put up new work at MCA Chicago.
- George Davis, a maker/creative with a heart of gold and talent to match, opened Muse Coffee Studio, a Black-owned business with a mission to serve creativity and creative people in Chicago.
- Arts & Business Council of Chicago and my fellow #ChiMusic35 volunteer committee members, who collaborated with a stellar list of Ambassadors to identify and amplify 35 moments when Chicago music touched and shaped the world, a list that offers additional proof (as if any were needed) that Chicago was and remains a capital of Black creativity
- Chromeo, the third-to-last band I saw perform before COVID shut things down, made a danceable, positive, and respectful pandemic soundtrack: the Quarantine Casanova EP.
- Ed Marszewski and Community Kitchen Chicago, which has provided tens of thousands of pay-what-you-can meals to the Bridgeport and Avondale communities, all in the spirit of mutual aid
- Yamdini, the Chicago-based visual artist who beautified the Bridgeport/McKinley Park installation of the Love Fridge
- Shouts to my creative colleagues at closerlook, inc., people whose great work, partnership, and commitment have energized and inspired me.
- Tiffany Bedwell, an actor, and my spouse and partner, has unceasingly impressed me with her dual commitment to her craft and our family, and with her incredible run of booking safe gigs and seeing her projects greenlit, broadcast, and premiered, even as much of her industry is at a standstill.
- Our two young sons see themselves as makers in ways they did not before the pandemic. For their moments of pure inspiration, and for the days they push through their reluctance and resist the siren call of gaming to put something new into the world, I admire them, too.
Dave Reidy is a creative director and author. He spent 4+ years at Coudal Partners, the boutique Chicago studio best known as the home of Field Notes. Now at closerlook, inc., he and his teammates tell brand stories that aim to change lives for the better.
Dave’s writing has appeared in Granta, Belt Magazine, and South Side Weekly. He is the author of Captive Audience, a short-story collection named an Indie Next Notable Book by the American Booksellers Association, and The Voiceover Artist: A Novel.