Salonathon: An Inclusive Utopia

Salonathon: An Inclusive Utopia


When one walks into Salonathon, they can automatically sense the mission it is aiming to accomplish: establishing a safe and open community that forms an inclusive and creative platform for “underground emerging genre- defying artists,” as founder Jane Beachy puts it. Beachy and curators Joe Varisco, Will Von Vogt, and Bindu Poroori, and the many enthusiastic attendants of Salonathon have created this unique space for artists and performers in Chicago to express their creativity in an environment that is overall accepting and encouraging.

Beginning in July 2011, Salonathon has been hosted at Beauty Bar in the Noble Square area every Monday night at 9:15.  Before leaving its mark on Beauty Bar every Monday, Salonathon has come a long way and has evolved organically to what people know and love today.

Beachy, who is originally from Kansas City, was creating these artistic spaces in her own home when she was a college student living in Seattle. “I was trying to figure out what it meant to be a writer or an artist or how one could find a way to express themselves. I was writing all these weird stories and I was having a hard time finding where these belonged and that made me feel very bad and worthless artistically,” said Beachy. After talking to people who felt similar to what Beachy was feeling, she soon took matters in her own hands and started hosting “salons” (a name that was influenced by the salons in France), at her home monthly and transformed her basement into a theater and her garage into a gallery. Eventually she would do this in Brooklyn and Chicago.

Beachy discovered that hosting these salons was an excellent way to meet and network with other creative individuals. “I became obsessed with the format of the salons and found that I was most passionate about making these bases and finding ways to bring people together, which was both celebratory and inclusive”.

When Beachy finally arrived to Chicago she worked at the About Face Theater for three years, a theater that aims to enhance the national dialog on gender and social identity. By working there, she met many queer emerging artists and was inspired to host salons in her home again. This was a way for Beachy to get immersed in the creative community in Chicago. While hosting these salons, she worked with some of these artists that eventually lead her to manage a band called Bath House, “a band that described them selves as ‘queer electroshock’,” as Beachy puts it.

Some time later Beachy booked a show for Bath House at a bar called The Empty Bottle and asked the owner if she could curate a salon at The Empty Bottle. Instead, the owner proposed if she wanted to do a weekly salon at Beauty Bar, which he was partnered with and like that Salonathon was born.

“I never tried to do anything that frequent before and it was very daunting and scary,” describes Beachy. She met Kelly Kerwin who helped Beachy build the foundation for Salonathon and aided her in curating and hosting the events. When Kerwin left Chicago after that first year of Salonathon, Beachy met current curators Varisco and Von Vogt. Both Varisco and Von Vogt brought all types of different people to Salonathon, which helped establish this open community. Over a year ago, a fourth curator Poroori was brought on the team and introduced another type of younger community that ultimately constructed the following that Salonathon has today.

The Monday night performances at Salonathon are not limited in any way. A melting pot of individuals go on stage from singers, dancers, poets, and even just people almost venting and releasing this raw emotion in their performances and a variety of other different acts that all follow the theme of the week. “The artists that perform have created their own path that doesn’t pre-subscribe to the traditional form,” describes Beachy. “There are two types of performers that are at Salonathon. One is the professional artists that do that for a living and the other is the people who have never performed in their life and they are doing that for the first time ever. Both of those type of performers are equally valuable to Salonathon”.

Outside of the Monday evening events and performances, Salonathon also hosts other performance outlets. This ranges from curating at the University of Chicago’s Chicago Performance Lab for genre-defying artists, hosting an annual artists retreat at Camp Wandawega in Wisconsin, curating at the Museum of Contemporary Art, to numerous other activities and events that are held outside of Salonathon Mondays.

Salonathon’s goal is to present these genre-defying artists while creating this unique and artistic community that makes one feel automatically welcomed once walking through the door of Beauty Bar. That feeling of acceptance and inclusiveness is extremely rare to find anywhere, yet Salonathon succeeds this effortlessly.

Call To Action

You can catch a Salonathon show every Monday at 9:15 located at Beauty Bar on 1444 W Chicago Ave in Noble Square or visit them on their website If you want to perform at Salonathon, feel free to contact Jane Beachy or sign up on their website.

Rise From The Ashes

Rise From The Ashes

When speaking about Rise from the Ashes, a Plainfield-based 5013c nonprofit that provides legal and emotional support to low-income women suffering from domestic violence, founder Stephanie Austin is quick to point out some truly staggering numbers. Domestic violence, for example, causes more injuries to women every year than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.  Additionally, abusive partners seeking sole custody of children achieve their ends in 70% of cases in which the victim of domestic violence lacks representation.  These numbers, she says, speak for themselves, testifying resoundingly to the urgent need for her organization and its work.

