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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

The Englewood Arts Collective Is Transforming A Vacant South Shore Storefront Into An Artist’s Haven

The Southeast Chicago Chamber of Commerce invited the group to use a city grant to create a safe space for local artists to thrive.

Jerrold “Just Flo” Anderson, muralist and Englewood Arts Collective member, unveils the new mural that adorns the wall of Planned Parenthood - Englewood Health Center in 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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SOUTH SHORE — A South Side collective of artists will bring their talents to the Southeast Side this winter, activating a vacant store and proving the power of community in one space. 

The Englewood Arts Collective, a party of South Side visual and musical artists, will host “Home Is Where the Art Is.” The two-month pop-up will transform an empty building at 1827 E. 79th St. into a rotating studio, art exhibit, storefront and collaboration spot for local artists throughout the winter. 

A launch party celebrating the pop-up runs 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday at the South Shore development with free photoshoots, a ceramic ornament activation, hot chocolate, live music and a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. 

“People are going to see creative ideas being activated by residents of Chicago, and we think that’s going to make an amazing impact within the community,” said Rob Smooth, a musical artist and co-founder of the Englewood Arts Collective. “We’re reinventing the narrative of what storefronts could look like from our perspective.”

Credit: Google Maps
The Englewood Arts Collective will transform the vacant storefront at 1827 E. 79th into a safe space for artists and neighbors to create and sell art.

“Home is Where the Art Is” grew out of a desire for unity in the Chicago artistic community, said Janell Nelson, co-founder of the Englewood Arts Collective. 

The organization applied for a city grant earlier this year to create a “pop-up living room” outside of Englewood that would welcome artists across the city into one space, Nelson said. 

There are talented artists in all of Chicago’s crevices, but most don’t know of each other, said Pugs Atomz, co-founder of the Englewood Arts Collective. The more artists that meet, “the bigger the projects and the ideas can be,” he said.  

The group put the idea on hold when it didn’t receive that grant, Nelson said. Months later, the Southeast Chicago Chamber of Commerce gave the group a call, Nelson said. 

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The overpass at Halsted Street in Englewood on April 13, 2022.

The Southeast Side group was one of 18 community and economic development organizations to receive a share of $2 million as part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Small Business Activation Program. The money is intended to help organizers design and activate vacant storefronts along commercial corridors. 

Members of the Southeast Chicago Chamber of Commerce were familiar with the Englewood Arts Collective’s work around the city. They invited the artist group to “be a guest of the chamber” and reimagine the 79th Street space, Nelson said. 

The collective’s “pop-up living room” idea was reborn with a spin, she said.

“The vacant storefront program is twofold,” Nelson said. “It’s artists reimagining vacant spaces and highlighting small businesses in the area. The Englewood Arts Collective is doing that, but with our own spin. We’re not just a store with constant open hours. We’re curating artistic experiences in the way that we do best.” 

Choosing a title for the activation came easily, Nelson said. Englewood will always be home, but the joy of art goes wherever you take it, she said. 

“Art is our heart. We don’t say that just because it sounds good. It’s our truth,” Nelson said. “Everything we do is from our heart, and our professional practices as artists are rooted in the love that we have for our craft and city. Home is wherever you are. As long as you’re showing up with whatever you love, you can create a home.” 

The South Shore activation will “uphold Chicago art culture traditions that made it so cool in the ‘90s,” Atomz said. 

On “Window Wednesdays,” neighbors can visit the neighborhood to watch creators like co-founder Jerrold “Just Flo” Anderson create art in real time before purchasing the minute-made pieces. Open mic night will give local DJs, rappers, singers and more a place to perform. 

Follow the group’s social media profiles to know what’s happening weekly, but neighbors can expect “a place to vibe out,” Atomz said. 

As excitement builds for the pop-up, hopefully, the city will see the importance of investing in artistic communities, Nelson said. 

“I’m not just talking about making it rain with funds,” Nelson said. “That is important, but investing means scaffolding artists with structures of support to help them produce. Let’s ease up on bureaucratic processes and get out of our own way so we can let the folks that live in and love these communities work within a system that revitalizes them.”

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