'Art can change your life'

Ivonne Cru's DragonFLY Gallery and Creative Spaces aims to fill a void for emerging artists in the Garfield Park area

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Block Club Chicago

A new gallery coming to the West Side will turn a storefront that has been vacant for years into a place for creatives to make art, show their work and learn new creative skills under the guidance of other artists.

DragonFLY Gallery and Creative Spaces is currently being developed with the help of nearly $100,000 from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, a centerpiece in Mayor Lori Lightfoot's Invest South/West initiative to spur equitable development in historically disinvested corridors of the city.

Founder Ivonne Cruz said the site of the gallery, located at 2436 W. Madison, is emblematic of the targeted disinvestment in black communities that has made it difficult for residents to access programs and opportunities, especially in the arts.

"This space was never used when they did the remodel for the condos upstairs. … It's been vacant for at least 10 years," Cruz said. The gallery will be her first entrepreneurial endeavor, and she said she was pleasantly surprised to learn the city would support her as she redesigns the facilities to serve local artists.

Cruz is currently rehabbing the building into a one-stop-shop for artists. The gallery will have six studios for artists to make their work, and will be outfitted with facilities that will allow the gallery to house a wide range of artists. Artists may be hard-pressed to find some of the equipment that the gallery will have elsewhere on the West Side, like a photography darkroom, a laser cutter, a woodshop, a printing press and a throwing wheel and kiln for firing pottery.

The gallery will host arts education programming that will target young people, seniors and residents in the area who want to explore a new hobby. Cruz is currently planning to launch an architecture skills program that will be led by teaching artist Jerome Thymes. Other classes in the works will teach jewelry making and printmaking, and Cruz said rates will be as low as $40 for a five-class series.

"It should be accessible for everyone. That's what drives me," Cruz said. "And I've seen the power of what art can do for people. It can change your life."

DragonFLY Gallery will also double as a place to show and sell art, Cruz said, and a guiding principle for her is to make sure the gallery will "showcase minority artists who are new and emerging."

Cruz is planning to host twice monthly craft and artisanal goods markets for artists renting studios and for others in the neighborhood. And to make sure any artist who wants their pieces to be seen can participate in markets and opening nights, she said the studio will have a flat rate of $35 for artists to rent wall space to show their work.

A key motivator for choosing Garfield Park as the location for the gallery was the lack of opportunities for artists to rent affordable studios and sell their goods without paying sky-high tabling fees at markets, fairs and street festivals. That lack of opportunity makes it difficult for emerging artists to envision themselves in the creative economy and to see the arts as a viable career pathway, Cruz said.

"There's nothing for someone who's never shown before. … It can be really intimidating," Cruz said.

DragonFLY Gallery will have its grand opening at 5 p.m March 14. The show will feature as many as 30 artists, and artists interested in joining the show or rent studio space are encouraged to reach out to DragonFLYGallery1@gmail.com.

Lightfoot recently kicked off the application period for the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund at another Garfield Park art venue, 345 Art Gallery at 345 N. Kedzie Avenue. Lightfoot said cultural amenities are an important component of her Invest South/West campaign, and that investing in the arts can stimulate economic opportunity in areas like Garfield Park.

"This really filled a void," Lightfoot said of 345 Art Gallery. "It became kind of a community, cultural and gathering place that otherwise didn't exist. So when you think about something like that, that galvanized this community, art is important."

CONTACT: pascal@blockclubchi.org

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