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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

Free Little Art Gallery Popping Up On Northwest Side Aims To Spread Joy: ‘It’s A Place To Make People Happy’

Neighbors will be able to leave an original piece of artwork in the gallery box and take another piece home with them in a rotating art share.

Kelly Marie Thompson's art (left) will be placed in the Free Little Art Gallery box once it's installed.
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KILBOURN PARK — A new art gallery is coming to the neighborhood, but it’s too small to go inside.

Kelly Marie Thompson, owner of Logan Square floral shop and wedding studio Fleur, is installing a Free Little Art Gallery in the 4300 block of West Henderson Street in Kilbourn Park to bring her neighbors together through art.

The little gallery is a wooden box filled with free artwork. Once installed, neighbors will be able to leave an original piece of artwork in the box and take another piece home with them, a rotating art share. It’s the same concept as Little Free Libraries, which are filled with free books.

Thompson said she drew inspiration from other little galleries popping up across the United States.

“After the last year and a half of having to pivot and be so focused on business and not having the mental space for creativity, this felt like a great opportunity to … work on something other than just work and bring my neighbors and my community into it, as well,” she said.

Thompson and her husband, who works for a local candle company, built a gallery box using mostly salvaged materials. They plan to install the box this weekend.

To start, the box will be filled with Thompson’s watercolor paintings and other small pieces of art made by friends, but the idea is for neighbors to drop their own pocket-sized artwork in there as pieces are snatched up.

Artists of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to participate. Thompson said she’s especially excited to get kids involved.

“It’s an opportunity to spread the word about your own artwork,” she said. “For me, it’s a place to make people happy. I’m really excited to encourage creativity in general.”

Perhaps because of the time spent at home during the pandemic, little galleries have become increasingly popular; galleries have sprung up in Atlanta, Seattle, Phoenix and other places.

But Thompson’s little gallery could be the first such project in Chicago. Thompson said there are a couple in suburban Oak Park and River Forest, but she hasn’t been able to find any in the city.

Already, Thompson’s homegrown project is inspiring others: Thompson said a friend who lives nearby is planning to install her own little gallery soon. Eventually, if more little galleries pop up in the neighborhood, Thompson said she’d love to launch a garden walk centered around the galleries. The event would be a “great way to make art, take art and meet one another,” she said.

For now, Thompson is focused on getting her little gallery off the ground. She said neighbors are eager to participate and have stopped by in recent days hoping to find the box.

“Spreading a little bit of joy has been the biggest part of it for me, building an artistic community,” she said.

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