Tom Tresser

Tom Tresser - Civic innovator.
Artist Statement: 

I'm a long time activist and educator who has criss-crossed the arts, community development and civic engagement spaces since 1990. I was a Shakespearean actor in the early 1980s and then became a theater producer and then, as a result of the attack on the arts by the Far Right, an arts advocate. My take on the Culture Wars from the early 1990's is that we lost and lost badly. I've been a strong advocate for artists and cultural workers to organize and run for local office. In 1991 I created Greater Chicago Citizens for the Arts that endoresed pro-arts candidates who supported freedom of expression. We also trained artists to run for Local Schoo Councils. In 2004 I organized The Creative America Project that organized full day training sessions on how to translate artistic skills into running for local office and helping people to run.

I've been in Chicago since 1980. Over the years I've devloped a portfolio of public work around fighting corruption, grassroots economic development (I organized the region's first community development and arts program at Peoples Housing in 1993), civic engagement and fighting privatization. In 2009 I was a co-organizer of the No Games Chicago campaign that helped derail Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics. In 2010 I was the Green Party candidate for Cook County Board President and ran on a platform that included innovation, the arts, urban agriculture, reform, social justice and expanding health care to the uninsured.

Most recently I've launched the CivicLab, a co-working space in the West Loop that is dedicated to collaboration, education and innovation for civic engagement. We offer desks at $200/month. In the evening we offer a wide range of classes on all things civic. See for our current offerings. We build tools for accelerating open government and civic engagement. Our most well known work is the TIF Illumination Project which has been exposing what Tax Increment FInancing Districts are doing to us at the ward level. We use data mining, investigatory journalism, graphic design and community organizing to reveal the details of this program that extracts about one half billion dollars in property taxes from Chicaoans every year and places that money in a giant slush fund controled by the mayor. This is to the detriment of local government, including the public schools, the parks and the libraries - which rely heavily on property traxes for their operation. This work has caused quite a fuss here. It was profiled in the July 22 2013 cover story of The Nation, "Chicago Rising!"