Since 1991, a coalition of artists in Chicago have operated spaces and publications as a front on the left for the arts. The initiative started with the arts, politics and culture periodical Lumpen Times, which has distributed 100,000s of free magazines all over Chicago and the world. In 2001, the founder of Lumpen Times, Ed Marszewski, along with a large community of other artists, founded Public Media Institute as a registered, artist-run nonprofit organization. In 2006, the organization moved from its original home, Buddy Gallery, to build Co-Prosperity, a 5000+ sq.ft. space that houses a visual arts gallery, performance venue, publishing headquarters, and experimental cultural center.
In late 2014, PMI was awarded a low-power radio license by the FCC, and in 2016 launched Lumpen Radio (WLPN 105.5 FM), which broadcasts 24/7 community generated radio content for the Chicagoland area and streams online at lumpenradio.com. Currently, Lumpen Radio produces 85 hours of new content every week.
Over the past 18 years, PMI has produced many periodicals, including Proximity Magazine, Materiel Magazine, The Bridgeport International, and Mash Tun Journal, besides the longest-lasting Lumpen Magazine.
PMI has also organized many festivals for the arts in Chicago. Version Fest (2001-2017) was an annual arts, music, and technology convergence that took place each Fall. Starting 2018, the fall festival adopted a longer format, taking place over 2-3 months and allowing for more rigorous attention to a theme, broader partnerships, and more audience engagement. In fall 2018, 68+50 included over 15 programs, a theatrical production and 4 exhibitions over September and October 2018, probing cultural reverberations of the 50th anniversary of 1968. Togetherism, in fall 2019, included two exhibitions, several panels and workshops, a special issue of Lumpen Magazine and a series of programming engaging eight Chicago partners at the Bridgehouse Museum. Other festivals included Select Media Festival, The Freedom Festival, and the MDW Art Fair, which gathered over 70 artist-run spaces for three alternative art fairs between 2011 and 2012.
Every year, PMI produces and hosts over 80 exhibitions, concerts, readings, community gatherings and other events. In January 2019, PMI established a curatorial committee, currently comprising 19 Chicago artists who evaluate and produce proposals for diverse and artistically excellent programming in the gallery.
These highlights begin to sketch the history of thousands of events, exhibitions, concerts, symposia, free schools, magazines and radio broadcasts that PMI and communities have produced together.