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PEANUT GALLERY – New Place, New Space

'Art Night' at Peanut Gallery (courtesy of the gallery)

If you have ventured down to the California Clipper lately, you may have noticed a new white-spaced, brightly lit Humboldt Park neighbor. On the corner of California and Augusta is the Peanut Gallery, “a space for creative collaboration, experimentation, exhibition and good, old-fashioned mingling”. Having moved to this storefront from Wicker Park’s Flat Iron Arts Building in October of 2011, the founders of the gallery are looking forward to adapting to the new neighborhood while utilizing the new, more accessible space. I first set foot in Peanut Gallery on Superbowl Sunday for the opening of the Form over Function show, an exhibit of works by furniture designers that were more aesthetically driven than practical. The opening drew quite a crowd, with babies in strollers and a toddler donning Spiderman garb. The refreshment table in back offered – appropriately – a bowl full of peanuts.

The next week I was fortunate enough to sit down with Peanut Gallery co-founders Charlie Megna, Kelly Reaves , Kate Arford and Brandon Howe. While Charlie made Sculpey creatures and Miles the dog trotted at our feet, we sat around tables that had been set up amongst the current exhibit for the weekly French Salon inspired ‘Art Night’ on Tuesdays, where “people come to draw, brainstorm, jam, drink, etc… with other artistically-inclined Chicagoans”. With the new space in a new community, these four founders are trying to balance running and expanding Peanut Gallery, with full-time jobs all while continuing to make artworks of their own, play music, and skateboard. “Our goal is to connect creative people with one another and nurture a vibrant, inclusive community of artists and intellectuals. We believe that 10 minds are greater than one, and collaboration/communication/cooperation is the basis for progress.”

Amanda Mead: I know the old location was in the Flat Iron Building, but how did you all meet and get into creating the Peanut Gallery?

Charlie Megna: We’ve known each other for awhile, I had the space as a studio with a couple other people in the Flat Iron Building, Katie shared it as a studio. Kelly and I just got together and started talking about it, and I had been trying to do a gallery type thing there already. But Kelly and I kept talking about it and we all just decided to do it, and really do it.

Kelly Reaves: I was thinking about this, because people always ask us that. Our first show was a cat themed show, and I think we were thinking a lot of our artist friends had a cat, made cat art – so we had this collection of cat art. So that was the impetus for the first show, maybe an excuse to get it started.

CM: We just wanted to do it. We had the space, figured in was doable to show people art work. We knew a lot of artists between the two of us and we wanted to show stuff that we felt was going on in Chicago that may not be getting fully represented. Trying to represent it more. Make accessible space for people to come, something less pompous or what not.

KR: And Charlie has known Katie for a long time.

CM: Yeah we’ve been friends for a really long time.

Kate Arford: Forever.

AM: Since childhood?

KA: Yeah. He used to work at a skate shop and I was a really young skateboarder as a kid – 12, 13 years old – I used to see him around. And then in high school I used to hang at this coffee shop and I’d see him around there and we became friends.
AM: Are you all originally from Chicago?

CM: Suburbs – Katie and I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago.

Brandon Howe: Michigan, I’m from Detroit.

CM: And then Brandon and I met through the store, the art store. And became ‘close collaborators’.

BH: We have nothing to hide.

KA: And then I met Kelly through Charlie.

AM: So at first getting people to show at your gallery was kind of networking through artist friends?

CM: Yeah.

KR: Did we do a public call for artists for that show?

CM: We did a call for artists and we sent an invitation to all the artists that we knew to say ‘we’re doing this show’.

"Form Over Function" show at Peanut Gallery (courtesy of the gallery)

AM: And do you often have people curate your show like Nick Lippert for Form over Function?

CM: We’ve had one other curator – Andrea Jablonski – he did a Dark Matters show.

KR: That was the only outsourced show.

KA: We let an artist use the space, we represented him, but he had a solo show, came up with his own concept.

AM: When did you move into this space?

KR: This past October of 2011.

