JEFFERSON PARK — An art gallery that was temporarily shut down by the city is now closed — but the owner suspects complaints from neighbors for attracting people of color to the neighborhood is to blame for the shutdown.
Alchemy Chicago, 4503 N. Milwaukee Ave., was a multi-use event space that hosted shows and workshops and offered video production services. It was shut down by the city last month, as an investigation by police and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection found Alchemy was operating an illegal event space with approximately 125 attendees and offering liquor sales without the required licenses, department spokesman Isaac Reichman said.
The city’s Department of Buildings also ordered the business to close for “dangerous and hazards condition,” spokesperson Victor Owoeye said.
Alchemy also had no operating license, according to the business license portal.
Owoeye said the closure was temporary and the business could reopen once it applied for and received necessary business licenses and brought the building up to code.
But Alchemy co-owner Jonathan Flores decided to vacate the building after the party last month that led to the business department’s investigation.
Flores said it was a music event for a Columbia College student. He speculated that some neighbors might have reported the event because attendees were people of color, but would not elaborate on why he felt that way. He did say no one bothered to connect with him until the shut down.
“I never heard anything from the alderman or any complaints directly until it got shut down,” he said.
Alchemy’s Latino owners were vocal supporters of Black Lives Matter, and the business attracted artists of color from throughout the city.
Asked about why the business did not have the proper licenses from the city, Flores said he was running the business under a limited liability company, which began in 2018 as a video production business and had a general business license that he thought was enough to host events.
The business department spokesperson said every business needs specific licenses to sell liquor and operate as an event space.
The department spokesperson also said they received seven complaints against Alchemy since it opened in late 2019 via 311, the city’s nonemergency line. The July 10 investigation started with a call that police received, the spokesperson said.
After the city shut down the art gallery, Flores said he also closed the limited liability company and is now thinking of next steps for his business. He wouldn’t say why he won’t push to reopen.
Local painter Kristina Grosser Brucker said Alchemy had been inclusive, respectful and engaging with the community. She has lived close to the location for about 20 years and said she was surprised to see city signs about the closure on the gallery doors.
The shutdown is the first negative news Grosser Brucker has heard of Alchemy. She said she would not be shocked if a neighbor did call the police on the business because of its clientele.
“But we are working hard to change that perception,” Grosser Brucker said.
She called Alchemy a “fantastic addition to the neighborhood” for visual artists like herself. As the secretary of neighborhood group Jefferson Park Forward, she organized an art event for the group in March 2020, before the pandemic closed the city.
Grosser Brucker said the group had a positive experience with Alchemy’s owners and wanted to host more events there.
“For me personally, it was an opportunity to show my art that I hadn’t been able to show in many, many years,” the painter said. “Getting into an art gallery is really hard, and the big ones make it difficult.
“If you are a local artist and you are just trying to get your work out there and get things rolling, there are very little spaces to go to … . It was wonderful to have a space like Alchemy that was like, ‘Oh yeah, your stuff is cool, let’s put it up.'”
Grosser Brucker said the business was one of the first in the neighborhood to add rainbow-colored fists to its windows amid unrest last summer after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd. Alchemy also hosted several giveaways during the pandemic to donate essentials to neighbors.
“They were inclusive and wanted to help the community,” she said.
In a neighborhood with few opportunities and spaces for local artists, the gallery’s closing is a blow to the art community, Grosser Brucker said. She hopes it’s not the end for Alchemy in the area.
“It was an opportunity for people who may not be as deeply involved in the more traditional arts community and galleries,” she said. “My first thought when I saw there was an issue was, ‘I hope this doesn’t shut them down,’ because they were an asset to have for small artists.”
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