Canvass! Artists Unite Against Human Trafficking (interview)

From left: Mario Gonzalez Jr., Tye Johnson, Cristy Corso and Sergio Gomez in front of a Zhou Brothers painting.

There is a buzz in chicago about the upcoming Canvass event.  When artists unite for a great cause, it benefits us all. Canvass will be an amazing event aimed at helping to stop Human Trafficking!!  I had the chance to interview the two creative minds behind this awesome idea, Tye Johnson and Cristy Corso.  They are high-energy artists who have decided to make a stand. Please, take a moment and read this interview. Get your tickets and come support us on Saturday, June 8th starting at 6:30 pm in Pilsen’s Both Sides Gallery!!!

Sergio: How did the idea for the Canvass event come about?

Tye: Last summer, I saw the documentary, Very Young Girls, an expose of human trafficking that follows thirteen and fourteen year old American girls as they are seduced, abused, and sold on New York’s streets by pimps, and treated as adult criminals by police. After watching this film, I found out that this was also happening in Chicago and lots of other places in the United States. Thankfully, Illinois is one of the few states that does not treat victims as criminals, however, little is done on a wide scale to encourage prevention and/or intervention.

A few of my friends and myself felt that something needed to be done to combat this problem and to specifically help the victims. I found The Dreamcatcher Foundation through contacts from another anti-human trafficking organization in Chicago (Traffick Free). After speaking with Stephanie, the CEO of The Dreamcatcher Foundation and realizing that we held a similar vision for building an actual center for these girls, we knew that they were the perfect organization to partner with in order to make this happen. They were already dedicated to helping victims and already had a plan for making the center a reality, but needed to raise the funds. Because they have a small team that works directly with the girls, I felt it my personal duty to lend a hand.

The first spark was lit when my 5th graders were learning about taking a stand and since I like to teach in a pretty hands-on way, I wanted to make it real for them. We decided to take a stand on an issue that was important to us and after learning about slavery throughout history and discovering that there are more slaves in the world today than were extracted during the 400 years of the trans-atlantic slave trade, we decided that there was no better cause in which to currently focus our attention. We held a fundraiser at Overflow Café in the south loop where the students painted pictures of coffee mugs that they dedicated to a person that they thought changed the world for the better. Although I keep the discussion about human trafficking very age appropriate, we talk a lot about the importance of one person’s ability to change the world and my goal has been to ignite them to be that change. We raised over $1000 with that fundraiser, and after speaking with Stephanie, they were inspired to raise more! Thus, Catching Dreams for Canvass (the kid-centered fundraiser held on May 25th) and Canvass were born! Canvass is a collaboration with Corso Studio Premieres and Both Sides Art Gallery. Our hearts aligned and we decided that in a short matter of time, we had to make magic happen!

Cristy: There is much I’ve personally researched on the staggering reality of Human Trafficking in Chicago over the past five years.   So when artist & activist Tye Johnson, who I recently showed with at an international woman’s exhibit & received an award, asked me to help produce an art show to benefit the cause, it was natural to join in.  Producing some amazement for the opening night eventful benefit will be quite an intimate spectacular.    Many artists, creatives, organizations, & businesses involved are already rewardingly receiving the art of giving & inspiration with the short amount of time we had to produce.


Sergio: How big is the problem of Human Trafficking in the US?

Tye: It amazes me how little we know about this problem, considering how prevalent it is.

  • The Department of Justice estimates that the most frequent age of entry into the commercial sex industry is 12-14.
  • The United Nations estimates that 700,000 to 4 million women and children are trafficked around the world for purposes of forced prostitution, labor and other forms of exploitation every year. More than $9.5 billion in profits are generated worldwide from trafficking human beings. It is the second largest and the fastest growing criminal industry in the world today, after drug dealing (US. DOS, 2008).
  • Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, because of its strategic location and importance, is considered a highly used transit location by traffickers to transport victims and disperse them as needed to other cities and states.
  • Hundreds of girls and young women are trafficked and held captive as sex slaves in Chicago, while teenage girls are routinely “pimped” and exploited on Chicago streets (Tanagho, 2007).
  • In 2005, the FBI designated Chicago as one of thirteen locations of “High Intensity Child Prostitution” (Tanagho, 2007).
  • It is easy for a Cook County resident to become a victim of trafficking without ever leaving the county (CCCWI, 2007).
  • In metropolitan Chicago, 16,000 to 25,000 women and girls are involved in commercial sex trade annually, with one third of them first getting involved in prostitution by the age of 15 years, and 62% by the age of 18 years (CCCWI, 2007; Raphael & Ashley, 2008).

