Via Rosa is most happy when she’s cooking and creating.
A few years ago, she was following the path that those interests had paved for her, working on a degree in culinary arts and singing. She left that life in California to move back home and both take care of her grandmother as well as the building (acting as landlady) on Chicago’s south side.
Arriving at the six-story building on the 8000 block of S. Ellis Avenue, one can’t help but note the French doors dotting the second floor balconies, a somewhat impractical choice for Midwestern winters, but a subtle note from the outside about what lies within. Rosa came to Chicago in 2010 when she was 20 years old to care for her ailing grandmother and try to save the building that had been in her family for generations. What she found, though, turned out to be a markedly larger task.
Leaving school and family behind in Berkeley, Rosa found herself in a situation that seemed almost impossible. Back rent and unpaid taxes had left the building’s finances in shambles. Adding to the problem was a series of unruly tenants who squatted for months, who left the bathtub running with hot water for a week when they left, and more stories of petty destruction. The end result has been Rosa fighting for her home as she attempts to raise enough money to pay off the thousands in taxes that have piled up.
“The history of this building is like 80 years old and some of the things and people who live here have been here for over 20 years,” said Rosa. “It would take well over 50 grand on top of the 17 we need but that's all a process we can handle eventually. Taxes are so silly it's like paying for oxygen. We handle all that we can afford to handle only to get behind on something no one should have to pay anyway”
This Sunday, TheseDays and Ovrlord will be hosting a benefit show featuring Medicine Woman, Dally Auston, Hurt Everybody, and Malcolm London at Emporium. Proceeds for the event (and accompanying t-shirts) will go toward Via and her home with the aim of helping to close the gap, helping her get past this rough time.
Since arriving in Chicago, Rosa has almost single-handedly helped to systematically update her home, with help from close friends and family. From spending days and weeks driving to and from City Hall to fight with bad tenants, reclaim lost rent or deal with squatters, she and her family appeared to be on the right track.
“We have help from the tenants and sometimes have hired people in the neighborhood for sweeping the hallways, picking up trash, shoveling snow,” said Rosa. “But for the most part, it’s me. The hardest part is not really knowing what I’m doing and since I’m not trying to do something that's been done before theres not really any rules or guidelines I’m just kinda...doing it."
Art tends to keep Rosa sane through it all and the consequences of such are evident throughout the brick walk-up. Paintings fill corners and tabletops while string, beads, glue, and paintbrushes lay haphazardly arranged on counters and empty floor space. A creative zone that has seen many artistic developments happen over time, the feeling of such is somewhat embedded from experiences over the last few years.
Our own neonpajamas has profiled Via’s crew of talented young women known as Medicine Woman (singular) well by now. The collective is made up of Ravyn Lenae, Drea Smith, Jean Deaux, Khelani, Via, and others, and came together in the building, as the aforementioned artists stayed at Via's for different times, in a lot of ways using the space as an outlet to find themselves.
Deaux spent a few months living with Rosa and eventually rented an apartment of her own in the building while others (from THEMpeople to a who’s who of local artistry) have spent time and earned some new perspectives from the space. To say the least, the building and the spaces it contains have been a central creative agency for a sub-section of Chicago's hip/R&B/soul scene. Playing off of that, Rosa hopes to open the building to helping stoke creative flames for artists. That is, once the bills are paid. For now, that creative culture that she opened her doors to aims to return the favor, with community as the end goal.
As it stands currently, taxes are putting the future of Rosa’s home in jeopardy. She focuses on fixing issues with the building and tending to building problems called in by shady carpetbaggers claiming to own the building. On top of it all, someone unbeknownst to Rosa bought the taxes from the city and is trying to kick out Rosa as well as the dozen or so tenants living in the building. To say the least, the upcoming fundraiser is to get Rosa out of a jam, but more so it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Through it all, Rosa has maintained an amazing sense of positivity, evident if you get within feet of the multifaceted artist. The true beauty of this thing that many have called the ‘Chicago Renaissance’ isn’t the fame and camera flashes that have followed some local stars, but it's more so the selfless spirit that has permeated the community and prompted relative strangers to help one another step forward and succeed. A few weeks ago, the hip-hop community came together to help local rapper Ang13 who had her car stolen. This week, let’s all get out to Emporium in order to help a talented individual who deserves to get her home back.