MEET | LILLSTREET ART CENTER

A few years ago during the Ravenswood Art Walk we discovered Lillstreet Art Center. The creativity flowing thru the space filled us with energy and inspiration. Every year we've gone back and dreamt of a time we could sign up for a class or two. Recently we were lucky enough to be approached by the Lillstreet Gallery team for a fun collaboration. Brian, Nora, and Michelle spend their days spreading the excitement and spirit of the center with the community. So what better way to learn about this amazing space then sharing some of their insight with you.

How did Lillstreet become what it is today?
Founded in 1975 as Robbins Clay Company, Lillstreet Art Center began as a clay shipping and manufacturing facility. Now, over forty years later, we have become a large community of artists and students working side-by-side in a nurturing creative environment. In 2003, we relocated from a converted horse barn on Lill Avenue in Lincoln Park to our current location in what used to be a gear factory on Ravenswood. Our new facility is a beautiful, spacious arts center boasting state-of-the-art equipment and expanded course offerings in over 20 classrooms.

What’s the inspiration behind the art center?
Our founder likes to say that Lill started out as a “70’s business” – you can draw your own conclusions as to what that means. He was dabbling in pottery while running his clay shipping business, and knew a handful of potters who needed studio space. Having a place for everyone to work and gather sounded more fun than having a shipping company. So, with no business plan whatsoever a business was born.

What type of creativity do you promote?
Lillstreet Art Center supports the arts through our education programming, artist residencies, gallery exhibitions and retail sales opportunities, studio rentals, and arts-based professional development. 

We offer adult classes & workshops for beginning to advanced students in six different departments: ceramics, metalsmithing & jewelery, painting & drawing, printmaking, textiles, and digital arts & photography. We also instill creativity in children ages 0-18 with expanded summer programming.

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How would you describe the Lillstreet atmosphere?
Every day at Lillstreet is completely different. There’s a good deal of organized chaos, but that chaos keeps our eyes open and has led to our current roster of progressive and diverse educational and curatorial programming. We’re so open to trying new things that we often shoot from the hip, but that has served us well. Our insatiable need for change and new directions to take the gallery also leads to an organic growth. 

How many different creatives do you have in your space?
We have 40+ studio artists in our space, countless teaching and professional artists, and the majority of our staff members are also creatives.

What are ways that people can get involved?
First-time artist classes are the easiest and most accessible way for Chicago residents to be introduced to Lillstreet and their creative side.

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What's the most popular class?
The ten-week Beginning/Advanced Beginning Wheel Throwing (Ceramics) course because it caters to first-timers and advanced students. In general, the beginning ten-week classes are the easiest way for creatives to explore a new medium and for novices to learn a new artistic skill. 

How can a Lillstreet residency effect your practice/work?
Our residents are able to grow their practice through teaching opportunities, free studio space, and access to free materials and instruction in new media. While at Lillstreet, emerging artists come together to focus on separate practices and to share wisdom and ideas across a wide array of disciplines: ceramic to digital, painting to textiles, and metal work to community arts. The Lillstreet community benefits from our residents through new class offerings, techniques, and perspectives.

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Do you have events? What kind?
We have great gallery openings, visiting-artist workshops, trunk shows, artist-in-residence lectures, and we also do private events ranging from birthday parties to bridal showers. We have recently added a new brunch series that includes an afternoon of catered brunch and mimosas, and centers around a creative workshop led by an accomplished artist for students of all skill-levels.

What makes your space inspirational and fun?
We have a number of state-of-the-art resources and materials throughout the building, especially in our Digital Department which is experiencing greater growth and involvement with other departments every year. The Digital Department also helps us do more and more in-house – from printing our Rooftop Honey stickers and gallery vinyl to creating pieces for digital exhibitions and our students’ work.

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What's the number one thing we have to know?
Our second-largest department, Metalsmithing & Jewelry, has the largest number of amenities and tools at Lillstreet. Jewelry is also the newest addition to our gallery website. 

How important is it for you to give back to the community?
We strive to give back to the community in many ways. Lillstreet is also home to ArtReach, our sister organization providing arts education to underserved communities in Chicago. Additionally, we grow our own vegetables for our lunches in addition to harvesting our bees’ wax and their honey on the roof.

What are some of your future goals? 
Our main goal is to present our artists’ work to the widest audience possible – whether that be partnering with other galleries, event spaces, local businesses, and restaurants, or via our new gallery website. This most recent addition to the Lillstreet Gallery has also allowed us to diversify the content on our range of social media platforms which connect us to creatives and art-lovers. Which is how we found you, Saturate!

Photography by Mike Killion and Olivia Ozner