WEST TOWN — A new art gallery will open this weekend in West Town, joining a number of galleries that now call a few-block stretch of Chicago Avenue home.
PATRON opens Saturday at 1612 W. Chicago Ave. inside the Alvin theater building. The gallery replaces Shapiro Ballroom, which closed during the pandemic.
PATRON opened six years ago in River West. Co-founder Emanuel Aguilar said he sees West Town as Chicago’s next “gallery district,” which was the impetus for the move.
“One of the great things about being near each other … it draws an audience,” he said. “Creating that concentrated community, I think, is a benefit for the city and to the businesses, the galleries, themselves.”
Since 2015, Chicago Truborn, Rhona Hoffman, Catherine Edelman, Western Exhibitions, ARC Gallery, Andrew Rafacz, DOCUMENT and others have opened along Chicago Avenue near Ashland Avenue.
While real estate and rental prices likely played a role in attracting high-end galleries to the neighborhood, Chicago Truborn owner and neighbor Sara Dulkin said she believes that the neighborhood’s culture was the ultimate draw.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that all the established fine art galleries would flock to the neighborhood,” Dulkin said. “All it takes is one. One gallery to plant its roots and then others will follow.”
‘We’re creating a space that feels like it’s for the masses’
Aguilar co-founded PATRON with Julie Fischbach after the two worked together at a West Loop gallery. About a decade ago, the West Loop was known as a hub for art galleries, Aguilar said. But as the neighborhood changed, several galleries left.
Until recently, Chicago had no central “gallery district,” Aguilar said. Now, he said, that place is West Town.
Built in 1914, the Alvin Theater began as a vaudeville playhouse. In the 1970s, the building operated as a Spanish-language movie theater. During the ’80s and ’90s the building was converted into a clothing store. In 2015, the ballroom and event venue opened.
The history of the building reflects PATRON’s commitment to Chicago’s art community, Aguilar said.
The gallery’s name is rooted in the belief that a gallery patron can be “anyone with a passion and drive to support artists.”
Aguilar and Fischbach aim to grow the careers of women and artists of color, who are often underrepresented in the gallery scene, he said. The gallery works with artists from Japan, Syria and Brazil. About 80 percent of the artists are women.
“Our goal is to develop careers … and focus on that trajectory of our artists,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar also has a personal connection to the building, one he discovered after signing the lease. His father, a Mexican immigrant, watched Spanish-language movies in the theater as a teen during the ’70s.
“How beautiful that decades later someone got to experience … their child now doing something with the building,” Aguilar said. “That was a really amazing thing for me.”
PATRON’s first solo exhibition is titled “Manna and Braised Collards” by Houston-based artist Jamal Cyrus.
The gallery’s layout and design includes seating areas and a lecture hall. A living propagation garden wall serves as a permanent backdrop for the reception area. A receptionist will greet all who walk in the doors, Aguilar said.
“It’s an important thing for us to be in the neighborhood, that the community knows the art gallery is here for them,” Aguilar said. “A ‘patron’ is not just a client. A patron can be a protector and admirer … We’re creating a space that feels like it’s for the masses, not just the 1 percent that can buy art.”
From ‘Foodie’ Haven To Arts Central
West Town’s evolution into a gallery district happened recently — and fast, Dulkin said.
In 2015, Dulkin relocated Chicago Truborn from the corner of Division and Ashland to its current digs at 1741 W. Chicago Ave.
At the time, the former Matthew Rachman gallery was nearby, however it storefront functioned more as a furniture dealer than and art gallery, Dulkin said.
With a focus on street art and lifting up graffiti artists, Chicago Truborn was nestled between longtime family-owned businesses Alcala’s Western Wear and El Taco Veloz. Forbidden Root was under construction and Yuzu was making plans to relocate to the block.
The neighborhood was more of a “foodie” destination than one known for art, Dulkin said.
“At that time, everybody in the art scene was focused on Wicker Park,” she said. “But I just knew it was going to be West Town for me and my dream.”
After moving Truborn to Chicago Avenue, Dulkin worked with the West Town Chamber of Commerce to create a public art program dedicated to preserving and creating street art.
West Town Chamber of Commerce director Kara Salgado said she saw the arts scene begin to flourish in 2011, when independent shops Dovetail and Seek Vintage helped launch the annual West Town Art Walk.
“We’re attracting a specific type of business right now, which is exciting,” she said. “When you talk about an area that has an arts district, it all of a sudden becomes a tourist destination as well. … That increases foot traffic, [which] increases commerce for other retailers — the ones that started West Town Art Walk.”
Salgado herself owned a gallery in Wicker Park from the early 1990s until 2002. She thinks about what often follows a “growing arts scene” — gentrification, she said. She hopes West Town does not suffer the fate of Wicker Park, and that mom-and-pop businesses can continue to succeed alongside the galleries.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” she said. “Our goal is to keep on having programs, grants … things that will maintain what we have going on here.”
The 10th anniversary of the West Town Art Walk is in September. Salgado said she hopes neighbors will turn out for this event, which is an opportunity to support artists and gallery owners.
PATRON’s hours of operation are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Schedule a viewing appointment online.
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