Interview with Lelde Kalmite of Bridgeport Art Center

­­Each week CGN interviews a local art world professional to discuss the ins and outs of running a gallery in the city of Chicago. This week we caught up with Lelde Kalmite of Bridgeport Art Center.


Age: Don’t ask, don’t tell

Current Position: Curator

Hometown: Wurzach, Germany

Previous Occupation: Non-profit arts administrator & University instructor of, art history, studio art, and humanities.


Favorites from this week:

Restaurant: Antique Taco on 35th street

Shop: National Museum of Mexican Art gift shop

Read: I read The New Yorker every week

Neighborhood: Still learning about Bridgeport, which has a fascinating history

Music: I love classical music (especially chamber music)


Chicago Gallery News: Tell us about your background and how you came to connect with the Bridgeport Art Center?

Lelde Kalmite: After about a dozen years working as a non-profit arts administrator, in 2009 I took an early retirement and rented a studio at Bridgeport Art Center in order to get back to making art full time. I soon came to realize that BAC had the potential to become an important art venue on the South Side. I was given the opportunity to further develop the 4th floor gallery and begin a program of curated art exhibits. Since then, I have designed and installed over 50 exhibitions in three galleries at the BAC. This is the most dynamic and exciting place I have ever worked.  I have a lovely studio and regular interaction with so many Chicago-area artists, curators, collectors and art lovers.


CGN: Share a typical day in the life.

LK: I start early and work on my own art for several hours each morning (4-5 hours per day). Afternoons are usually dedicated to curatorial work. This includes visiting the artist studios, preparing PR materials, communicating with each artist selected for a given show and helping them prepare for the exhibit.


CGN: Which part of bringing together an exhibition proves most challenging?

LK:  Creating an exhibit from a diverse collection of artworks is, as most curators know, akin to creating a new work of art.  It is a pleasurable challenge, because it allows me to share my love of art.  My educational background and work in non-profit administration have strongly influenced my work as a curator. 

The exhibits do not necessarily reflect personal preferences but represent themes that can teach people about some important aspect of contemporary art or group of artists (geometric abstraction, the art of encaustic, male artists of color reflecting on social issues, paper arts, and so on). Many mundane administrative details (consignment agreements, announcement cards, receipt of artworks, etc.) go into preparing each show. However the actual installation of an exhibit is very satisfying and often exhilarating. 


CGN: How do you see Chicago’s art scene in comparison to other cities? What do you think makes it particularly unique?

LK: Every major city has its own history and traditions in art.  In Chicago, there has historically been a contrast between a tradition related to European modernism/abstraction, versus one that grows out of Midwestern Regionalism, naïve art and popular culture. Today there seems to be no dominant tradition in which artists can situate themselves (either for or against).

In addition, there has been a steady reduction or even elimination of art in the school curriculum, so younger visitors who come to view art exhibits are often not very familiar with the long history of art – neither Western art, nor the art of other cultures.  I believe that is what makes a place like BAC so important in the art community of Chicago.  It educates visitors while engaging them with a very entertaining experience in a building full of art and artists.


CGN: How have you seen technology directly affect/alter the way Bridgeport Art Center views it programs or connects with the surrounding community?

LK: The internet and social media have grown the audience for art exhibits at Bridgeport Art Center. Information about the programs is readily available on the website and disseminated to a growing e-mail list of visitors. There is a vital interaction among visitors interested in the different programs – dance studio, ceramic center (with its own beautiful gallery curated by Jay Strommen), fitness center, fashion shows, Maritime Museum, and more.  People can come for a terrific evening of immersion in culture, free of charge for both entry and parking.  The Internet has spread the word about Bridgeport Art Center throughout the world. Recently one night, at a River North gallery opening, a group of European visitors walked into the gallery and asked, "How do we get to the Bridgeport Art Center?"


CGN: One piece of advice you would send back to yourself when you started out?

LK: I would advise myself to rent a studio at a place like Bridgeport Art Center directly after graduating from the University so that I could be part of a larger artistic community and start to live the life of commitment and hard work that is required to excel in the field of art.


CGN: Favorite cultural pursuit outside of the art world?

LK: I enjoy playing the piano, especially with other instrumentalists, and am looking for some other competent amateurs who might like to form a chamber group (just for fun).


CGN: Favorite work of public art in Chicago?

LK: Virginio Ferrari’s Super Strength at the University of Illinois Chicago Engineering Research Facility.


CGN: What's coming up next at Bridgeport Art Center? 

LK: A full schedule of exhibitions for 2018 is in place for the 4th floor gallery.  This includes art by architects and designers. The 6th annual art competition and a show called Loved Ones will explore depictions of people with whom artists have meaningful relationships, to name a few. There will be a show about patterns found in nature as well as several others. The 3rd floor rental gallery is also completely booked for the coming year, with shows by the Colored Pencil Society of America, student and art teacher shows organized by the Illinois Art Education Association, the non-profit group CAVA, among others.  It is a tribute to the hard work of the staff at Bridgeport that we now have so many exhibits and other events to offer not only residents of the South Side, but visitors from the entire city and beyond.


Lelde Kalmite is a Curator at Bridgeport Art Center in Chicago. For more information about the organization please visit: Bridgeport Art Center.