For artists, by artists: How Chicago-based artists self-organize in spite of the pandemic

By Irvin Ibarra, Staff Reporter

To prevent the event from getting overcrowded, attendees circulate based on their reservation to ensure safety precautions and allow more people to participate in the space. Irvin Ibarra

For young and new artists, finding art shows in existing and established art galleries can be difficult and unprofitable, which is why Chicago-based art curator LizAnne Cook took up the mantle to curate their own art event in spite of the pandemic this past summer.

For the past two years, Ludlow Liquor has been the venue where curators Cook and artist Diego “Bird Milk” Aguilar have hosted their pop-up art exhibitions called the “Dope Art Show.” Artists and eventgoers got together for the most recent exhibition on the patio of the small bar in Avondale Aug 29.

The show is sustained mainly by donations from patrons, and artists make 100% of the proceeds for artwork they sell.

“Young artists and new artists don’t get those same opportunities,” Cook said. “It is a very community-driven show. It is something that, to us, is very, very special.”

Since its inception in 2019, turnout has grown for the Dope Art Show with roughly 300 people attending each show this summer alone, and at least one exhibition has been held every month since May.

“Everything they’re doing is really amazing,” said Alejandro “Underseagravyart” Martell, senior illustration major at Columbia and artist exhibited at the Dope Art Show. “At Columbia, we really don’t get the opportunities [to] even exhibit our work or even have moments where we have public exhibitions … so when we finally get that opportunity, it’s pretty monumental.”

Attendants of the art event enjoy watching the variety of pets that show up, petting them and taking photos with them — a staple of the show. Irvin Ibarra

These same artists also attend a studio space in Logan Square called AnySquared Projects with an attendance of 50 to 100 regulars at their open studio days on Wednesdays.

“Our foundation is built upon the idea that we can do anything as long as we do it together,” said Tracy Kostenbader, artist, art curator and creator of AnySquared Projects. “We make things ourselves, we do it ourselves, we create spaces for us as a whole group.”

AnySquared was heavily impacted during the early months of the pandemic with one of their shows, LIP 20/20, shut down in early March 2020. Since the Chicago reopening on June 11 of this year, open studio days have returned to some in-person sessions with masks, Zoom meetings with artists and art talks, and future art events planned for September.

In comparison to the creative spaces AnySquared and the Dope Art Show provide, both Martell and Matthew “Mapsketchbook” Petrovich, a senior illustration major, criticized the college for a lack of genuine spaces for artists to organize shows and miscommunication to artists when they do.

This disconnection they feel led to these artists connecting outside of Columbia.

“This whole idea of art shows that are put together by just individual artists … is extremely important,” Petrovich said. “As a way to build community, as a way to connect these artists with each other.”