Having just moved to Chicago from California a little over a month ago, I see every gallery, studio, and art-related event that I attend with the fresh eyes of a newcomer. The sheer enormity of the art scene in Chicago is awe-inspiring, and reminds me why I moved here. Hoping to see a large amount of artwork without having to travel from gallery to gallery, I decided to visit the Flat Iron Arts Building during its monthly First Friday Event in Wicker Park/Bucktown. Knowing that it involved open studios, I decided to dress casually and was glad that I did; the vibe there is definitely—refreshingly—laid back.
Upon first entering the building, there is an information desk with flyers, artists’ cards, and a collection for the suggested five dollar donation. From there, visitors are free to explore three floors—each a maze of hallways lined with art that lead to a variety of studios and galleries.
In many mainstream art venues, in order to meet the artist you must attend the opening reception—and even then, sometimes you aren’t so lucky (the artist may be busy or out of town). The Flat Iron Arts Building differs from traditional art galleries, since studios are relaxed places where the artists can work. Although the artists in the building are primarily up-and-coming, I was pleased that they were all present during studio hours, and friendly as that! I was able to chat with artists not only about their work, but about the local art scene as well.
Being an up-and-coming painter myself, I was curious about the venue; how does one get his/her work exhibited there? Rather easily, as it turns out. I was guided toward an in-the-know individual who kindly told me that if I filled out a liability form, I was welcome to hang my work there next month. This came as a surprise because although I have been to open studio events in California, they were not on the same (massive) scale as the Flat Iron Arts Building, and if you were not a tenant of the studio building, your work could not be shown there.
In addition to being a destination for discovering new artists, the Flat Iron Arts Building is also a place where you can give creativity a try yourself. Through discussion, I learned about the existence of life-drawing classes that are open to the general public, hosted by tenants in the building. Being a figurative artist, this sparked my interest, both as a drawing exercise and a way to meet other young artists in the area.
A few weeks after my first visit, I’m still weighing the pros and cons of showing my work in this space. Although I wasn’t given specifics about location, I got the impression that non-tenants are generally assigned to hallway areas, some of which are quite narrow and with a fair amount of foot traffic. Because the monthly openings are casual events, the likelihood of meeting serious buyers could be low, and the risk of work getting damaged considerable (I have a recurring nightmare about someone spilling a glass of wine on my painting). However, despite these potential drawbacks, the opportunity to get myself “out there” free of charge, in a comfortable, low-pressure environment seems well worth the risk.
I think that the “all artists welcome” mantra of the Flat Iron Building is probably what steers some artists and patrons towards the facility, and others away. For me, this all-inclusiveness is what I appreciate most about the venue. The Flat Iron Arts Building benefits local artists and the general public mutually; because of it, people can see the work of artists such as myself who have not yet been picked up by galleries or dealers.
Michel Balasis, As If (tenant)
Marketa Sivek, Red Sunflowers (tenant)