ARC Gallery at 50

Pictured: The founding members of ARC Gallery were Dalia Alekna, Jan Arnow, Gerda Meyer Bernstein, Judy Lerner Brice, Ellen Ferar, Imfriede Hogan Lagerkvist, Maxine Lowe, Mary Min, Kay Rosen, Civia Rosenberg Gina Rosenblum, Sara Skolnik Rosenbluth, Laurel Ross, Myra Toth, and Monika Wulfers. Image from the 2nd Annual Members’ Exhibition.




It is no small thing to make a gallery last for five decades, and this year ARC Gallery & Educational Foundation is turning 50. To celebrate the history of one of the country’s oldest co-ops of its kind, ARC has a fall exhibition planned, as well as opportunities to invite the art community and the general public to ensure its next 50 years. 

Recently we spoke with current ARC president Cheri Reif Naselli, who contacted ARC founding member Gerda Meyer Bernstein – the main force for the formation of ARC (Artists (in) Residence Chicago) five decades ago. Not long after her own 100th birthday in January of this year, Gerda shared some recollections with Cheri about ARC's founding and said she was compelled to start ARC because at the time, there were no places around Chicago for women to show their work. "I felt there were huge things we could accomplish together." 

When Gerda first started what would become ARC, she gathered a group of just 7–10 artists. Some came and went, Gerda remembers. She says there were good memories but it was a fair amount of trouble starting at the time, because there was not a lot of strong interest that matched her own. Today Gerda is still making art and she plans to have work in ARC's 50th Anniversary Show planned for this fall. 


ARC was first opened in 1973 at 226 E. Ontario, across from the original location of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Started by a group of women artists when there were a lot of changes were happening around the country, local artists were starting to form their own galleries and build a thriving art community in Chicago. Today ARC is based in the vibrant West Town neighborhood. In the ‘70s, amidst a climate of ending sexism and conformity, ARC provided a professional exhibition space for women artists who were left out of the mainstream art scene and the commercial gallery system. Women across the country were compelled to overtly challenge the dominance of men in the art world, and in society, through art. The gallery, still operated as a cooperative nonprofit run by its women-led membership, continues to maintain strong links with its legacy of feminist art leadership through the cultivation an inclusive and welcoming space for exhibitions, workshops, and discussion. Via the women-run space, ARC exhibits work by artists of all genders. 

ARC is the only surviving, not-for-profit, women’s cooperative gallery in the Midwest and has exhibited the work of over 6,000 unique artists from around the globe. Exhibition opportunities for innovative and emerging artists exist today to an extent unheard of for women 50 years ago. ARC’s current and ongoing commitment gives exposure and support to countless artists through mentoring and by donating exhibition space to underserved regardless of gender-identity to help subsidize the costs of solo exhibitions. 

To publicly celebrate ARC Gallery will mount a 50th Anniversary Exhibition showcasing artwork from past and present gallery members. Current exhibition dates to plan for are September 28-October 21, 2023, with an opening during West Town Art Walk on September 29. Exhibiting artists will lead discussions at a special reception and speak about their art and the impact that ARC has had on their career and life. ARC also plans to host a lecture led by art historian Johanna Gardner-Huggert on the past 50 years of feminist art. Additionally there will be a panel of representatives from several female-run spaces and art historians discussing the future of feminist art titled “The Next 50.” Dates are still to be determined as of press time, so please check arcgallery.org and CGN’s calendar for updates.