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The art gallery business can be risky in normal times. COVID has caused unusually stressful conditions for some gallery owners. Nevertheless, Evanston is still home to a number of art galleries that you should know about and visit if you enjoy looking at original art.
The Evanston Art Center at 1717 Central St. is probably the largest and most obvious of venues in town where one can see and enjoy art. There is a large street-front gallery on the first floor and a smaller gallery on the second, the latter reserved for one or two-person shows. Art on exhibit is chosen by the Exhibitions Committee, two members of which serve on the Board of Directors. They look for a wide range of genre types, mediums and artists. Work is submitted to an online portal and is reviewed bi-monthly.
A blind vote follows and the committee determines the schedule.
Shows include the work of individual artists, those curated by guest curators and from occasional groups. Cara Feeney has been hanging the shows there for seven years. The most recent show, a large, annual event, was of 175 EvanstonMade artist/members.
Sometimes, but rarely, a one-person retrospective is offered. Most exhibiting artists are from Evanston and Chicago, but national and even international artists have been featured.
COVID forced the Art Center to close for several months last year, during which time they hung art in their large, street-front windows and kept busy with virtual programming. Openings there have always been festive and well-attended. Although they are smaller now, the Art Center is considering gala openings again.
Because it is a non-profit rather than a commercial gallery, the Art Center doesn’t have to make sales, but is always eager to support artists. There is, consequently, no sale mandate for exhibition.
The organization is run by a Board of Directors, funded by tax-deductible donations and tuitions from their many and diverse classes – student art often fills the second-floor hallways. Nevertheless, when a sale is made, the Art Center usually keeps 35% and the artist gets 65% of the sale price. In the case of their Holiday Expo, the split is 40/60%.
Next in size and scope would be the Noyes Cultural Art Center galleries. Once an elementary school, now a City facility, the Noyes Center has wide, brightly lit corridors that are well-suited for the exhibition of art. There are two separate galleries there. The first-floor gallery is devoted to the work of artist-tenants of Noyes, of which there are about 20. Alex Theiss, beloved Noyes coordinator, rotates and hangs the shows, which gives each artist the opportunity to exhibit about every two years.
As the first floor gets a lot of traffic coming to and from the theaters and offices there, these exhibits stay mostly with art that can be hung on the walls – paintings, prints and maybe fiber work.
The second floor, with a larger open space, has new wall coverings and a hanging system. It is reserved mostly for the work of other artists, outside curators and traveling exhibitions. Those shows usually run for six weeks. They are chosen and scheduled by Angela Allyn, Community Arts Programs Coordinator for the City of Evanston. The mission of this gallery, she says is “to engage the Evanston community in conversations.”
Proposals should be sent to Allyn with links to artists’ websites/portfolios. In a cover letter “they need to address what conversation they wish to have and how the exhibit connects our community.” Sculpture pieces are often shown upstairs and openings can be jolly. Sales are handled directly by the artists, and no commission is taken by the City.
Alley Gallery, tucked away in the quiet alley at 1712 (Rear 2) Sherman, is both a quality frame shop and an art gallery. Opera plays in the background and thousands of posters, prints, charts and maps are available for sale. Artist-made objects and some unusual consignment items are scattered throughout the shop. Jessica, a colorful speaking parrot, welcomes all visitors.
Owned and run since 2010 by two artists , Darren Oberto and Ross Martens, the shop was very busy during the pandemic, as people thought more about their living spaces and artwork. Cameras were installed above the Alley Gallery framing table so framing could be designed “virtually.” There are 5,000 frame samples to choose from. During the restrictions, the owners took turns coming in so that Jessica wouldn’t be too lonely.
A door (conveniently on removable hinges) leads to a separate exhibit space, the Saw Room, where exhibits are usually hung. But there were no exhibits during the pandemic, that room serving primarily as storage. Exhibits will begin again in late summer, perhaps opening with a bird-themed exhibit, says Oberto, with proceeds to benefit an exotic bird shelter.
In general, artists shown at Alley tend to be local. New work is hung every eight weeks – a variety of media, styles and genres. Every two years or so the staff of five artists puts their work on exhibit. The gallery takes a commission on sales, with 60% to the artist and 40% to the shop. If the purchasing client frames with them, the gallery commission is only 30%.
Artem, a Pop-Up Gallery at 1627 Sherman Ave., near Fountain Square, is an artisan shop, more like a small, indoor art fair than a gallery. Artem is a family-run business. The work of its artist-owners, Sarita and Salil Kamat, is shown along with 60 (at the moment) local and regional artists and craftspeople. A great variety of work is shown, in different mediums and genres.
A pop-up gallery is one that just “pops up,” usually for a very limited time and often in a surprising, temporarily available space. But this venue, here since 2019, is intended to be a permanent one. A sign in the window says “Home of Independent Artists” – at Artem, artists can choose how much and how long they want to exhibit.
Artists rent space here; a booth, a single wall, perhaps just a shelf or two. Monthly rents consequently range in price. When I stopped in, I met Varun and Riya Kamat, adult children of the owners, tending the shop. Varun talked about how work is chosen – depending on quality and “niche.”
One River Art School & Gallery, 1033 Davis, is a two-year-old, relative newcomer to Evanston. While mainly an art school, their tall, white gallery wall is easily visible from the huge windows on both Davis and Oak Streets.
Monthly exhibits alternate between student work and the work of local and emerging artists. Student work is not for sale but when a sale is made at other exhibits, the split is 50/50. Artists wishing to exhibit should contact the School Director. The public is invited to openings and occasional closings.
In an old corner butcher shop, in an area once comprised mainly of Eastern European immigrants, 1100 Florence is probably the newest Evanston gallery. With little street traffic, this is a “destination” gallery, although the area has been home to many artists for at least 40 years.
