Threewalls was founded in 2003 to provide greater support and visibility for the visual arts community in Chicago. The founders wanted to encourage a greater awareness of Chicago’s art scene by inviting emerging professional artists to Chicago to share in the city’s rich histories, resources and creative communities. In an effort to provide meaningful support to emerging artists, curators and writers, threewalls has worked to form a sustainable organization that provides exhibition space, residency opportunities and artist fees to both visiting artists through the residency fellowship and to regional artists through the SOLO program.
Today, threewalls operates a year-round self-directed research residency; commissions a major project by a visiting artist working in, collaborating and otherwise interacting with the region; supports four SOLO exhibitions of work by local and regional artists; programs a SALON series and symposium program to generate open dialogue, presentation of new ideas and the publication of new writing; as well as partnering with other organizations on publications and education, in an effort to broaden and contribute to the contemporary visual arts.
How is the project operated? For-profit, nonprofit, artist-run, etc.
Threewalls is an artist-led, 501 c3 non-profit exhibition space.
How long has it been in existence?
Threewalls was founded in 2003.
What was your motivation?
The founders wanted to encourage a greater awareness of Chicago’s art scene by inviting emerging professional artists to Chicago to share in the city’s rich histories, resources and creative communities. In an effort to provide meaningful support to emerging artists, curators and writers, threewalls has worked to form a sustainable organization that provides exhibition space, residency opportunities and artist fees to both visiting artists through the residency fellowship and to regional artists through the SOLO program.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
Shannon Stratton is the co-founder of threewalls, and acts as Director and Chief Curator. Abigail Satinsky is Director of Public Programs. Lauren Basing is Assistant Director of the gallery. Several interns and regular volunteers round out the threewalls team.
How are programs funded? (membership fees, public funding, sponsors, etc.)
Threewalls is primarily funded by grants and two annual fundraising programs; our artist-designed annual Spring Gala which includes a silent and live auction and the Community Supported Art Program, which commissions new works from Chicago artists and serves as a fundraising mechanism for threewalls. Threewalls also receives funding from private donors and in-kind donations from corporate sponsors.
Who is responsible for the programming? (Curators, Directors, etc.)
The bulk of threewalls’ exhibition calendar is comprised of the SOLO exhibition program. Participating artists are selected by a jury, which rotates annually. There is also an exchange exhibition program that brings group shows to threewalls from other regional galleries, under the direction of Shannon Stratton. Abigail Satinsky and Shannon Stratton both oversee proposals for other types of programming and are responsible for new program initiatives, as well as for selecting the resident artists.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
There are four SOLO exhibitions per year, which last for 6 weeks each. Each SOLO exhibition is accompanied with a publication, authored by a scholar, critic or writer of the artist’s choice. There are 4-5 (or more) SALON discussions per year, as well as a regular series of lectures, performances, and more (see response to next question).
What kind of events are usually organized?
Founded as a residency program that brought artists to Chicago to meet and work with the local community, threewalls has developed the SOLO exhibition program that supports local artists with solo exhibitions at our facility located in the West Loop gallery district. Artists who exhibit with threewalls – emerging through to established – receive stipends, production and marketing support for their exhibition. SOLO is curated by a jury of visual arts leaders, representing a diverse group of Chicago artists, critics and curators, effectively exposing applicants to a circle of influence while giving voice to the visual arts community and the ideas and work that excite them today. We also provide multiple platforms for professional development for artists from residencies and exhibitions, to publications, public programs, partnerships with other organizations and grants including the Propeller Fund, which is administered through threewalls in collaboration with Gallery 400 at University of Illinois at Chicago and supported through the Warhol Foundation.
In addition to this, threewalls has several other programs that run throughout the year:
- Each SOLO exhibition is accompanied by an artist’s talk.
- The Public Culture lecture series: co-organized by Randall Szott and InCBUATE, the lecture series invites a variety of creative people (from artists to cooks to historians to collectors) to present the ways that the notion of ‘the public’ emerges in their work and/or informs it
- The threewallsSALON series (informal roundtable discussions between attendees and invited guest speakers on a variety of topics)
- A semi-annual conference/symposium for artist-run organizations and projects
- The Community Supported Art (CSA Chicago) Program: a yearly art subscription service of locally produced art. Subscribers receive 6 – 12 artworks (depending on the type of share they purchase), which are made available at special release events throughout the year.
- The tinkertank residency program: threewalls offers opportunities to artists to bring their research to Chicago and take advantage of the unique resources offered in the Midwest. We offer several opportunities to come and live and work in the city: self-directed residencies, collaborations with other local organizations/residencies both in and outside of Chicago, and fellowship opportunities.
- The MDW Fair, an annual visual arts fair highlighting Chicago and regional DIY and independent art spaces and projects, organized in collaboration with the Public Media Institute and Roots & Culture
- Producing Phonebook 3, which is a national directory of artist-run spaces and projects
Our SOLO program is curated by the jury described above, and the accompanying programming is determined by the threewalls staff. We also organize public programming with the artists-in-residence and partner with other local organizations to produce events.
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
Yes, artists can apply each year for both the SOLO exhibition and RESIDENCY programs. Artists and curators can also submit proposals for performances and other programs throughout the year. Details regarding the submission process are available on our website. We also offer funding opportunities for Chicago-based artists and collectives through the Propeller Fund grant.
What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
In our mission, we state that we are dedicated to increasing Chicago’s cultural capital by cultivating contemporary art practice and discourse. Our main priority is to create a locus of exchange between local, national and international contemporary art communities. We promote Chicago’s artist community and create platforms for critical dialogue on what’s happening in our region and beyond. All of our projects start with that approach and build outwards.
What’s working? What’s not working?
What’s working is that we’ve been able to keep doing our core programs like the exhibitions and talks and then take on new projects like the Hand in Glove conference or Community Supported Art and make it all fit together. Sometimes it does get overwhelming, but threewalls is constantly changing and evolving and that’s what makes it an exciting place.
What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
Two of our projects support Chicago’s artists directly. The Community Supported Art Program is a commissioning project that acts much like a Community Supported Agriculture share. We gave stipends to 12 Chicago artists from emerging to established create an edition of 50. Shareholders bought into the project for $350/a share and received 6 out of the 12 works. We are hoping to galvanize a new collector base for local artists as well promote the idea of grassroots fundraising initiatives for nonprofits. We also give grants to Chicago’s self-organized artist-run projects through the Propeller Fund. And then through our exhibition program and public programs, we provide a venue for Chicago artists to exhibit and discuss contemporary art. All of those initiatives make us a central nexus for our local scene.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
Right now we’re working on two projects we’re really excited about, the next edition of Phonebook and the Hand in Glove conference, both happening next fall. Phonebook 3 is a directory of independent art spaces, programming, and projects throughout the United States and a collection of critical essays and practical information written by the people who run them. Phonebook includes public programming, unconventional residencies, alternative schools, and community resources; all of the projects that form and support art ecologies across the nation, as well as historical documents marking their past. That will be released in as part of Hand in Glove conference at threewalls which is October 20-23, 2011. The conference features keynote speakers AA Bronson and Nato Thompson with panels curated with guest respondents from artist-run culture around the nation, discussing local art ecosystems, unconventional residency programs, the archiving of artist-run history, and fundraising strategies for small-budget projects.
Sarrita Hunn is the managing editor and co-founder of Temporary Art Review. Over the last decade, she has worked with many artist-run and alternative spaces and projects across the globe including recently at Koh-i-noor (Copenhagen, Denmark) with sponsorship from the Danish Arts Council. www.sarritahunn.com