Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Terrain Biennial?

The Terrain Biennial is an international exhibition of site-specific art made for front yards, balconies, and porches. Centered in the historic village of Oak Park, IL, the 2019 Biennial will open on October 1st and run until November 17th, 2019. Sabina Ott, founder of Terrain Exhibitions, passed away in the summer of 2018, leaving behind an ambitious and innovative legacy spanning three editions of the Terrain Biennial and countless artist projects at her home in Oak Park, IL. Before Sabina Ott passed she founded Terrain Exhibitions as a not for profit organization with the mission to organize and produce the Terrain Biennial, administer the Terrain Residency in Springfield Illinois and advocate for making public art from private spaces. We are seeking hosts and artists from around the world to participate in this year’s event please sign up here: https://terrainexhibitions.org/participate/.

What is Terrain Exhibitions?

Founded in October of 2011 by artist Sabina Ott and author John Paulett, Terrain Exhibitions is a public exhibition space at 704 Highland Ave, Oak Park, IL. Terrain is dedicated to featuring interventions into the conventional landscape of a front yard by emerging as well as established artists who have been invited to create a site-specific work that challenges the space between public and private, decoration and function, figure and ground. Terrain differs from many other alternative art platforms in that the artworks are accessible 24 hours a day, year round. Visitors, neighbors, school children, teachers and their parents are exposed to challenging contemporary art, offering the experience of discovery and surprise to the community. Terrain exhibits work that expands, both, the audience of an artwork and the function of a suburban front yard. In the spring of 2018, Sabina Ott, founder of Terrain, asked Tom Burtonwood, Monica Chadha, Holly Holmes, Allison Lacher, John Paulett, and Jeff Robinson to serve on the board of the newly incorporated not-for-profit “Terrain Exhibitions.”

What’s the difference between Terrain Exhibitions and the Terrain Biennial?

Terrain Exhibitions is an alternative exhibition space that was located in Sabina Ott and John Pauletts front yard in Oak Park, IL. Terrain held monthly solo exhibitions that took the form of site-responsive interventions and seek to redefine the definition of public art. Since Sabina’s passing, Terrain Exhibitions has become an non-for-profit that will continue to produce the Terrain Biennial and administer the Terrain Residency.

In 2013, Terrain held its first Biennial, widening its reach and inviting neighbors to open their yards, porches, and balconies to neighborhood artists — a suburban version of the international art biennial. Neighborhoods across the country and world participated in the 2017 Terrain Biennial and we’d like your help to continue this year.

How can I participate in the 2019 Biennial?

The best way to get involved in the Terrain Biennial is to host a project and help us find other hosts. We ask you to invite one, two, or ten of your neighbors to host an artist intervention, and to create clusters of participating houses to promote neighborly interaction and attention. We would like to repurpose private spaces such as front yards, porches, or windows into public spaces in order to foster dialogue between neighbors and provide opportunities for artists and viewers alike to experience new perspectives. We are seeking hosts and artists from around the world to participate in this year’s event. Please click this link to sign up by May 1st, 2019: https://terrainexhibitions.org/participate/

Further information about the Terrain Biennial is posted here: https://terrainexhibitions.org/.

How are artists and hosts expected to fund their projects?

As with the 2017 Terrain Biennial, this year’s Biennial is entirely self-funded. We do not have a budget, so stipends are unfortunately not available. We ask that you consider the contribution of your site and work to the Biennial as an investment in the city’s amazing artists, their neighborhoods, and residents who make Chicago so special. Terrain continues to be staffed and run entirely by volunteer efforts. As we grow, we will continue to look for ways to support participating artists in future years.

What are the requirements for a Terrain Biennial project?

In past years, projects have ranged from sculptural installations to time-based performances to public interventions. We welcome all types of projects, and encourage diversity and experimentation in both project concepts and execution. However, due to the nature of the Biennial, we ask that the projects follow certain requirements. Projects should be completely weatherproof and able to last for the entirety of the Biennial (a month and a half). Performances and similar time-based projects are exceptions to this. We also ask that the art pieces be site-responsive. As mentioned before, projects are self-funded by the individual artist and/or host. Finally, we ask that you do not show your own work in your own site—this is about collaboration!—and that the work be visible to neighbors and viewers from the sidewalks and streets of your neighborhood. For examples of past Biennial projects, visit https://terrainexhibitions.org/archive

I want to curate a project in the Biennial but I don’t have a space. Can you connect me with a host?

Yes. If you are a curator who is interested in participating in the Biennial but are not able to host a project yourself, feel free to contact us to suggest potential artists, projects or sites.

I’m an artist and I want to exhibit my art in the Biennial. Can you connect me with a host?

Yes. If you would like to participate and have a project in mind, you could invite your neighbors to host your work as well as contact us.  Also, we encourage you to be generous and “pay it forward” by curating the work of other neighborhood artists who might have less exposure.

I’m a previous Terrain Biennial artist and/or curator. How can I get involved this time?

First, thank you so much for participating in a past Biennial! Your enthusiasm and energy helped make the Terrain Biennial a success, and we would love for you to contribute to the 2019 Biennial by hosting a project again, finding and inviting new hosts, showing your work and suggesting potential artists. Get in touch and let us know your ideas!

How do I get my neighborhood to organize a block party opening?

We encourage you and your neighbors to organize a block party as the central opening for your neighborhood projects, during which performances and other time-based pieces can happen. We recommend your block party occur after the kick off reception at Terrain Exhibitions in Oak Park.

How do I find out when and where other projects are happening?

Once the participating sites and projects are finalized, we will make a map available of all locations and the dates of the openings for each neighborhood. It will be posted on our website http://terrainexhibitions.org. Or, if you wish to coordinate with another neighborhood, just contact us for information at info@terrainexhibitions.org.

I have a question that isn’t answered here!

For general questions regarding the 2019 Terrain Biennial, contact Terrain Biennial Co-Director Richard Medina at richard@terrainexhibitions.org.