This remodeled building is also, and primarily, the home of Lisa Degliantoni, her artist husband, Dave Ford, and their family. The “shop” part serves as the gallery, although between shows it may be their temporary living room.
Degliantoni and Ford co-curate exhibits, showing mainly Evanston artists. They prefer solo shows, looking for established artists with a cohesive body of work. An artist talk is always required as, “The gallery focus is primarily artist engagement with the community, rather than just sales. Artists are at the center of any and all transactions,” says Degliantoni.
Artists usually keep at least 70% of sales, the gallery 30%, but I was told that can be negotiable. An Emerging Artist Series for 16-to-22 year olds began with a pop-up in 2019, giving two young Evanston artists their very first gallery show. These artists are mentored by the gallery, through curating, pricing and the installation process for their gallery exhibit.
An annual fundraiser has benefited Planned Parenthood, Family Focus and EvanstonMade. The ongoing plan is to continue to support local charities.
During the pandemic, exhibits at 1100 were restricted to the seven large window spaces, but a recent window show was completely sold out. When times are normal, exhibits are held indoors in the well-lit, white-walled space. Openings are so well attended that that they often spill out onto the neighborhood sidewalks, but nobody seems to mind. Indoor shows should begin again in September.
1100 is also available for pop-ups, private events and book readings. Additionally, Degliantoni is the Executive Director of EvanstonMade, a non-profit membership arts organization.
Dempster & Chicago Avenues
At 816 Dempster, Space 900 is a small, cooperatively managed gallery showing professional work. In a co-op, artists are dues-paying members, taking turns with staffing and performing administrative chores, and they attend a monthly members’ meeting. Each artist in a co-op is usually entitled to and expected to put on a one-person show every year.
Co-founded in 1983 by artist Joanna Pinsky (also of Art Encounter) the “900” name comes from their original location at 900 N. Franklin in Chicago. Later the gallery moved to Wesley and Greenleaf and then 816 Dempster in 2018, providing a substantial increase in visibility.
The eight current members are fine artists of multiple disciplines and mediums. Core members pay monthly rent instead of dues and keep 100% of any sales. Space 900 is also available for rental to outside artists, who pay no commission to the gallery if they make sales. “Outside” shows bring in new audiences and expand the gallery’s reach. Artists interested in exhibiting can contact email@example.com. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, sometimes Thursday.
For photography, go to 11-year-old Perspective Gallery at 1310 Chicago Ave., just north of Dempster. Also, a cooperative, and a non-profit with a Board of Directors and Advisory Board, Perspective currently claims 20 artist members and is looking for more. They are particularly eager for younger and diverse members who can offer a different point of view.
Shows are changed monthly. A recent exhibit partnered with the Chicago Association of African American Photographers. A well-attended speaker series, “Perspectives on Photography” and regular artist talks are about to resume. During COVID, almost everything was online and on Zoom, with just a few photos in the window.
As part of their outreach, Perspective mounts three juried shows yearly. One is for international photographers, one regional, and one for high-schoolers – the latter generating much excitement and a very crowded opening. The gallery will soon begin an Artist-in-Residence program.
A Friends of Perspective group offers membership, which supports the gallery and its educational outreach, with other benefits as well: discounts, outings and special events. Commissions on sales are unusually low, only 15% with 85% to the artist. Open Thursday through Saturday from 12 noon to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
At 704 Main St., Cultivate, “an urban rainforest” and “curated” plant shop, shows art. Large, handmade pots are displayed on the sidewalk. A gallery wall inside the shop often displays work by professional local artists and photographers who favor botanicals or nature-derived subject matter. The owner (and curator) Louise Rosenberg also shows artist-made jewelry and nature-inspired art objects. Artists and the shop split the sale price 50/50. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday noon to 7 p.m. and Sunday noon to 6 p.m.
Gallery 901, 901 Sherman, (not to be confused with Space 900) has been a part of the Open Studio Project for almost 20 years. OSP is a not-for-profit art therapy organization with a classroom/studio next door at 903. At first, the gallery was a showcase for kids from Y.O.U., with which OSP often works. Now the gallery shows artwork from different sources – professional artists, students or community members – the mission being to increase awareness around pressing social issues. Sarah Laing, Executive Director, says, “We look for work that highlights healing or has transformational aspects. Exhibits have covered the bulk of social issues: AIDs, gun violence, healing from cancer, stress from COVID, domestic violence.”
There is no emphasis on sales, but if a sale is made, the commission is only 10%. The gallery is also available for rentals by the week or month, but only for work that fits the OSP mission. During COVID, when the need for art therapy caused OSP to be very busy offsite, exhibits consisted of work in the windows and on a moveable wall, pulled closer to the front, viewable from the sidewalk. (The office is behind said wall.) Gallery and office hours are usually the same. A new exhibit will reopen the space to the public this August, and the gallery will be participating in First Saturdays, with EvanstonMade.
Artwork is often shown at Backlot Coffee, 2006 Central St., Coffee Lab, 910 Noyes St., and at Creative Coworking, 922 Davis St., but art is not the focus of these businesses.
Gallery OTR (Over the Rainbow) is located in the Hill Arboretum Apartments, 2040 Brown Ave. This unusual venue is a non-profit offering affordable, accessible housing to those with physical disabilities. Word of mouth keeps the gallery booked, said curator Jody O’Connor. During Covid, virtual shows reached a larger audience and a virtual aspect will continue with in-house shows in the future.
A variety of galleries have come and gone. The most recent loss, in May 2020 to the pandemic, was Ice House Gallery at 609 South Blvd., a courageous attempt to exhibit artwork and also provide studio space for emerging artists.