Art Swap event hosted by AnySquared Projects provides free gallery opportunity for artists

By Irvin Ibarra, Staff Reporter

Eventgoers watch in fascination as the gallery walls fill up with artwork in preparation for the swap. (Irvin Ibarra)

Artists from across the city gathered at the Hairpin Art Center for a unique art show where artists could bring any piece of artwork of any medium and trade it with someone for a completely different piece.

At the Feb. 26 event at 2810 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Logan Square, artists arriving at the gallery were handed a raffle number and, with the help of AnySquared volunteers, saw their work hung up on the gallery’s walls and traded at no cost. 

This year, AnySquared Projects is celebrating its 12th anniversary as an organization. The “Art Swap Meet,” or the “Art Swap” for short, is an event that began in 2011 for AnySquared Projects, a volunteer-powered art organization and network.

“Everyone who brings a piece of art to this event goes home with a piece of art. … Everyone gets to meet the artists they chose as well. It’s kind of like a networking event with artists,” said Tracy Kostenbader, creator of AnySquared Projects. “It’s basically like having an exhibit happen before your eyes.”

Several artists gather around a section in the gallery space to draw either their own street art characters or their interpretation of the question posed on the wall using oil pastels as their available art medium. (Irvin Ibarra)

AnySquared’s last Art Swap happened in 2020 right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

With more and more artists arriving as the event began, the walls of the gallery filled with artwork from artists of all different levels and styles. Some artwork even came from Chicago’s street art scene.

Jorge Molina, a sophomore graphic design major who goes by the name CaughtOnTape, has attended AnySquared’s open studio days for a year, and since then he said it has become the “perfect place” for him to work on his street artwork based on themes of privacy and surveillance.

“Instead of giving art [away] for money, we’re giving art for more art and being able to experience other people’s stories,” Molina said. “It’s such a beautiful event just to have fun with each other and share art with each other.”

After getting his number called in the raffle, the crowd cheered on Martell after claiming two pieces by artist grinch.fngrz. (Irvin Ibarra)

During the Art Swap, Molina was able to trade his artwork for a line art sketch of a human figure with tentacles coming out its chest.

Alejandro Martell, a senior illustration major, also participated in the Art Swap and said he feels that initiatives like this should be taken advantage of by other Columbia students.

Alongside street art, Martell’s artwork under the name UnderSeaGravy stems from wanting to repurpose and recycle materials like canvas and spray cans into artwork.

“I think this event definitely highlights community and inclusion through just swapping [art] and making it not about the money,” Martell said. “I was really happy to be introduced to another new artist, and another fan was able to be introduced to me since I was able to participate in it by bringing in art.”