When Eric Mahle needs a little peace of mind, he heads to the Garfield Park Conservatory. For Mahle, the conservatory is a historic connection to the city he loves as well as a relief from Chicago’s winter weather.
So after a June 30 hailstorm shattered half of the Conservatory’s glass, Mahle knew he had to do something to restore his city’s sanctuary.
Mahle, a freelance sound engineer, did a lot of research, pulled together some of his connections in the music industry and used social media outlets like Facebook to let people know about the benefit he’d be hosting to help raise recovery funds for the conservatory.
On Aug. 18, Mahle gathered six local bands and 210 conservatory fans and friends at Lincoln Hall, raising more than $8,880 to help with conservatory recovery efforts.
The benefit featured a silent auction and raffle drawing, with prizes from dozens of artists and stores, including local favorites Reckless Records, Threadless Tees and Andrew Bird.
Mahle said he tried to gather an eclectic group of musicians to play the benefit, resulting in Bobby Conn, Del Ray, Bare Mutants, Rivals of the Peacemaker, DJ Scary Lady Sarah and Mahle’s own band Sunken Ships taking the stage.
Mahle said one reason he decided to form Sunken Ships in the first place was to help the community through ways like the benefit.
“When I put the band together I wanted to make sure we played benefits, and that we were a socially conscious band,” Mahle said.
Chicago band Del Ray offered to play at the benefit after hearing about the storm damage. Michael Johnson, who plays drums and keyboard in Del Ray, said it was a natural decision for the band to play.
“When this came up, naturally we were like ‘Yes, we’ll do this.'”
Like Mahle, Johnson said the conservatory is a sort of refuge for band members’ families.
“The kids during the winter get cabin fever, and this is the best place to send them during the day,” Johnson said.
Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance president Eunita Rushing said responses to the storm damage, like Mahle’s benefit, have changed her view on the community.
“To see the numbers of people who are not only interested in the conservatory but finding very creative ways to support the repairing and restoration of the building, it is very encouraging,” Rushing said. “It has really changed my view as far as ‘Hello, does anybody know we’re there.'”
The response has even left Rushing without words at times, something she said doesn’t happen very often.
“I have been overjoyed and at times, left speechless. Sometimes you do work in isolation, off the beaten path, we’re not where the mainstream museums are and you’re not sure if people even know you’re there,” Rushing said.
Mahle and Rushing both said that besides having a monetary goal at the benefit, their real hope was to raise awareness.
“I was shocked to find a lot of people I talked to didn’t even know the conservatory was damaged. I also want to let people know its there. It’s not in the biggest, most popular area in Chicago, it’s off the beaten path. It’s sort of this gem in the middle of a bad neighborhood,” Mahle said.
Mahle believes Chicagoans tend to stick to their own areas of the city – a huge mistake because they miss out on places like the conservatory, he said.
“So many people sort of stay in their neighborhood and I think it’s important to explore the whole city and know what’s going on,” Mahle said. “This is one of the most underappreciated places in Chicago.”
Bobbi Caton and Phil Rios said they attended the benefit because they see the conservatory in that same light. Rios, who has volunteered at the conservatory in the past, said it’s like being in “another world” without even leaving the city.
“This weird thing happens when you walk in, you’re in such a calm space,” Rios said. “It’s like a therapy for some of us.”
Rushing said it’s hard to estimate when the conservatory will be fully open again, but people can still visit and find that sense of calm Mahle and Rios enjoy so much.
Although four rooms are currently off limits to visitors due to the amount of broken glass that still needs to be cleaned up, two of those rooms, Aroid and Show House, Rushing said they should be opening again soon.
Because repairs still need to be made, Rushing said the big focus right now is to make sure plants are safe for the upcoming winter season.
“We need to secure the collection for the winter. The repairs won’t even be underway when it hits us,” Rushing said.
Anyone looking to donate time or money to the repair efforts is encouraged to visit www.garfield-conservatory.org.