Possibly the most well-known and exciting at-home gallery space is located inconspicuously in a dense Chicago suburb and is aptly called The Suburban. Founded in 1999 by artists Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam, The Suburban started as a renovated 8’ x 8’ cinder block building next to their garage and has since expanded to include a larger former shared studio space and new Artist-in-Residency quarters. Three years ago, Grabner and Killam also purchased “The Suburban’s rural cousin,” The Poor Farm, an historic building near Little Wolf, Wisconsin, and are further expanding programming there. With a mix of DIY and built-it-and-they-will-come ingenuity, this second profile in our series of prominent Chicago spaces has such far reaching influence it may be a long time before the impact it continues to have is fully understood.
Address: 125 N. Harvey Avenue, Oak Park, IL 60302
Open Hours: Sunday afternoon openings and by appointment.
How is the project operated? For-profit, nonprofit, artist-run, etc.
The Suburban is an artist-run project space.
How long has it been in existence?
What was your motivation?
To bring artists and their ideas to Chicago and its suburb, Oak Park where we live, work, and raise a family.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam
How are programs funded? (membership fees, public funding, sponsors, etc.)
Out of our general household economy.
Who is responsible for the programming? (Curators, Directors, etc.)
Michelle and Brad.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
16-18 artist projects a year.
What kind of events are usually organized?
Artist’s projects in the two small spaces that we own next to our house.
How is your programming determined?
Very informally: “Hey, would you like to do a project at the Suburban some time?”
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
Michelle and Brad’s curiousness.
What’s working? What’s not working?
The artists are terrific and dedicated but we wish we could provide them with a travel budget.
What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
We think in terms of artists and good ideas, and don’t worry about outreach, audience or community.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
We are in the beginning stages of developing The Suburban’s rural cousin. We purchased a 19 century Poor Farm in Northeastern Wisconsin. It is a contrast and a compliment to The Suburban in several ways. Exhibitions are annual, the Poor Farm has endless amount of space, and it is a true not-for-profit. Yet our attitude toward artists and their ideas remains fundamental to the Poor Farm. This coming August we kick off our 3rd annual Great Poor Farm Experiment.
Images courtesy of The Suburban.
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