To read Ben's article, click here.

In Memoriam for Ben Schaafsma

Ben Schaafsma, 26, was an ambitious and admirable man. A man with a plan! He worked hard to build community and to understand the history of like-minded people who came before him. Growing up in Grand Rapids (Michigan), Ben got his start at organizing culture and community through booking concerts, often at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art. While studying urban planning and art history at Calvin College, he became involved with the Civic Studio program which introduced him to a tradition of the visual arts engaging in community building that resonated with the work he had already begun. Ben was a key figure in initiating a number of projects such as the Division Avenue Arts Cooperative and which helped to make the nascent cultural practices occurring in Grand Rapids more visible to one another as well as to outsiders.

Ben understood through lived experiences that people needed spaces and occasions to come together to learn, meet and grow - and the more interesting the context of those encounters then the more likely they would be changed and affected as people. On a message board someone recently said "Ben was constantly preoccupied by the usefulness of art in our lives."

Following years of this committed work in Michigan, Ben did what many young and ambitious people do these days - he went to graduate school. This transition took him to study Arts Administration at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ben did his research and knew what he was looking for and how to make the most of that time in school - he was highly motivated. As his turf shifted his desires and goals were rearticulated in his new home - he started new endeavors and relationships building on his own history.

Within six months of moving Ben had pushed out of his school environs and staked a claim in community building and cultural experimentation in Chicago. Along with his fellow Arts Admin graduate students Roman Petruniak and Abby Satinsky (and later Bryce Dwyer), he co-founded InCUBATE ( In just two years they have established an artist residency program bringing international artists to Chicago every month. They have established their own granting program, hosted numerous lectures and workshops and created a touring exhibition which has traveled to five cities throughout the country.

In the last year Ben had begun to publish extensively, writing on the history of artist-initiated programs to self-funded culture and to create their own economic and organizational sustainability outside of traditional means. His writing on this work and the work of Incubate have appeared in Phonebook, AREA Chicago, Proximity Magazine and the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest.

Just months before his passing, Ben took a job with the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York City, where he was brought on to overhaul and expand their studio program.

He will be greatly missed.

(Daniel Tucker 10-26-08)


Hello Editors,

I am a friend of Ben Schaafsma, one of the contributors for this issue of the Journal. You may have heard already but Ben was in a car accident late Wednesday night and passed away on Saturday. This news is tragic for the many people that Ben touched through his efforts as a cultural producer.

A paypal account has been set up to take donations to help his family with the costs and hopefully set up a memorial foundation to fund further cultural projects. There will be an online art auction in addition to the donation account to help with funding. Any help you or the Journal could give in promoting or distributing this information would be much appreciated. Please check these sites for more information regarding Ben and his contributions to the community:

To donate art to the auction please email a quality image of the piece along with title, medium, size, and year of execution. Please keep in mind that it should be something easy to mail and that it will be the artists responsibility to do so. Michelle will contact each artist when a piece sells with the buyer's information so they can mail it to them.

Thank you for any help in advance.

Josh Ippel


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