Chicago is rapidly changing as family businesses and culture are replaced by corporate outposts and luxury condos, causing urban neighborhoods to become homogenized. Although development is inevitable, it must also be intentional. Due to the fact that artists bring culture to neighborhoods and make them desirable, they are often seen as the first gentrifiers since gentrification follows culture. Along with desirability comes unaffordability, ultimately leading artists to be inequitably priced out. Amid a robust real estate market, is there a way to protect creative spaces that will allow the arts to thrive alongside capitalism?
Community Arts Wicker Park (CAWP) is a group of residents and community stakeholders who see a need to counterbalance arts displacement while working for racial equity. The goal of this group is to organize the purchase the 38,000 square-foot double building at 1542-1550 N Milwaukee Ave in order to create Chicago’s first equity art center that will protect Wicker Park’s legacy of arts and diversity. Since the early 1980s, the 6 lofts in the building have been art spaces. This project will preserve the building’s anchor institutions (e.g. Heaven Gallery, LVL3 Gallery, and Cinema Borealis), while bringing in new partners like The Silver Room and AMFM Gallery. The intention is to build restorative space with a focus on integration for ALAANA (African American, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American) artists and organizations. The art center will be a vibrant cultural ecosystem whose economy will subsidize creative space that incubates arts organizations focused on equity and inclusion. Additionally, it will prioritize local business. By owning and operating as a not-for-profit art center that uses collaborative governance, the art center will reflect the needs of residents while protecting the property’s creative use with the deed restrictions of a community land trust. This will keep the building in the hands of the community and maintain affordability for the arts in perpetuity.
When addressing equity, one must consider accessibility. Equitable transit oriented developments (eTODs) are drivers of positive transformation that ensure quality of life and opportunity to the greater Chicagoland area. The building at 1542-1550 N Milwaukee Ave is located in the heart of Wicker Park near the major intersection of Milwaukee/North/Damen that is accessible by two trains and three busses. It is also on one of the most trafficked bike routes in the city and right off the 606 that runs through four neighborhoods. This centrally located art center will connect the Northside and Southside and bring equity to patrons throughout the city.
Chicago’s authenticity stems from the culture that, in many neighborhoods, is vanishing. CAWP hopes that this community development project will be the catalyst for the Chicago Model for other neighborhoods who are seeking to protect creative space. By protecting cultural assets, neighborhoods will be able to maintain their authentic sense of identity while cultivating community through culture. This is an opportunity that will unlock the true potential of art as an economic driver and human connector.
Director of Heaven Gallery
Director of LVL3
Director of Near Northwest Arts Council
Attorney at Irwin IP
President of Wicker Park Committee
Broker at Caravette Real Estate