And they aren’t, she points out, just empty numbers, black-and-white statistics she’s culled from the pages of reputable journals but to which she cannot attest in real life.  This is because Austin herself is a survivor of domestic violence, once a near-penniless mother struggling to sever the legal ties binding her to an abusive husband.  “It was a desperate situation,” Austin says. Even when she considered trying to leave her husband, she “quickly found there was nowhere for me to go.  You can stay in a women’s shelter, sure, but you can only stay for six weeks.  Then what?”  Not only was there nowhere to flee in the short-term, but the prospect of long-term solutions seemed equally grim: “No matter where I ended up staying,” she explains, “I needed legal representation to obtain a divorce and get custody of my kids.  But this is almost impossible if you don’t have the money to hire an attorney.”

After all, she continues, the issue is more complicated than people think: “People will say, go to legal aid—you’re entitled to an attorney even if you can’t afford one!” she remembers, her words recalling the Miranda warning made famous by popular police and court procedurals, such as Law and Order.  “But they don’t know or haven’t thought about the fact that this pertains to criminal law, not civil cases.”  You’ll get a state-funded attorney if you’re charged with a crime, in other words, but not if you’re pursuing a civil matter, such as a lawsuit, a divorce, or a protection order.  This means that many women—often already vulnerable due to straitened circumstances and abusive relationships—are left in a legal no-(wo)man’s land, struggling to address their problems legally but possessing no fiscal means to do so.

Original artwork by Charlotte Farhan

It makes sense, perhaps, that people don’t know much about this side of the system as long as they’ve never had to deal with it personally; after all, Austin herself only comprehended the complexities of the problem once she encountered it.  Faced with the urgent need for a divorce and custody of her children but with almost no money to do so, Austin threw herself at the mercy of an attorney she found by googling the term “aggressive solo custody lawyer.”  Upon learning of her plight, this lawyer—Chicago-based attorney Michael A. Biederstadt of Biederstadt Law, P.C.—agreed to represent her.

Both Biederstadt and Austin would find the case and partnership to be an eye-opening experience: Austin encountered countless other women battling similar circumstances, women who, without the magnanimous assistance of an attorney, were faring far worse in their own cases than Austin was.  At the same time, Biederstadt was learning about a side of the civil court system he had never so much as glimpsed before: even after years of practicing family law, Austin’s case was the first time he witnessed the unique and astonishing problems specific to domestic violence cases.  He saw how the system tended to work against women in violent marriages and result in their legal underrepresentation.  For example, many women experiencing domestic abuse do not possess an independent income or access to marital funds or assets, meaning that they cannot afford to hire their own attorneys.  This material disadvantage does not, though, translate to free legal services as it would in many other cases: most free or subsidized legal aid services take the husband’s income and assets into account when considering whether an applicant qualifies for assistance.  Consequently, women just like Austin were suffering in violent marriages because they couldn’t get representation to escape them.

The shared experience was so profound, Austin says, that neither one felt they could continue their lives as before, even after Austin’s own divorce and custody cases had been satisfactorily adjudicated.  In recounting the formative inspiration for their venture, she recalls a favorite saying of her cofounder: “[Biederstadt] says all the time that you get opportunities in life to really make a difference, and it’s up to you if you take them or not.”  So, the pair resolved to form a nonprofit that would support women in abusive marriages, connecting philanthropically minded lawyers and counselors with the women most in need of them.

Only two short years after its formation in 2015, Rise from the Ashes now provides an array of services to Kane, Kendall, DuPage, and Will counties.  Not only do volunteers provide legal representation and counseling to needy clients, but they also arrange court companions for women set to attend or testify in court against their abusive exes, as well as organize legal clinics at women’s shelters around DuPage and Kane counties.  These clinics are a way for Rise from the Ashes to reach and assist a wider range of women than the relatively few clients who qualify for and receive the organization’s more intensive, one-on-one legal and counseling services.  “Many women,” Austin explains, “don’t qualify for our services due to financial factors, but they can still get a lot of useful information, community support, and legal advice when they attend our clinics and forums.”

Image by Taproot India for the Save Our Sisters campaign

At a recent event, she recalls, the organization held an open-ended Q&A session where women could ask legal professionals any question they might have about their own personal plights and efforts to escape abuse.  Many women asked whether or not it was legal for them to record abusive telephone calls or in-person confrontations with their current or ex partners—after all, they reasoned, they would be asked later for evidence to support claims of abuse and mistreatment.  No, the lawyers, answered, surreptitious recordings of any kind—with the exception of those documenting a crime—are not admissible in court in Illinois.  This means that, while women may want to capture instances of their husbands yelling at them or their children for future reference, it’s actually illegal to do so.  Similarly, if one wants to videotape an abuser’s violent behavior, one must disclose the fact that one is recording the altercation in order to use it as evidence.

