Community art space in Chatham gives local creators space to build, showcase and collaborate
CHATHAM — An art gallery and community art space has opened in Chatham to provide local artists with a collaborative and open environment to pursue their creative passions and exhibit their work.
Artists On The 9 opened April 26 at 735 E. 79th St.
The Greater Chatham Initiative has received $135,567 from the City’s Department of Planning and Development’s Small Business Improvement Fund and $41,000 from the Pangea Cares Foundation, a non-profit arm of the property company, to supporting the project with $188,000. Organizers paid the remaining $11,433 to secure the space.
Local artists helped design the South Side gallery, said Nedra Sims Fears, executive director of the Greater Chatham Initiative. The gallery has three private 10-by-12-foot “makerspaces”, a gallery, kitchen, and showroom. Two artists in residence have already moved in, renting two of the private rooms.
Artists On The 9 opens a door for the many South Side artists who have never had a space to create and showcase their work, Fears said.
“We want to celebrate the creatives who are in our community and harness their talents by placing them in sites along 79th Street,” Fears said. “We have WeWork and other spaces that are downtown and on the north side, but we don’t have an artist community space where people can come meet, work together, collaborate and create. There is now an artist space in our community for them.
Painter Kristen Williams and visual artist Anthony Olusina Schleicher are the first Artists in Residence for Artists on the 9. Schleicher’s work focuses on colonization, the African diaspora, displaced people and cultural collisions.
Williams’ pieces feature tattooed queens and full-dress black women staring at the viewer. Lips doused in vibrant lipsticks, tattoos, and full-petalled roses are her common details. Her kitchen was once her artist haunt, but Artists on the 9 gives her the space to be messy and creative, and hone her skills.
“I feel like this is going to be a game-changer for my career as an artist,” Williams said. “Having a space where I can create big pieces, not worry too much and just be an artist is huge for me. I was looking for something like that.
Williams said she looks forward to collaborating with other artists and neighbors to create more pieces. The importance of building an arts community on the South Side is often overlooked, she said.
“I really like the idea of this space being in Chatham,” Williams said. “I think it’s a great program and a great initiative. One of my goals while I’m at it might be to do a series about the people of Chatham or the people of 79th and Cottage.
The location of the artists on the 9 Betty Howard Honors, teacher at Gwendolyn Brooks Preparatory Academy shot dead outside the store front in 2014Fears said.
“We wanted to renovate this space to show that the community is resilient and can come back and reinvent it,” Fears said.
As the space gains a foothold, Fears said she is considering pop-up art exhibits and displays, and potentially partnerships with the DuSable Museum of African American History and the Art Institute of Chicago to host openings. galleries in the neighborhood.
“I would like our residents to know that they don’t have to be consumers, but can create,” Fears said. “I want our creatives to know that they come from a proud heritage of people who come out of nowhere, take nothing and make something out of it. I would like kids to come see the artists in space. I want the community to know that art is accessible.
Fears said Artists On The 9 is also fueling the organizational overview for the Greater Chatham community, boosted by the town’s plans for the Mahalia Jackson Court. Organizers want to create an entire cultural district along 79th Street named after the legendary gospel singer, turning empty storefronts between State Street and Greenwood Avenue into artist spaces.
“Chatham is definitely on the rise,” Fears said. “People are betting on Chatham, and we’re working with them to keep the momentum going, not just in Chatham but in Avalon Park, Greater Grand Crossing and Auburn Gresham.”
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