Press Release | Thu October 19, 2017, 05:43 PM EST
Chicago’s Albany Park and Irving Park neighborhoods have emerged as a growing hub of arts and cultural activity during the past few years, pleasing residents and the arts groups who view the area as fertile ground for creative expression. The area offers relatively inexpensive real estate, the neighborhoods are home to a vibrant, culturally diverse population, and the explosion of exciting new restaurants all add to the attractiveness of Albany Park and Irving Park as a place where arts and cultural can flourish. The area also taps the creativity of young people to build an identity as an aesthetically pleasing and entertaining place to live in and visit.
“The arts scene in Albany Park and surrounding neighborhoods is an increasingly collective effort among residents, businesses and the arts groups,” said Thomas Applegate, Executive Director of the North River Commission. “The area offers many advantages to arts and cultural organizations who are looking to establish a home base and the community is eagerly embracing them.”
Attractively priced real estate is a plus for Albany Park’s arts organizations
Many growing arts organizations need to keep costs down as they build their audience, and Albany Park’s relatively low rental rates make the area attractive. Available storefronts enable organizations to set up shop quickly. The community has responded favorably to groups who have located in the area and surrounding businesses are finding creative ways to showcase their performances and works.
Windy City Playhouse, located at 3014 W. Irving Park Road (www.windycityplayhouse.com) , is a three-year old professional theater company that didn’t have an official space until 2015 when it opened its main stage performance space in Albany Park. The new theater is cost effective and provides the opportunity to make performances accessible to a wide diversity of people.
“We considered ourselves to be arts pioneers in Irving Park, and we were pleasantly surprised by the response of the neighborhood and the business owners. The community is very vibrant and has been thrilled to have us,” said Evelyn Jacoby, Windy City Playhouse’s Managing Director.
Windy City Playhouse presents contemporary, relevant plays in a fun, uplifting, and immersive way. “While about a third of our audience is made up of traditional theater goers from around Chicago, we are also reaching people who may not typically go to the theater, she said. “We’re doing that by offering a more casual, less formal theater experience. Windy City Playhouse is an “audience first” theater company—it’s all about the audience experience.”
Jacoby believes that the area is only at the beginning of its expansion as a cultural center and the future is promising. “Right now, the art scene in Albany Park is small but mighty. We’ve made a long-term investment in being part of its growth. We see that as the arts, dining and nightlife opportunities grow in Albany Park and Irving Park, people from the neighborhood increasingly want to frequent their local venues rather than travel to other neighborhoods.”
The theater company also offers master classes led by Chicago’s top agents, casting directors and artists. In 2017, Windy City Playhouse launched The Sandbox, which presents readings of theatrical works that are free and open to the public.
Another group that is important to the arts community is 2nd Story (www.2ndstory.com), a unique 19-year old network of storytellers who elevate the impact of their stories by offering theatrically presented live events in and around Chicago. They perform in venues of all sizes, and also offer workshops and classes. Each performance consists of several stories dispersed throughout the evening.
2nd Story opened its organizational home in 2016 at 3001 W. Lawrence in Albany Park. Here they received a warm welcome. “The first thing we experienced was curiosity,” said Lauren Sivak, 2nd Story’s Managing Director. “Residents were really interested to know what we did and how they could help.”
Sivak explained that having a permanent storefront space is important for building traffic and creating interest; 2nd Story also has hosted pop-up performances there. 2nd Story produces more than 30 events every season and facilitates more than 145 artistic collaborations. Sivak also praised the alderman, Deb Mell, for her active support and stated that local real estate owners have recognized the importance of filling their properties with a wider variety of tenants.
Albany Park’s growing and supportive restaurant scene is another advantage for arts and cultural groups. “One way to grow awareness of our programs is to partner with local businesses to host pop-up performances,” said Sivak. “We hope to perfom at venues such as Nighthawk Coffee Bar & Tavern (4744 N. Kimball; www.nighthawkchicago.com) and find ways to partner with Bikes N’ Roses, a local bike shop (4747 N. Sawyer; www.bikesnroses.org), who already host open mic and poetry readings. Theater goers appreciate having great dining available pre- and post-performance, and the rapid growth of new, chef-driven independent restaurants in the area—ranging from casual to fine-dining—helps make the Albany Park and Irving Park area an attractive destination for Chicagoans.
Dance also is a growing aspect of the Albany Park cultural scene. One such example is Dovetail Studios, located at 2853 W. Montrose (www.dovetail-studios.com). This 6,000 square-foot dance space offers a full schedule of classes in a variety of styles for children, young adults, adults and professional dancers. Dovetail’s multi-style approach meshes well with the area’s culturally diverse population.
Visual Arts are alive and well in Albany Park and Irving Park
Albany Park’s arts and cultural scene transcends the performing arts, as the visual arts are also thriving. There are many young, up and coming artists who live and work in the area. One notable artist who calls Albany Park home is Thomas Melvin (www.thomasmelvin.com), a nationally acclaimed commissioned artist who specializes in original large-form murals and decorative paintings and has been in business for 40 years. His work is found in businesses, residences, museums, schools and other public institutions.
