Any artist working in Chicago knows all too well the challenges of finding studio space that is both affordable and accessible. We’ve all spent hours searching for work space with cheap heat and good ventilation, in a decent neighborhood, close to public transit and maybe even modifiable. But how many emerging artists can afford to pay for what is essentially the price of a second apartment, plus utilities? Even sharing can be risky; if a partner suddenly leaves, you could get stuck with the bill. Most of us don't take the risk, working out of a spare bedroom or sharing a damp garage with two or three other creative hopefuls.
Despite the overwhelming need for artist studios in Chicago, not many Chicago property owners care to address it. It is rare to find owners of buildings that are willing to work with the zoning and insurance issues that come with renting creative workspaces. Luckily, there are artists and arts advocates in the Chicago community that took notice of this need and took action.
Gwendolyn Zabicki, co-founder of the nonprofit South Logan Arts Coalition, not only found a unique way to support her creative peers and beautify her neighborhood, but she got what she wanted more or less for free. She and SLAC partners Jason Walker and Joe Tighe, the three of whom make up the SLAC board of directors—encourage Logan property owners to donate temporarily their unused storefronts and facilities to artists to use as pop-up studio spaces.
To participate in SLAC’s program, non-matriculating, Logan Square-based visual artists are invited to submit proposals to be considered for a temporary storefront studio space. Accepted artists are provided a storefront studio for a period ranging from 30-90 days. They are also eligible for studio visits with established artists and curators. Because the artists are often working in storefronts, they have built-in opportunities to exhibit their work in the windows, and to host open studio events that are advertised by SLAC at no cost to the artist. SLAC takes no commission on works sold through the spaces
To say Gwendolyn and her team were able to run SLAC for “no cost” is not to say that they didn’t have a long list of obstacles that would prove both challenging and time-consuming. SLAC spent months working with Chicago aldermen, contacting neighborhood associations, communicating with volunteer arts attorneys and introducing themselves to dozens of property owners in Logan Square.
The SLAC board of directors, artists themselves, sets an example for the kind of relationships that artists can and should have with their communities and creative peers. Architect and Logan Square property owner Jules Lapkus recognizes this. He has already benefited from SLAC’s efforts and creative energy.
“I took over this space four or five months ago. I had just put a sign up for rent and I wasn’t getting any calls. [Gwendolyn Zabicki] just came by and knocked on my door,” says Lapkus, describing the process of installing working neighborhood artists into his space. “When we pulled up the Venetian blinds with the art, people started contacting me. I got five calls the first week because people can actually look in, and it’s not so foreboding.”
Lapkus’s collaboration with SLAC has inspired the construction of a new studio space on Diversey Avenue behind the Hairpin Lofts. As an architect, he is interested in working with Logan Square artists to give them the facilities they need to have affordable and functional workspaces in their own neighborhood.
“[The new space comprises] three storefronts and what I want to do is get that property occupied,” says Lapkus. “The [artists] can work in the three storefronts, split it up any way [they] want. I’ll provide the heating and the air conditioning, ventilation and new plumbing … clean up facilities, the bathrooms, wash-bins, whatever they need … I’ve got multiple buildings that fit into this scenario that are empty right now.”
Lapkus adds there is a yard behind the three Diversey storefronts that link up to Milwaukee Avenue. He hopes to install a privacy fence there to allow the artist-residents the option to invite the public inside for exhibitions and open studio events. Sound like your cup of tea? Check out the Spacefinder ad here.
“I think it’s extremely important to attract and retain creative people ... I don’t want this area to turn to Manhattanization, [where a neighborhood] gets richer and richer and richer, and it becomes hollowed out,”
South Logan Arts Coalition has been instrumental in recharging parts of Logan Square and its storefronts. What used to be stretches of empty, boarded-up windows have been revitalized as tenanted, active studios boasting their own works-in-progress in the windows.
One of the most valuable aspects of being an artist is the ability to problem solve creatively—to approach obstacles with a unique perspective. South Logan Arts Coalition confronted the serious lack of affordable work space in Logan Square, and found a win-win-win solution that is good for the artists, the property owners and the neighborhood. SLAC’s program has had direct results—an inspired property owner determined to bring more a permanent studio solution to Diversey Avenue. Now: who’s going to step up and support the artists in your neighborhood?
The South Logan Arts Coalition is a nonprofit organization made up of Logan Square residents who support and value the arts. We serve as a facilitator between the owners of empty storefronts and artists from the Logan Square area. Our goals are to award local artists free, temporary work studios; improve the appearance of the southwest commercial corridor in Logan Square, with a focus on Armitage Avenue west of Western Avenue; and give artists increased visibility through promoted open studio events and studio visits from curators and established artists.
South Logan Arts Coalition