Right off a main drag in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood lives a retrofitted loft space housing underground art and working to bring it to the Chicago community. The group of young creatives and entrepreneurs who found and flipped the space have come to call it, Locallective.
The space itself is maze-like and brimming with possibility. As you move throughout, the mood and aesthetic change, like puzzle pieces coming together to depict an image you never before imagined. The way the kitchy sun-filled living room meshes with the graffiti art, the boutique with the greenery-filled kitchen – it allows you to see in a different perspective and opens up your mind to new ideas.
But finding yourself in this scene isn’t easy. Underground artists seldom have a vehicle to gain notoriety and exposure; and for those on the other end, pinpointing these mystery artists can become a game of Where’s Waldo. Luckily for Chicago, Locallective is creating a platform to bridge this gap, allowing the artists, public, and art promoters a common place to come together and celebrate a new kind of art form.
To learn more about how the venue began, what artists they are watching, and what this means for the Chicago community, we sat down with Alexandra Wright, Founder, Director of Operations, and Artist at Locallective.
I had been doing pop-up artist collective exhibits around the city of Chicago for two years. The shows were a great success, but they were short-lived, so I decided to look for a more permanent venue. The search began. The space was listed on Chicago Artist Resource and it was filled to the brim with trash and used materials when we checked it out. Formerly an old Singer sewing factory from 1890, the original tiles, tin ceilings and various other natural charms were still intact. We felt inspired to flip and renovate most of the floor and after only two weeks into construction, we were approached to use the space in many different ways. From there the gallery concept immediately evolved and grew. Today we accommodate a wide array of one-off private events. We also have two artists that use Locallective as a studio workspace.
What artists have you worked with that you’re really proud to have featured?
We’re honored to have featured each and every one of the artists we’ve worked with thus far, but there are a few we go “super fan” over like Bunny!XLV, a Chicago-based painter from Costa Rica who specializes in large scale freehand paintings of imaginative creatures. Another is Walrus Cobbler – a dynamic duo that incorporate found materials and figurines into a multitude of mediums such as acrylic, screen printing, photography and resin.
How do you discover new artists you’d like to work with?
Honestly, Instagram has been an extremely instrumental platform for us to recruit local artists and designers. It’s a one-stop shop into a creators’ day-to-day activity and a raw way to showcase their vision and personality. Another way we discover artists is staying active in the community and making ourselves accessible to artists who want to collaborate.
Describe the underground art scene in Chicago? What are the trends? What fascinates you?
I think to call any scene underground is essentially claiming the network that the community thrives in isn’t attainable — exclusive, if you will. What I’ve seen in the last five years is artists bringing their community to the forefront. Chicago takes great strides to expose its artists, pushing the underground scene above ground with art-focused organizations, events, street markets and initiatives. More and more businesses today are inviting artists to paint their storefronts, or a panel on their building, or a mural in their office–it’s huge exposure for the artists themselves but even greater exposure for the art community.
Trends come and go, but one that I personally love being close to and seeing in other works is the repurposing of already used products. Bringing life to something old and decrepit, finding use for the discarded and making it interesting.
What makes Locallective the ideal space to showcase creative endeavors?
What’s most unique about Locallective is the ability to change the space to match the work. When we on-board new artists for shows, we encourage them to use that unconventional facet of the business to better support their vision. Our team is always down for a creative build out. Granting that freedom to our exhibiting designers and artists in 5,000 square-feet allows for bigger, better things that you can’t do in a typical art gallery.
You have some changing installations in the loft, can you describe what they are for our readers?
We currently have a contemporary women’s swimwear line, Rosina Mae, in our in-house boutique. To merchandise this line our Creative Director, Cara Molitor, cleverly built faux locker room showers with tiles and floor drains on the wall. The tops and bottoms of the suits hang delicately off the drain cylinders to put the product into context.
We also rotate our gigantic mural wall every 8 weeks featuring Chicago’s finest underground street artists. Right now there’s a wooden shelf hung with empty paint buckets and out of those buckets a painting emerges of an exploding pie that has a bug-eyed, monacle-wearing bird in a top hat perched on top. A wolf and monster also trail closely behind the well-dressed bird. Oh, Walrus Cobbler, how we love thee.
Clothing designers, home goods makers, and mural/3-dimensional artists are rotated every two months. Our formal gallery exhibitions change every 4-5 weeks.
Do you have any dream artists that you’d like to work with?
Wow, this question is tough! I love multifaceted artists, people who don’t reside in one medium long enough to get stagnant. I think Floyd A. Davis IV aka Artpentry is an artist to keep your eyes on, and someone we try to stay tuned in with at Locallective.
Lastly, what does ‘free’ mean to you?
To us, ‘free’ is the ability to express yourself without limitations. To really pursue your dream and vision without hold ups from societal expectations or concrete materials. We’re only seven months in at Locallective, but we’re feeling pretty damn free.