Frances Whitehead is an artist working from a multifaceted aesthetic position that focuses on publicly engaged projects towards a sustainable future. Whitehead is a Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1985, founding the SAIC Knowledge Lab, and contributing to the formation of SAIC4- The Chicago Center for Climate and Culture, a Shapiro Center for Research and Collaboration.
Working at the nexus of nature and culture, Whitehead's investigations probe the relationship between the scientific, historical, and future meanings of form, material, and site. A thread running through her career has been the reflection on the history and philosophy of gardens and landscape. Areas of focus include post-industrial subjects and the biologic, site remediation, civic planning, and community development.
In 2001 Whitehead founded ARTetal Studio to undertake collaborative public projects focused on cultural change and environmental awareness. Projects under development include The Lima Project, an urban agriculture collaboration with the government of Metropolitan Lima, Peru. In 2008, Whitehead initiated The Embedded Artist Project with City of Chicago to bring artistic perspectives to civic endeavors. SLOW Cleanup has been developed through this program. Other projects include: The Phenologic Garden, a climate monitoring project with Hessen Forest Service, Germany, and Chicago Park District, (2008-present); SuperOrg, sustainable urbanism for Cleveland, Ohio (2005-07); Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston; Places with a Future (2003-2006); and the Murray City Ball Diamond Project, a pollution remediation pilot for the NEA and the US Office of Surface Mining, 2000-02.
Whitehead had exhibited widely including the Spanish Cultural Center, Mexico City; the UN Climate Change Conference COP15, Copenhagen; Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, Sweden; The Museum of Arts/Design, NYC; Vinnistu Art Museum, Estonia; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Centrum Rzezby Polskiej, Oronsku; Brooklyn Museum of Art; The Exploratorium; and The Drawing Center. Publications include: ART21:Blog, The New York Times, Art/Design/Politics; Sculpture Magazine; Art in America, Artforum, Frieze, TreeHugger.com, and the Discovery Channel television.
Whitehead’s work been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts ,1985, 2006,07,09; Tiffany Foundation,1989; United States Department of State 1995-6; The Center of Excellence in the Arts, State of Tennessee,1998; the Rockefeller Foundation (2003-04); the Ohio Arts Council (2005-7); and the Illinois Arts Council, 1999, 1987, 1984.