Lillstreet Art Center celebrates 40 years


Santiago Covarrubias

Artists work on pottery wheels in Lillstreet’s ceramic workspace

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Lillstreet Art Center, a Ravenswood community staple, is celebrating 40 years in operation in 2015.

Pam Robinson, the director of Educational Programming in the Jewelry and Glass Department at Lillstreet, said the art center started in a small warehouse on Lill Street in 1975 and has since grown exponentially.

“We started on Lill Street, in a much smaller facility,” Robinson said. “[It was] probably around 12 thousand square feet. Then we moved to Ravenswood which is around 40 thousand square feet.”

The 2003 move was essential because as Lillstreet developed, its artistic offerings—including classes and programs—developed as well, drawing in large numbers of students and artists.

“It started as a ceramics studio…. Then they added painting and drawing, a kids program and a jewelry department,” Robinson said. “The programs and student body were growing and we just outgrew the space.”

The move allowed for even more expansion, Robinson added. Following its move to the larger facility at 4401 N. Ravenswood Ave., textile, printmaking and digital arts departments were added to the existing offerings.

Lillstreet also houses galleries featuring work from local and national artists.

Brian Malnassy, gallery director and a 2009 music alumnus, said in addition to curating galleries, part of his job is fundraising for Lillstreet in various ways.

“One of the things I do is work with artists, put on a big smile and solicit donations from artists and ask to donate work from [artists featured in] our gallery. I’m the bridge [between artists and Lillstreet],” Malnassy said.

These fundraisers may range from collaboration with their nonprofit organization ArtReach, as well as personal fundraisers, including a recent one for the Lillstreet executive director who is  battling brain cancer.

Lillstreet also houses a First Slice Pie Café location, which provides quality meals to more than  300 homeless and in-need individuals each week, according to the First Slice website.

Robinson added that as a community-based arts center, Lillstreet’s vision is to infuse the community with approachable art classes and expert teaching.

“Our goal is to make the community aware of who we are and that you don’t have to be an artist to take classes,” Robinson said. “Anybody can do any of this, and everybody has [the ability to create art] in them. We have lawyers, doctors and nurses…. We are here to nurture them.”

Patrick Miceli, an adjunct professor in the Design Department, has been involved with Lillstreet for more than 20 years, leading  painting and drawing classes at multiple skill levels and witnessing the company’s outreach mission at work.

“There’s a wide range of people that come, and when we teach the beginning classes, I reassure people they don’t have to know anything. I start at the beginning of any discipline,” Miceli said.

He added other programs Lillstreet offers open the facility to the community as well.

“The building is open seven days a week, and there are always artists working. Even Bruce [Robbins, founder and CEO,] gives personal tours,” Miceli added.

Malnassy said Lillstreet’s focus is making art accessible, and that as long as people are consuming art, “that’s what’s  important.”