Although a vocalist, pianist and composer herself, Paige Brown still sometimes lovingly refers to herself as “arts-adjacent.” As Dark Matter Residency Coordinator for Elastic Arts, and as a fan/friend of many in the robust Chicago arts ecosystem, she constantly finds herself in awe of the talent and adventurousness of the creatives she is privileged to witness and support. While she more frequently positions herself contently in the audiences of arts performances and exhibitions, she is currently navigating a journey of strengthening the inner mechanisms and communal connections to deepen and externalize her own artistic practice more fully. She currently finds joy/peace by communing with plants and other beings, experimenting with simple recipes in the kitchen, and catalyzing/witnessing the growth of artists, students, and others. She currently finds challenge in her quest to improve at the art of taking things slow, and in reacquainting herself with the simple, playful practices that attracted her to Music, her first love.
I am a five-year-old disguised as an adult. I am an artist, a vocalistic creator, a plant lover, an eternal student. I’m a recovering Capricorn, which means perfectionism, crossing t’s, dotting i’s, doing too much—but I’m also a joyful and grateful organism of this Earth. I was born in Champaign, Illinois around U of I’s campus, and then from ages 2 to 18 I was actually in the west suburbs Glen Ellyn, Illinois: white picket fences and little paper cut-out houses and all that. I went to Northwestern for college, so I went to Evanston eventually I was in Oak Park, and then I was teaching in Maywood. Now my partner Jonathan and I are on the South Side, right at the edge of Jackson Park and South Shore. One of my favorite things about the neighborhood is the Stony Island Arts Bank, and my favorite DJ Duane Powell programs the Sunday service there—that’s one of my favorite things in life.
I come from a family of teachers: my mother and my father’s mother taught, and my uncle—my father’s brother—taught high school math. I am not currently a teacher in any formal sense—I was an elementary school teacher—all disciplines, all subjects, dual language, Spanish and English classes. Then I taught dual language sixth, seventh, and eighth grade math, and then, when I started transitioning out of teaching, I was an SAT and ACT tutor for Kaplan, which is conflicting because I need for standardized setting to be abolished, and the truth of the matter is that I did enjoy both the subject matter and the teaching. People were having fun in this test prep class because they would learn things about mathematics: they would be trying to calculate a certain way, and I’d be like, “This pattern replicates itself,” and they’d be like, “oh!” People would be multiplying more easily, or sometimes I would take things that they hadn’t thought of using in other contexts, which is why I was good at math. No matter what I taught, I would bring it into another class—some of the stuff I learned from fourth grade teaching I brought to my high school ACT and SAT classes.
Adults don’t acknowledge when we’re not good at something or when we need support—we can ask somebody who knows, which is something you learn in elementary school: “I need help, Miss Brown—can you help me? Can Jose help?” That’s normalized there. We kind of forget the whole, “Can I raise my hand and ask a question?” Or, “Jose is better at that than me; can I work with Jose?” I see a lot of people overextending themselves, committing to things they can’t do, micromanaging, or being in a silo, and then when they come out of the silo, there’s a lot of things that didn’t get handled. All of that doesn’t have to be! Everything in life, it’s all a group project—nothing is done best completely and totally alone when there are outcomes that impact us all.
The thing that has been most on my mind in the past few months is housing. When I’m on public transit, I see folks, our family, who are unhoused. I see different types of folks: I see folks in certain viaducts where they have a collective with their cash app ready, and it’s clear that they have a society. I’ve seen folks who are at certain transit stops that are almost like mountains; they have created protective layers of blankets around them, and that’s just their place, where they are. There’s somebody down the street whom I’ve passed as I’m walking from the bus stop, and they keep building a shelter for themselves in front of this abandoned building. At one point it got so elaborate, and I just imagined for once just having a space that’s all to yourself, and I wanted him to have that place for as long as possible.
Number one, this is preventable. We all are like, “What are we doing? What do we do?” There are models in other countries where this has been addressed, there are templates, there’s guidance, there’s education, there are policy precedents. There’s also the criminalization and the demonization of the unhoused. The latest vote of contention is Republicans shipping asylum-seekers and dropping them off here. There are insufficient efforts being made to try to address this crisis that was pushed upon us, and there are people who frankly are Black who have been unhoused for decades, and nothing has been done, and we know it’s inadequate but [at least] we see mobilization for immigrants. As a former bilingual teacher who has interacted with various communities and also as a Black person who sees the dynamic, the first thing that comes to mind is, this is what they wanted, this destabilization: we’re going to bring people to our side because it’s going to be too much—we’re going to create an unsustainable circumstance which divides everybody. The second thing I think about is if we actually had a solid sustainable housing policy—looking at friends from Denmark, for example. Why are we not replicating these models that we know to work already? If the solution is out there, why do we refuse to take it?
I struggled with chronic depression for at least 20 years. I know what it means to be hospitalized, but my family had finances to pay even when I couldn’t apply for disability. There were ways for me to continue my treatment such that I’m the person you know today rather than the person that my psychiatrist thought I would be. It’s amazing what money and resources can do—how many people who could be assisting with solving the problems that we have in the city, how many artists, how many architects, how many astronauts, how many people who like flowers, how many people who would like to bask and read, how many chefs, just didn’t have the support and the psychological capacity to continue? Who’s under that mountain of blankets at that bus stop—who is she, and who else she would she want to be? The criminalization of Black boys in particular as they get caught up in these violent cycles, carjacking, seeing people’s windows being smashed out—and understanding that that is also public health.
I’m currently developing the internal mechanism to embrace my artistic practice more authentically which is climbing out of arts adjacency and learning to own the term “artist.” Music is definitely my first love. I had a period of time where I didn’t engage with it, like during my depressive area. I’m out of shape—I really wish I’d been doing scales the whole time. It’s definitely scary and sometimes uncomfortable, but it’s essential—you can’t run forever—well, I’ve found that I couldn’t—so here I am, very late, and wanting to do far more than it seems I have time to do.
Photo of Paige Brown by Seed Lynn