Alexie Young, a North Lawndale resident and the director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Exhibit Center, 1558 S. Hamlin, has become numb to visitors' shocked reactions when they first walk into the space.
"They're often surprised that this type of amenity is available on the West Side — in North Lawndale," she said.
The feedback sparked a thought. What about all of the other galleries and cultural centers on the West Side that fly under the radar? That insight prompted Young to found Art West, a nonprofit organization, a few months ago, as a way to bring those institutions together and for them to help each other out.
As summer kicks into high gear, Young is working with East Garfield Park's 345 Art Gallery, 345 N. Kedzie St, and the Near West Side's Legendary Art Gallery, 2419 W. Madison St, to put together a day-long gallery tour.
It will be held Saturday, June 8. The tour will start at the MLK Exhibit Center, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and continue at Legendary Art Gallery, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., before concluding at 345 Art Gallery, where tourists will hang from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
At each stop, local businesses will sell their wares and local musicians will perform. Attendees can either travel between the stops on their own or take advantage of the free shuttle bus. Young emphasized that attendees don't have to stay all the way through at each stop, nor do they have to visit all three stops.
The MLK Exhibit Center was created by the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation to commemorate Dr. King's legacy of fighting against housing segregation in Chicago. It's located in the corporation's Legacy Apartments, which were built on the site of the building where King and his family stayed in
1966. The exhibit center has information about his time in North Lawndale and it offers space for exhibits and private events.
Legendary Art Gallery was established in 2015. According to its Facebook page, the space is an art gallery, event space and a tattoo piercing shop. It's located west of the former site of the Henry Horner Homes public housing development.
Police Officer Corry Williams founded 345 Art Gallery in 2015. Williams, an established art collector, has previously told Austin Weekly News that he wanted to establish a place where long-time community members could feel like they belonged. He also wanted to encourage local artists, especially local youths, to explore their artistic talents and pursue their creativity.
Young said she got an idea for a gallery tour last summer after taking the Bronzeville Art District Trolley Tour, which is held every third Friday during the summer in order to bring attention to the art scene in what has traditionally been the center of Chicago's African-American culture.
Young said that the tour showed her that cultural events can help reshape how people think about a community.
"Having that experience, participating as a patron, getting on the trolley and visiting a lot of galleries in Bronzeville last summer inspired me to think about what spaces are available on our side of town," she said.
The MLK Exhibit Center was a no brainer, Young said. She reached out to the other two galleries, because she passed by them many times, but never stopped to see their insides.
"We share the same narrative, because they talked about how long they've been in business and some of the projects they're working on, and that they actually have a great following that, nonetheless, only goes so far," Young said. "The possibility of having more people come in, having more people aware what's available, especially when it comes to cultural amenities on the West Side, is important."
The idea of a West Side gallery tour isn't unprecedented. In 2013 and 2014, the Garfield Park Community Council held art walks across East Garfield Park, as part of the Chicago Artist Month city-wide initiative.
Artists throughout the neighborhood opened up their studios to the public and visitors could stop by as many studios as they wanted.
Mike Tomas, the Community Council's executive director, previously told Austin Weekly News that, without the city's support, his organization could not keep the initiative going.
Young said that she and her fellow West Side gallery owners hope to let the community know what's available and to attract visitors from across the city.
"So far, the response has been absolute excitement," Young said. "People who live in the area are extremely proud already, and the event hasn't taken place yet."
Each venue will offer free refreshments, entertainment and drinks. This is open to adults who are 21 and older. Those people who visit all three venues will have a chance to get their name entered into a raffle, with prizes announced toward the end of the night at 345 Art Gallery.
To reserve the seat on the bus and find out more about the tour, visit https://www.smore.com/qd5m1.
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