Cristy: First off the cause, Human trafficking, for The Dreamcatchers Foundation, demands attention in Chicago for the statistics alone.  100% of the ticket sales & proceeds of the art sold, along with auction items, will be going to foundation. This will help the The Dreamcathcers Foundation get more to serve these woman such as beds activate while bringing more awareness.

The occurrences never cease to amaze me anytime I plug in to a cause as an artist.   If I’m about it & more plugged in it becomes just as important as what I produce.   Facts like how young woman & girls being trafficked are held  by bar codes tattooed are startling.  Me being in the business of solutions for this, I asked what could artists do?   Serendipitously, people come out of the woodwork usually.  For instance, finding out about people like Chris Baker’s Ink 180.  His charitable efforts of removing bar codes on woman within his own tattoo business have brought a lot of freedom from a syndicate of trafficking.  He was one of the first tattoo businesses in the nation who took on reaching out to Chicagoland for free removal of bar codes & gang member tattoos.   A lot of education, proactive inspiration for all, & awareness of that sort pops up when a cause takes the wheel.


Sergio: What kind of things will guests experience at Canvass?

Tye: Our goal for Canvass is to raise awareness about human trafficking in Chicago and worldwide, while introducing people to the fabulous world of art and fashion, Chicago-style! This intimate international exhibition & art patron spectacular will showcase:
- Corso Studio Premieres: living art sculptures, styled by the J-Na Haute Couture, painted live by artist Anna Todaro, recently known for her mural effort at Navy Pier
- International, national, & prominent local artist exhibition.
- Meet the artists 
- Interactive art for guests & “young artist” installation
- Unique poetic fashion runway performance from designers & art wear supporters. 
- Red carpet experience 
- Dance to live music and deejay
- Culinary delights from premiere Chicago restaurants
- Open bar with fine wines, signature cocktails, and beverages
- Silent auction and raffle featuring art, MCA, Hubbard Dance, Akira, Designers, fine products & eventful services.
- Located in the fabulously hip Pilsen neighborhood of arts & culture

Cristy: The support in producing Canvass, Saturday, June 8th has been that good that we’re jazzed at what, truthfully, is going to come out of this event again with the time & resources we had allocated.   We will be providing purposeful performances on red carpet indoor & out, some excitement at levels of media & press, and our exuberance of showing contemporary works form Chicago, NYC, & Austria.   Contributions from all, even just wanting to be apart of Canvass in some way, have been great and always need more as it pops up.

The artist’s exhibiting work along side additional auctioned wares, currently worth thousands, is benevolently starting at remarkably reasonable price points during auction available only on June 8th.  This we hope will not only get people excited to give back but will create the curious into collectors.   The intimate setting & comfort of Both Sides Gallery, in notable Pilsen, makes auctioning & raising funds a unique experience & palatable to the public.   I think of NYC when I would attend art events, some after fair affairs.   Some from Lower East Side, Chelsea, or Williamsburg Brooklyn.  I’d see a wide mixed of eclectic guests & anybodies.  Granted NYC is more of an international vibe but we’re all hearing Chicago’s new inflection to its already strong art voice.

With all seriousness, we are excited by the response from all.   Support from places like the Museum of Contemporary Art, Hubbard Dance Studio, White Sox ball club, notable fashion designers, such as J-Na & GSB Haute Couture & many more has been great.   J-Na Haute Couture will be back again working with Corso Studio Premieres.  They & our team are again inspired by the contemporary art that has been selected for exhibition, in all its forms, materials, & colors –- even by the kids installation that occurred at recent fundraiser.    Come to see the native neon, pop glam of  “living art sculptures” as they are painted live again by Anna Todaro, recently known for her mural activity at Navy Pier.


