In an alley off Grove Street, between Sherman and Chicago Avenue, you’ll find an offbeat artists’ space called Studio 3.

Why “Studio 3?” Because the two organizers are firm believers in third spaces in the community  — not home, not school, but a space for community — and well, just because three is a “significant” number.

Melissa Raman Molitor and Dr. Angela Lyonsmith have joined forces to make art-making free and accessible to everyone in Evanston — the young, the old, the disabled, the disenfranchised, BIPOC, LGBTQ. At Studio 3, the two women facilitate hands-on art-making workshops. There, social justice learning is taught through collective art-making.

Molitor, who currently chairs the Evanston Arts Council, is a mixed-media artist, educator, and art therapist. She is an adjunct associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the founder of Kids Create Change, the former name for Studio 3. She is also a founding board member of Evanston Made and of ASAPI, the Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander organization.

Dr. Lyonsmith holds a doctorate in art therapy and is also an artist, educator, and clinical supervisor. A founding director of Studio 3, she is also director of community partnerships for the Mather’s Community Initiatives. She is active in Evanston organizations, serving on the advisory board for Search’s Visibility Arts program and volunteering with Connections for the Homeless. 

Dr. Angela Lyonsmith, left, and Melissa Raman Molitor at Studio 3, 617C Grove St. Artwork was a collective project in the studio. Credit: Gay Riseborough

Both women are highly involved in the community and running Studio 3 is part-time and non-salaried. The two joined forces during the pandemic, when Evanston schoolchildren, like so many around the country, were forced into virtual schooling with virtually no art classes and, of course, no art materials. 

Melissa Raman Molitor and Dr. Angela Lyonsmith joined forces during the pandemic and put together more than 1,000 kits with art supplies to distribute throughout Evanston. Credit: Gay Riseborough

Seeing a need, they started a drive for art materials and put together more than 1,000 kits, which they distributed to Evanston kids, teens and families through partnerships with District 65, Books & Breakfast, Connections for the Homeless, Family Focus, and other family-serving organizations. QR codes were included for easy access to an online platform with ideas and resources for at-home art making.

The work at Studio 3 is intentionally intergenerational. Many volunteers come from Evanston Township High School. One young volunteer, Liam Fitzgerald from Kenilworth, built all the shelves, found donations of supplies, installed a gallery hanging system, and raised money for the organization — all as part of preparing for his Eagle Scout rank.

The organization is a 501c3, supported by “lots of grant writing,” said Molitor, as well as the Evanston Community Foundation, Rotary, the Evanston Art Center, Northwestern University, and the Illinois Arts Council. Studio 3 also has a group of avid collectors of materials who provide art supplies.

The two women rented the space at 617C Grove St. at the end of 2020. There is a “speakeasy” quality about the entrance – you have to know what you’re looking for, since their sign is small. You then walk into a narrow tandem gallery space, where art is displayed, and proceed to a larger, lively studio space packed with color and supplies.

The goal at Studio 3 is not traditional art therapy, its founders say. It embodies equity and social justice, the context being community, via participatory art-making. 

It’s about sociocultural awareness, collective social action, and participating in the “decolonization of art.” As Molitor says, “’Art’ is mostly in museums and galleries and not accessible to everyone in this culture.” It is about story-telling, she says, about “bringing us together.” 

Melissa Molitor (left) with Angela Lyonsmith. Credit: Gay Riseborough

The artwork pictured behind Molitor and Lyonsmith in the photograph above is still growing and connecting. In fact, it is about community connection. During the soothing wrapping of soft yarns, a meditative means, conversation can focus on social ills such as gun violence or racism, but the resulting art pieces can join together in beauty.

On Saturday, May 13, Studio 3 will partner with Evanston ASPA (Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander) at the Umbrella Arts Festival. The studio will offer art-making activities from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Fountain Square, including lantern making, rangoli (an art form using colored sand or powder), mandala design, and painting Koinobori or carp-shaped windsocks. Studio 3 recently won a special projects grant from the Evanston Arts Council for this project.

The studio will host other workshops in lantern making throughout May. The lanterns will be used at a lantern festival on May 30th at dusk at the lakefront Arrington Lagoon.

Studio 3 is open by appointment and always free. For more information, contact:

Gay Riseborough

Gay Riseborough is an artist, has served the City of Evanston for 11 years on arts committees, and is now an arts writer at the Evanston RoundTable.

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  1. What a wonderful asset for Evanston! Kudos to Melissa and Angela for creating and operating this excellent art space.