#580: The Ashes of Gapers Block

January 11th, 2016

They gathered in early December at a coffee shop in Lakeview, weeks before the rest of the world knew Gapers Block was shuttering, to discuss what would come next.

There were five of them at the Dec. 6 meeting, all soon-to-be-former critics for the soon-to-be-former Gapers Block, said the website’s former Arts & Culture Editor Nancy Bishop.

Since its first post in 2003, Gapers Block had been the place to go to find out about undiscovered things around town, about cool upcoming events, about news from other sites even. It launched a whole crop of upcoming writers and photographers seeking volunteer bylines (and maybe a free ticket to a show they review).

To wax poetic two grafs more, Gapers Block was the first web-only entrant into Chicago’s media scene, beating out Chicagoist by a year and the Beachwood Reporter by three. It outlasted the Windy Citizen, the Chi-Town Daily News, Chicago Current, Center Square Journal and other frienemy Chicago online news sites.

Gapers Block has been memorialized by fans, critics and alumni at the Tribune, Reader, Chicago Magazine, Chicagoist, DNAinfo and Aldertrack.

And at that Lakeview coffee shop, the smattering of soon-to-be-former Gapers Blockers decided to keep its tradition going by forming a new arts and culture site called the Third Coast Review. The site now has more than 20 pledged contributors.

“Everyone’s a volunteer, but there’s a lot of emotional reward with this, not just free tickets and free admission. It’s a place for a lot of writers to get exposure for their work,” said Bishop, the first editor and publisher for Third Coast Review.

Disclosure: I will be writing a monthly column for Third Coast Review entitled The Chicago Review of Terrible Books. My searing dissertation into the post-derridian wunderkammern “OINK on the Farm!” is live.

Bishop has been blogging on topics ranging from Modern architecture to her love of Bruce Springsteen since she retired four years ago, and blogging for Gapers Block since May 2013. Her first story was a feature on punk rock icon Richard Hell of Television and, later, Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

“Before I retired, I decided I wasn’t just going to quit working and sleep late and go out for lunch,” she said.

3CR’s scope is different than GB’s was. There will be no politics, sports or general news coverage, just a deep and broad focus on the arts and culture.

Currently, that means art, music, literature, film, theater, comedy, dance, performance of all stripes and food. Bishop said she hopes the site will eventually branch out into reviews of video games and apps.

“We want to highlight the things that are not the ordinary, and give a showcase to those artists,” Bishop said.

The site also plans to go beyond Chicago, dipping into arts and culture through the collar counties.

Bishop’s arts interest started with theater, a longtime love and her main Gapers Block blogging focus after retiring from a more than 30-year career in corporate marketing and PR.

“I guess I’m sort of an evangelist for theater. Sometimes I worry about it because I go to the theater and everyone is my age, which isn’t a good sign,” she said.

Bishop said a retiree might seem an unlikely face for a community of young culture bloggers.

“A lot of people my age don’t really use computers, which depresses me,” she said, mentioning a neighbor who is having trouble Skyping with her family. “There’s so much more information and entertainment available, even just being connected with her grandchildren.”

One of Bishop’s goals is to make the arts accessible for young, often broke tastemakers in the city. 3CR reviewers will highlight $10 shows at small storefront theaters alongside dauntingly priced acts at the Goodman or Cadillac Palace. Dive bar bands and stadium shows will be equally fair game.

It’s all part of the Third Coast Review’s insidious plan to get a city to fall in love with arts and culture.

“There’s something just magical about live performance. Music too. There’s nothing like seeing your favorite band in a club, and if they’re not playing in clubs, seeing them in an arena is nice too,” Bishop said. “I want to give the people who read the review some of that magic.”

Check out the Third Coast Review

Gapers Block calling me the nicest thing I’ve ever been called (unless that referred to Hecht, in which case, screw you, Huff)

Read about two journalists changing Chicago’s media landscape through comics

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