Saturate_Tristan Hummel

We reached out to Tristan when the weather got warm because we immediately thought of ACTIVATE. If you haven't heard of it that's a shame, but you are in luck because they are just about to kick off the new season. ACTIVATE transforms iconic Loop alleys into pop-up experiences. Combining the talents of Chicago's most creative minds, the events feature art, music, and more in unique settings. As an initiative of the Chicago Loop Alliance, which creates, manages, and promotes high-performing urban experiences that attract people and investment downtown they have had approximately 16,000 attendees, 143 artists and an estimated $500,000 in economic impact. 

Tristan Hummel happens to be the Creative Director for the CLA. When we had the opportunity to meet him he was very excited to give us a little show and tell on future projects that he is working up. Tristan has a wonderful ability to look and think outside of the box. His passion for the creative community and sharing experiences is very evident in everything he does. We are extremely excited to make this new connection and see what his imagination brings next. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.

My name is Tristan J.M. Hummel. I put artwork in the right of public way for a living. Organizing experiential exhibitions had been a passion of mine for a few years then Chicago Loop Alliance picked me up to manage their public art, placemaking, and destination marketing programs. It’s given me a much broader platform to see my work grow. If there is an odd place to put art I’ve done it. In the middle of a busy intersection, on CTA trains, buses, vacant retail space, along the façade of skyscrapers, and in parking garages to name a few places I’ve worked. Each project is different but always involves bringing together the Chicago artist community, the public, and The City to create an opportunity for everyone to improve their position and that of those who witness the work.  It’s a fun set of core values to work around. It makes me sort of the shadchan of public space in the loop. 

Walk us through a typical day for Tristan.

I work with the City and private interests to permit and deliver all manner of creative interventions designed to engage and delight the pedestrians in our district, The Loop.  It’s a really interesting  job that keeps my day-to-day very different. Fundraising is a large component of my job as well and my time is split between creating partnerships and designing experiences. For the last three years alleys have been our focus so on most nice days in the summer you can find me wandering around in one of these. I have seen some strange, strange, things as a result. We are a smaller non-profit so a lot of the production falls on me too. At the moment we are sewing 100 gold spandex bags that are approximately 4’x8’ to create pillow cases for large inflatable bags. Later in the month we will be stringing together a canopy made out of thousands of old naval flags. Earlier this week I had to cut to size some 3,000 square feet of astro turf. I really like the hands-on production side of things though a greater portion of my time is spent filling out permits and coordinating with the Alderman, Police Commander, and CDOT. There is a surprisingly large amount of ‘back-end’ when attempting to do this stuff through proper channels. Occasionally I’ll see someone putting up a wheat paste or other type of ‘street’ art and wistfully list off the pages and pages of permitting that would need to be filled out to get that done, never mind the weeks of working on permissions. I get jealous. Did you know that for years the special event permit packet from the City said “printed on recycled paper” at the bottom of each page? Obviously this packet was always printed out by the applicant and so who knew what paper they were using. Still if you went to City hall every permit proudly read the line. That’s the City of Chicago (they did remove that wording last year). 

Where do you find inspiration?

The Uline catalog is my favorite followed by aimlessly wandering Home depot. Pinterest has been a great place to find collections of incredible public projects. In particular I love the Piece Obliteration Room by Yayoi Kusama, The Cremaster Cycle by Matthew Barney, the now demolished city of Kowloon, memories of Discovery Zone as a kid (or leaps and bounds), and the City Museum in St.Louis.


How do you make time for creativity and collaboration?

For my work they are really the same. 

What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started?

Make your work as publicly as possible (or display it as publicly as possible) and as applicable, loudly. Don’t be shy, connections can’t be made if no one knows what you’re doing. Every small opportunity is a step towards a bigger future. Eat at least one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Oh and get sleep!

How important is it for you to give back to the community?

Very important. Creativity does not exist in a vacuum. Without a community of people to share ideas with you essentially have nothing to work from. Every so often some really brilliant person comes along and invents the wheel or language or whatever but I am absolutely certain I’m not that person and most people aren’t so it’s important to have a community of people to foster and work on ideas with. It’s important to acknowledge that aspect of ideation and appreciate it.

Saturate_Tristan Hummel

What keeps you motivated and making?

Probably some part of my animal brain that insists I fidget around with stuff like a dog chewing a bone or something.  
What have you learned from your career that you wish you would have figured out earlier?

There is always room for negotiation.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Give up. No amount of positive reinforcement has ever had such an impact on my desire to perform.
If you weren’t doing this what else would you do?

I always thought I would be a good electrician or plumber. I think both of those professions boil down to a nice mix of creative problem solving and applied science.

Photography by Tyler Bartley and Activate