Sergio: Who are the participating artists?

Tye: Featured artists in the show include: Eva Bialecki, Cristy Corso, Maria D’Angelo, Javier Enriquez, Sergio Gomez, Mario Gonzalez Jr. “Zore”, Kazuya Morimoto, Kirsten Miccoli, Klaus Pinter, Allen Vendever… plus others that will be included in the silent auction.

Cristy:  Many involved sell wares, wears, along with our skills, creative expertise, and services to pay the bills, yet still find that contemplative time required to create.   Many are hybrids working fulltime as artists in tandem to other professions, such as art educators, while balancing life, families, & being great parents.   The great thing about not only being an artist but also living as one is this that your philosophy of work & life can all fusion together.

For example, on May  25th Tye Johnson organized a kids fundraiser with a 5th grade class from Oak Lawn & many other private invites of families &  the artists involved themselves. As funding for the arts in general is at all time low in public schools, Tye has been sharing with the class how arts & charity can team up.   That day during the fundraiser they performed, created their own “fine art dream catchers.”   This work from these “young artists” will contemporarily be apart of the curation — interactively & installed within the show.   Also, kids starting their bio at the gallery, showing with some great artists is not a bad gig for a 10 year old & their family.
Teaming up, with the help of talented & renowned artists in Chicago, getting to reach out to artists from NYC & internationally, like Klaus Pinter from Austria, has been a nice.   Another interactive for guests will be his tree-like paper print installation.  We’ll be installing which will allow guests to take home an international piece of art off the wall with ticket.   I’m delighted to give away a small work of my own, from a larger series in process, with a certificate of authenticity of current value, to help with premium patron ticket sales.  We hope all of these things encourage more folks to get comfortable & cozy up with fine art like we have.   We will literally be rolling out the red carpet for artists, patrons, & the support of such a prevailing cause.


Sergio: What kind of impact do you wish to have through this event?

Tye: We hope to raise awareness about this cause and to raise money to help The Dreamcatcher Foundation build the first crisis intervention center in Chicago dedicated to helping victims. They have found it will take $356,000 to get the center running and our aim is to help them reach this goal. We also want to show the healing power of art as the artists chosen to exhibit were encouraged to create work that demonstrated an issue in their own lives for which they took a stand. Additionally, we want the victims and survivors of this horrible crime to know that they are not forgotten and that their cries are being heard. We seek to inspire patrons of this event to fight for freedom and to help spread the message that objects should be bought and sold, not people!

Sergio: Where can people go to purchase tickets?

Tye: Tickets can be purchased at One of the many great things about this event is that all proceeds from ticket sales goes to The Dreamcatcher Foundation and your ticket purchase is tax-deductible.

Cristy: Hope to see you June 8th for Canvass.  Get your ticket today as they are filling up fast.

Corso Studio Premieres team is looking forward to doing this again as the reverb from last time, pushing more than just fine arts.    Being an invited featured artist, into a local celebrity pushed fashion-based fundraiser at Bridgeport Art Center, I was asked if I was just going to draw people coming near my wares in the exclusive area for attendees when I mentioned I was bringing an art happening premieres.  That told me that even with a popularity of fashion that is very creatively inspired by art, was not able to see the purism branched into some new art definitions.  The excitement we created attracted folks like actor Vince Vaughn’s mom, Shea Vaughn who chatted it up with models painted gold like sculptures – knowing one from other events or benefits.   Also, a new young collector was created, Eric Conway, Jeff Conway’s twin of an NBC’s television show.  This helped my work shown, & Corso Studio Premieres, to technically be one of the largest financial contributors for the cause at time.  To receive from the family that, “one of the best part of the event was acquiring art” warmed & ignited several artists getting work out there. That enthusiasm, now for a fully art centered affair, we hope to bring to Canvass.



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