Combining The Creative Vision

By The Columbia Chronicle

by Stephanie Saviola

A Turkish bazaar with vivid colors, smells, treasures, meaningful encounters and free-flowing ideas—these are the concepts that artist Laura Shaeffer had in mind when she created the Opportunity Shop in Hyde Park neighborhood. The Opportunity Shop, or OpShop, is essentially an art gallery but not in the traditional sense.

Upon entering the OpShop, visitors get a chance to see Shaeffer’s ideas come to life.  The shop, located at 1613 E. 55th St., hosted a grand opening event on Nov. 27 that had a greater turnout than expected. Shaeffer said her goal for the gallery, which closes at the end of December, was to have a process-oriented and conceptual space that brought people together in a vacant, urban location. The space was filled with people just as diverse as the art. People from many different backgrounds and ages filtered in and out during the opening celebration.

At the entrance of the gallery, an artist sat at a table demonstrating the process of silk screening to guests. Children of all ages drew pictures with markers that were displayed by an overhead projector on a blank wall for everyone in the space to view. People were encouraged to participate, interact, and even take part in some of the art that was being created right there. A DJ spun an eclectic mix of tunes in the middle of everything.

“The one thing I really liked about the space is there was something for everyone,” said Ryan Scheidt, a Chicago-based painter. “Not only was the art mixed well, but the age group was so mixed, it was almost family-oriented,

in a sense.”

When Shaeffer came up with the idea for the gallery, she wanted the space to have a collaborative feel to it. She said she came up with the name Opportunity Shop because in Australia, the term means “thrift store.”

The gallery has an actual thrift store located inside. It is run by volunteers from the United Church of Hyde Park, though the thrift store has no affiliation with the church. The Hyde Park community is currently lacking in thrift stores and the idea to bring one to the community fit in with Shaeffer’s original concept.

“I personally love and thrive on thrift stores and their origin,” Shaeffer said. “I also love that we have the space to create a place for exchange and trade.”

For the gallery aspect, Shaeffer recruited artists of every style. There are local Hyde Park artists, college students from various schools throughout Chicago and also some that Shaeffer had worked with previously and wanted to bring in for the collaborative process.   She also wanted the gallery to be an open-exchange forum where artists can trade or sell objects, skills, and works of art.

“Hyde Park is full of art lovers and artists, so what [Scaeffer] is providing is extremely valuable,” said Katrin Asbury, a sculptor who has a home in Hyde Park, but resides in Urbana, Ill. and collaborates with her

husband on projects.

Photographers, painters, sculptors, cinematographers, jewelry makers and silk-screening artists were just some of the many people at the gallery on opening night.

“The OpShop brings contemporary art to a wide audience and gives people who may not feel comfortable going to art galleries the chance to experience and buy contemporary art,” Asbury said.

The sculptor took the opportunity to show her toys at the shop, which are a combination of play-things and sculptures. Shaeffer welcomes all kinds of artists to participate and submit work to the gallery if they want to be a part of the process.

“Artists’ work and social exchange go hand in hand,” Shaeffer said. “The shop is a short-term, spontaneous pilot project, ending at the end of the year, for what we hope will become a series of exhibitions taking place in spaces in transition throughout Hyde Park.”

Shaeffer received her bachelors of fine arts in painting and drawing in 1987 from the Philadelphia College of Arts, now known as the University of the Arts moved to Europe, and was lived in Berlin when the Wall came down. She has since moved back to the United States and continues to practice and teach art.

“These things were happening all over Germany,” Shaeffer said. “There were huge, empty spaces and artists would come in and create spontaneous experimental art. There were highs and lows coming together. It was very

organic and beautiful, and I miss that.”

The OpShop is a large space with mixed, white walls and exposed brick that constitute a perfect fit to host an art gallery. Paintings, photos, unfinished garments and even a cuckoo clock are all mixed and on display. The large, open space can accommodate an equally large crowd. Standing in the center of the space allows patrons to get a 360-degree view of all the colorful and eclectic exhibits. The space already comes with partial walls installed that help create a natural place to display works.

“It was such a great space to walk around and explore,” Scheidt said after opening night. “The space almost encouraged you to walk around and explore every little room and corner. It was so visually appealing.”

The space was full from the start and large groups of people, even families, continued to filter in and out all night.

“It was a beautiful turnout—we ran out of wine cups,” said Dani Hurt, a senior photography student at Columbia and curatorial collaborator for the OpShop. “It is so eclectic and the space is great.”

Hurt had coincidentally taken photos inside an actual thrift store for her portion of the show. So far, more than 40 artists have taken part in the project either by providing work for opening night or showing their work over the Opportunity Shop’s run.

“I think what Laura is doing is innovative and fresh,” Hurt said. “She is working with so many different types of visual artists and is excelling in making this melting pot come together fairly well.”

Mac Properties, which liked the idea of supplying a place for artists to gather and also a place to help draw more people and business into the Hyde Park community, provided Shaeffer the space for the shop for a nominal fee.

“Laura presented a dynamic and exciting opportunity to us,” said Peter Cassel, Mac Property manager. Cassel hopes people will not only come to the shop, but also eat at one of the restaurants located on the block and bring more business and customers to that area.

The shop has smaller, affordable works of art for sale by most of the artists. This was another important factor in creating the OpShop for not only Shaeffer but for the many artists that were participating.

“There are great galleries where you can see modern and contemporary art, but hardly anywhere to buy it,” Asbury said.

A small portion of the sales revenue will be used to maintain the space and fund future projects. Shaeffer also plans to hold a silent auction to help with some of the costs of the project.

The Opportunity Shop will run through the end of the year, with a closing party scheduled for Dec. 31. If successful, Shaeffer hopes to create similar projects in the future, in open spaces throughout Hyde Park and Chicago’s South Side.