His studio exemplifies another reason that Albany Park and Irving Park are attractive areas for artists—the availability of large work spaces. He was looking for large studio space with north facing windows—artists prefer that—and found an old department store at 3243 W. Lawrence that perfectly fit the bill. “The building has beautiful windows on the top floor and 13 ft. by 55 ft. painting walls,” said Melvin. “I rent half the floor and share the space with three additional artists—Ken Minami, Josh Brown and Carmen Chami—who are excellent artists in their own right.”
The second floor and half of the top floor of his building are available to rent, Melvin noted.
Melvin’s work can be seen at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Field Museum, as well as a recently completed 41 ft. by 400 ft. mural on the south face of the E-2 Apartments parking structure at 1890 Maple Street in Evanston.
Melvin’s wife, Nancy, maintains a studio in the top floor of their residence. She is a textile designer and Lazure color glaze artist, and her fine handwork is marketed at Union Hand Made at 3860 N. Lincoln Avenue.
Melvin emphasizes that the area is terrific for artists because it’s affordable and large spaces exist—an important virtue because it’s getting expensive for artists to survive. He advises artists that they should be willing to build out their space themselves and must convince landlords that artist space a good way to reinvigorate properties that are underutilized.
Two other artists of note in Albany Park are Oli Watt of Free Range Gallery at 3257 W. Lawrence Avenue and Matthew and Magdalena Almy at The Ravenswood Atelier, located at 3009 W. Lawrence.
Two other important Albany Park institutions for artists are Chicago Canvas and Supply, located at 3719 W. Lawrence (www.chicagocanvas.com) , a major supplier of theatrical and artist canvas and muslin, drop cloths and tarpaulins, and Artisan Handprints, at 4234 North Pulaski (www.artisanhandprints.com), a highly respected silk screen printer of custom, artist-designed wallpaper.
Tapping young people as a resource for arts and cultural development
Many of Albany Park’s arts leaders point to the area’s young people as an important resource for building a more vibrant cultural scene. The Albany Park Theater Project (www.aptpchicago.org) , founded in 1997, gives young people the opportunity to write and produce plays that tell real-life stories which are honest, intelligent and inspirational. The group has premiered 19 plays and created Albany Park’s first performing arts space, the Laura Wiley Theater at Eugene Field Park.
Another way that the area has tapped its young people to energize its arts and cultural scene is by giving them the skills and opportunities to create attractive public spaces that serve as venues and community gathering places. Territory NFP (www.territorychicago.org), led by Helen Slade, is a not-for-profit organization that partners with community organizations and businesses to give young people aged 14-21, including youth at risk, a variety of civic-minded opportunities to design compelling spaces that benefit the entire neighborhood. “We think of it as civic engagement through urban design,” said Slade.
Through the organization’s design studio programs, which are funded by After School Matters and others, young people learn about and practice urban design, public art and community planning in the neighborhoods where they live and learn.
In 2011, the group received funding to design a safe space for teenagers to hang out after school along Lawrence Avenue. “We created a design studio where the young people could design things to benefit the neighborhood,” said Slade.
One important project underway currently is the “People Spot” being built at Spaulding and Lawrence. Territory Urban Design worked with the North River Commission, SSA, the 33rd Ward Office and various government agencies to obtain the funding needed to create the space.
Because Territory Urban Design is focused on civic engagement, they are ready to work with building owners to create interesting public spaces that will benefit the community at large.
Albany Park’s future as a cultural hub is bright, with many more untapped opportunities in sight.
“The thriving and growing arts scene in the Albany Park and Irving Park neighborhoods mixes long-established artists, organizations and institutions with the arrival of new artists,” said the North River Commission’s Applegate. “Artistic expression is a wonderful way to exchange and understand our immense cultural diversity in Albany Park. We embrace and celebrate difference among each other, and the arts help to bind us all together as strong, supportive communities. Artists, organizations, and people who love the arts should all make their way to Albany Park and Irving Park soon to experience the vibrancy for themselves.”
North River Commission (3403 W. Lawrence Ave., Suite 201, Chicago, IL 60625; 773-478-0202) is the nonprofit community and economic development corporation for the northwest side of Chicago, from the Chicago River to Cicero and Addison to Devon. Founded in 1962 by concerned residents and neighborhood institutions, NRC unites more than 100 civic associations, businesses, schools, institutions and places of worship to improve the quality of life in the community by creating affordable housing, quality education, arts & cultural endeavors, open spaces, and thriving neighborhood businesses. North River Commission operates the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce as part of its economic development strategy. Learn more about the NRC at northrivercommission.org and follow their news on Twitter @NRCchicago and on Facebook.
The Albany Park Chamber of Commerce supports, advocates for and promotes its members and local businesses in the Albany Park, Irving Park, Mayfair, and North Park business districts. The Chamber provides resources that strengthen and physically improve area businesses. It attracts new businesses and investment to the community. It beautifies the commercial districts to further stimulate development and to enhance culture, dining, shopping and entertainment on Chicago's northwest side. Learn more at albanyparkchamber.org and follow their news on Twitter @AlbanyPkChamber and on Facebook.
Press Release | Thu October 19, 2017, 05:43 PM EST