CHATHAM — An art gallery and community art space has opened in Chatham to give local artists a collaborative, open environment to pursue their creative passions and display their work.
Artists On The 9 opened April 26 at 735 E. 79th St.
The Greater Chatham Initiative 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 nonprofit branch of the real estate company, to support the $188,000 project. Organizers paid the remaining $11,433 to secure the space.
Local artists helped design the South Side gallery, said Nedra Sims Fears, executive director at the Greater Chatham Initiative. The gallery has three 10-foot-by-12-foot private “makerspaces,” a gallery, a kitchen and an exhibition room. Two artists-in-residence have already set up shop, renting two of the private rooms.
Artists On The 9 opens a door to the many South Side artists who never had a space to create and showcase their work, Fears said.
“We want to celebrate the creatives that 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 and meet, work together, collaborate and create. Now there’s an artist space in our community for them.”
Painter Kristen Williams and visual artist Anthony Olusina Schleicher are Artists on the 9’s first in-residence creators. Schleicher’s work focuses on colonization, African diaspora, displaced people and cultural collisions.
Williams’s pieces feature tatted queens and Black women in full garb staring at the viewer. Lips doused in vibrant lipsticks, tattoos and full petaled roses are her common details. Her kitchen was once her artist’s den but Artists on the 9 gives her the space to 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 about too much and just be an artist is huge for me. I’ve been looking for something like this.”
Williams said she looks forward to collaborating with fellow artists and neighbors to create more pieces. The importance of building an artistic community on the South Side is often overlooked, she said.
“I really love 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 there is to maybe do a series on the people of Chatham or the people on 79th and Cottage.”
The location for Artists on the 9 honors Betty Howard, a Gwendolyn Brooks Preparatory Academy teacher fatally shot in front of the storefront in 2014, Fears said.
“We wanted to renovate that space to show that the community is resilient and can come back and reinvent it,” Fears said.
As the space establishes its foothold, Fears said she envisions exhibitions and pop-up art shows, and potentially partnerships with the DuSable Museum of African American History and the Art Institute of Chicago to host gallery openings in the neighborhood.
“I would like for our residents to know that they don’t have to be consumers, but that they can create,” Fears said. “I want our creatives to know that they come from a proud heritage of people who make a way out of no way, and take nothing and make it something. I would love for children to come and see the artists in the space. I want the community to know that art is accessible.”
Fears said Artists On The 9 also feeds into the bigger picture the organization has for the Greater Chatham community, boosted by the city’s plans for the Mahalia Jackson Court. Organizers want to create an entire cultural district along 79th Street named for the legendary gospel singer, repurposing 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 are working with them to keep the momentum going, not only in Chatham but in Avalon Park, Greater Grand Crossing and Auburn Gresham.”
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