When it comes to art, words can only go so far — and when it comes to art scenes, they rarely come close. But if one had to sum up Chicago’s art scene in one word, it would be “young.” There’s a fresh, developmental feel to works created in Chi-town, a sort of singular energy surrounding them. But unlike art stalwarts like New York and California, Chicago’s scene isn’t completely stable — it continues to evolve with the slew of new artists who are entering the city. This artistic flux creates a unique atmosphere that fosters a younger art scene but still maintains richness in resources and tradition.

    “Chicago is a vibrant city that can still provide that outlet artists need,” Connection Arts director and University graduate Melissa Molitor said. “You can literally do something different every day involving the arts here.”

    Molitor’s program, which aims to lure multicultural children into the arts, was created to fill the gap left in public schools after government budget cuts made art curriculums drastically inadequate.

    Molitor’s program contributes to an important factor in building an art scene: education. With schools like the University of Chicago, University of Illinois in Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago, Molitor’s Connection Arts students and other budding artists have ample opportunities to form a bond with the Chicago art world. In fact, it’s often the schools themselves that generate art scenes.

    “Sometimes, there’s enough critical mass of graduating students to create a scene, enough people around to, as a community, create opportunities for itself,” explained Hamza Walker, director of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago.

    One of the offspring of Chicago’s recent student burst is the apartment gallery scene, where artists transform their own living spaces into venues. Rob Bain, Deborah Bain, Melia Donovan and David Corbett created The Guest Room Project, an apartment gallery space that functions both as a gallery and as a guest room in their shared house. Some apartment galleries actually go on to become commercial galleries, although that is not the aim of the Project.

    “We’re much more interested in using our space to form connections and to provide a place for artists to showcase their work,” Donovan said.

    Scott Speh was also part of the apartment gallery scene before creating his commercial gallery, Western Exhibitions. A former artist, Speh is empathetic to those on his roster and hopes that, by showing in his gallery, they will progress in their careers.   

    “I still operate it as an artist, without a commercial gallerist aspect,” Speh said.

    Other groups, such as Post-Chicago headed by Lisa Williamson and Keri Butler, use the city itself as an exhibition space. A street-art movement, the group aims to decorate the city, not deface it as certain groups assume.

    “It’s art that’s there for everyone,” he said. “It’s a statement that anyone can side-step an institution … and create art. We’re hoping that people (take) down these posters and (keep) them for themselves.”

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