Despite the rapid expansion and resounding success of the young organization, Austin concedes that there are some challenges.  Fundraising and finding relevant grant opportunities, for example, can be a huge headache: since each case usually takes a long time—sometimes over a year—to complete, the organization is still building its finished client statistics.  This means that many of the statistics grant committees look for are misleading, unable to reflect the fact that RFTA has provided over $200,000 in billable hours—including legal clinics and counseling services—in the past year alone.  It can also be a problem to find highly qualified professionals: while signing on attorneys willing to donate their time and energy to the organization has been relatively easy, Austin notes that it has been more difficult to find pro bono counselors and psychologists.  This dearth of mental health volunteers is particularly problematic because victims of domestic abuse don’t just need physical and legal separation from their abusers; they also require intensive therapy to administer to the psychological scars of long-term trauma.

Thankfully, these challenges shrink to a speck when compared to the rewards of keeping Rise from the Ashes afloat.  Not only does Austin feel that she gets to “pay forward” the tremendous gift she received from her lawyer’s initial generosity, but she also gets to witness firsthand a kind-heartedness and goodwill in Chicagoland residents.   “In a lot of ways we’ve been really fortunate to have received such immediate and generous support: when people hear the numbers and find out about the lack of services available, they want to help.  I always say, it’s an obvious problem with an obvious solution.  Once people see the problem, they’re—more often than not—willing to help with the solution.”

Call to Action

Rise from the Ashes is always looking for volunteers to help the organization.   More specifically, they are looking for women who can commit their time to acting as court companions for RFTA clients.  They also need people who can help plan and put together fundraising events, as well as experienced accountants or bookkeepers who can help out with the clerical side of the organization.  If you’re interested in performing any of these duties, just reach out!   Email and someone from the organization will be sure to respond—just be sure to indicate what kind of role you can envision yourself playing in the organization, as it can be difficult for organization members to assign and coordinate ambiguous volunteer requests.

Or, if you’re short on time but still want to help out, visit the official RFTA website——and donate directly.  All donations go directly to client services and assistance, and even modest gifts are greatly appreciated.

Tambourine Army

Tambourine Army

Thanks to Danielle Roper speaking at Hoodoise, I was informed about the Tambourine Army movement happening in Jamaica right now. This movement aims to combat sexual violence against women and girls and empower them with their basic rights. The name of the movement was coined by a woman who hit a rapist priest in the head with a tambourine. This resistance has spiked more resistance as people across the Caribbean have been marching in solidarity. As a form of intimidation to this resistance the police have arrested Latoya Nugent as she, the founder of this movement, has been demanding justice. I am unsure if she is still being held in jail. However, it is crucial that we get the word out about this movement and place some international attention on it. Our women everywhere deserve to be heard, respected, and uplifted.


Share this post with your friends. International pressure is vital. For more information and updated news on the movement like their page here. 

1 Million dollars to CPS schools by Chance The Rapper

1 Million dollars to CPS schools by Chance The Rapper

Chance The Rapper has donated 1 million dollars to CPS schools. After discussing and protesting all the cuts CPS schools have been/are experiencing, this motivating news was much needed. Seeing the divestment of both the students and teachers especially in marginalized communities is disheartening, therefore waking up to some encouragement and even a challenge can help us continue the fight to invest into the youth of Chicago.


Drinking Water Safety Concerns

Drinking Water Safety Concerns

Everyone should have access to the knowledge of what is in their water. Many places in Chicago are at risk for hazardous lead, which Chicago should be held responsible to remove. If you are interested in learning more make sure you go see water expert, Michael Tiboris, speak at Lozano Library on 1805 S Loomis this Saturday January 28th at 2pm. This will be hosted by the P.E.R.R.O organization. Get ready to learn about the social and legal complications as well as the next steps you can take with this knowledge.

Let’s Get Involved in Local Publications

Let’s Get Involved in Local Publications

On a ‘political gossip’ story, three articles were published by three different sources.

“Egypt delays UN motion on Israel as Trump intervenes.”

– Headline from the BBC article

“Israelis called Trump to weigh in ahead of the UN Security Council vote.”

– Headline from the CNN article

“Trump Pressures Obama Over U.N. Resolution on Israeli Settlements.”

– Headline from the New York Times article

The purpose of sharing all three of the headlines is to display the bias in our media. Surprise. But more importantly, notice how three different stories being told on the same topic.