I researched, read about and called 100 various galleries all throughout the beautiful and welcoming “windy city” of Chicago to learn more about the ever-evolving art scene and how artists can successfully become a key part of its growth and success. While Chi-Town is a big city, the artist community is tight-knit, largely focused on online engagement and ready to create.
Through the time spent getting to know Chicago’s vibrant and steadily-growing world of art, here are a few of the key things that I learned. Some of it is surprising; a lot of it can be so simple if approached meaningfully and with considerate thought.
When it comes to the art world in Chicago, the first thing that comes to most minds is likely the Art Institute of Chicago – one of the country’s most esteemed and longstanding museum landmarks based right in the center of this largely populated Midwestern city.
If that doesn’t happen to be first, maybe instead you’re thinking of: Goldfinch, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago Truborn, or Richard Gray Gallery to name only a few. Curious to see a longer list? I encourage you to take a deep dive into this article by TimeOut Chicago. (1).
The “Windy City” is also home to an exorbitant amount of galleries filled with everything an art-lover or an art first-timer could wish for and want to see. The majority of the city’s 77 neighborhoods contain at least one exciting gallery exposing some of the city’s finest works in all genres of art. From perspective-shifting performance art to beautifully-crafted oil paintings, Chicago’s galleries cover it all. (1)
With its well-noted and reputable affinity for contemporary art, Chicago’s many art galleries offer a chance to see works from emerging and established artists in intimate spaces.
In fact, “Chi-Town” hosts 3 percent of the U.S.’s art institutions. When broken down between commercial galleries and nonprofits, our “Second City” accounts for 4 percent of the nation’s galleries and 3 percent of its nonprofits.(2)
With that, I hopped on the phone and was pleasantly greeted with that infamous “Midwest Charm” as nearly all 14 galleries I spoke directly to were eager to encourage any artist interested in getting their foot — art — in the door in a fast-paced city where the artscape industry is so dynamic, accelerated and on every corner of the landmark city.
Only one gallery divulged they do not have a specific policy for new artists to submit their work; the other venues were quick to offer insights as to how to initiate a creator/gallery relationship. The main suggestion from gallery directors and management teams was to actively check the galleries online presence. Be it the website, its social media channels or city art guides, there are very likely directions for how to submit work, portfolios or simple inquiries online.
In fact, Monique Brinkman-Hill of Brinkman-Hill said to “visit (our) instagram page to find a ‘submissions’ tab where you will be led directly to a Google Document that you can fill out quickly with options to include a portfolio and/or photos simply.”
WIth that, tenacious and eager artists of all skill levels hoping to bring new eyes to their artwork in or around Chicago can do so with a few clicks of the mouse or a few taps on their phone. Several of these locations stated having a person on the gallery team dedicated to these types of inquiries so your outreach likely won’t go unnoticed.
Jackson Junge Gallery Director, Chris Jackson further elevates that sentiment by hiring art enthusiasts who also pay special attention to the “personal details submitted with each artist’s portfolios.” He goes on to say, “If we don’t feel like we’re being let in behind closed doors when reviewing art, we know others will feel the same way. It comes with many years of experience in the Chicago art community. So, tell a story with your work. A personal one that others may totally relate to, or not relate to at all. That will get our reviewers attention enough to spark conversation about ongoing gallery showings.” (3)
In that same regard, Chicago, more so than other heavily populated cities like Los Angeles and New York, really encourages a provocative online presence from the artists as well. If you’re submitting online, it is likely that one of the first three things gallery owners will look at is the aspiring artists online presence. As I’ve articulated in prior articles, a curated, thoughtful and meaningful digital platform is imperative. Not only for gallery curators but also for consumers and potential buyers as the first place they tend to look for more information in general is online.
Ben Clark, owner of the Selman Gallery strongly assures me that if an artist is serious about showcasing their work, the information to do so is clearly outlined on the gallery site. He goes on to suggest that each artist should be thoughtful in what work they showcase as it should be meaningful to the other art on exhibit at the time of outreach and submission.
That said, the Chicago art market is generous with its time on digital platforms designed specifically to support the unique journey every artist is on when they feel ready to show off their work publicly. These digital platforms include an attention-grabbing online portfolio, a thoughtful approach to showing work on social media platforms and being engaged with other artists in the area; being familiar with the stories their work shares just as much as with your own stories. Community is power.
Similarly, Jackie Pernot, Gallery Director at Chicago Art Source suggests simply leveraging the straight-forward assets they offer on their website as there are clear directions to how to submit artwork online. The advice she strongly encourages aspiring artists when submitting is to, “(please) make sure your submissions are hi-resolution, clear, proprietary and tell an engaging story that sparks curiosity when being seen.” (3)
As I continue to speak to gallery owners in large cities with impressive art scenes, my understanding of how similar – yet different – each approach is. As the trends in art itself continue to expand and explore, so do the artists and their work. It’s like reading a new chapter in every city I research and speak to the artists, gallery owners, and gallery directors.
As a community it’s important to always remember that no two galleries will ever be the same. Looking to be successful as an artist in Chicago? Get busy online. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; You deserve the most colorful journey an artist can create. Never settle, always learn, always create.
The sources for this article are listed below including my call list with emails and phone numbers. Are you interested in learning more about art happenings in other cities? Let me know, I’m ready to investigate and share.
- Spreadsheet of calls I made to 100 galleries – click here.