AM: And for what you’re doing, this space is better than the Flat Iron? Or, maybe, more appropriate?

ALL: Yes, yes.

CM: It just wasn’t ideal for what we were doing. It isn’t accessible really, so this space is awesome.

KR: They’re not designed to be public spaces, people have a hard time getting in and they are small studios. It’s not designed as a public space.

CM: The neighborhood here is way more accommodating, way more friendly. Everyone has been involved coming in when we did shows, its way more supportive over here.

AM: I was wondering about getting the gallery started and what not – did any or all of you learn as you go, kind of throw yourselves into a show and see how it works?

KR: It’s definitely “a learn from our mistakes” kind of deal, learning as we go. None of us really went to school for arts administration.

KA: We’ve been reading that book!

KR: Oh right, we’ve been renting books from the library and stuff to show us how to do simple things, like creating forms and having people sign them. The group shows bring more people to the openings, which is fun, but they’re a little more stressful.

AM: Like with the Form over Function show in this space, there were families and babies in strollers and kids running around.

CM: Our first show we had over here, the Locals Only show, the neighbors came and bought prints off the artists. It was good it just feels good to be a part of the neighborhood.

KR: Before us it was a commercial toyshop exhibition space called Nudge, and they had classes there and what not. When they moved out, a lot of the neighbors told us they were really worried about what was going to come into this space because they wanted it to remain an art space. They were glad we moved in. It was really nice to have the support and they were really encouraging.

AM: And I saw on your website, you are going for a French Salon kind of feel?

KR: Yeah, especially on Tuesdays.

CM: Tuesdays is like an open house, drawing night.

AM: And you have film viewings on Thursdays?

CM: Well we might change that to Mondays because Yellow Book across the street has a movie night on Thursdays.

AM: So with being in a neighborhood, what are you impressions and intentions with the Chicago Art scene?

KR: That’s a big question.

AM: Okay let me rephrase that – do you feel as though, in this space, you’re introducing more people to the art scene in Chicago?

KR: A lot of people seem to come in who don’t usually go to art events.

KA: A lot of different scenes, a lot of different people come in.

CM: I think our gallery and the way we are approaching it along with the art that we show is kind of ‘scene-less’ in a way – it’s a bunch of scenes. It’s more open to people coming in, people aren’t as scared of it, in a way. You see a whole different group of people that you might not see at another art event.

KR: Yeah, there is not a usual crowd you see here like you might at other galleries, like Western Exhibitions or something. You know you’re going to see a few specific faces, but here at openings is always a completely different crowd and a completely different vibe. You never know what to expect but people are always friendly at least.

CM: It’s nice not having a specific scene. I feel like its bringing art to some people who may have not come otherwise. We want to try to do some community stuff, classes and things. We all work full time, so its hard setting it up, but we’re hoping in the future we will have stuff to offer to the kids in the neighborhood.

KA: I remember when we first opened a lady came by with a kid about two, or three, and she said ‘oh this great, can I bring my kids by on drawing nights?’. I said of course we’d love to have kids around, we want to be a part of this neighborhood and community.

Works by Peanut Gallery founders (photo courtesy of gallery)

AM: So what’s in store for the future?

KR: We’re going to take March off to gather ourselves.

CM: We might have a residents show during then.

KR: In April we’re having a solo show with David Sprecher – he has a printmaking background. But he does painting, photography, and yarn installations. I met him back in October through the East Garfield Park Art Walk because he has a studio space over there. So he’s here in April. Then in May we’re going to have the Utopia Show –

BH: Called Positive Reinforcements.

KR: That’ll probably be a tightly curated group show. A lot like the apocalypse show which was called Wipe Out. This will be kind of the opposite in theme. Then after that – we’re having a –

BH: Kinetic sculptor – Mark Porter.

KR: He makes these robot things that spit out soapy colored water onto walls and stuff. We’ve kind of been alternating between group and solo shows.

KA: There is definitely a certain hybrid we’re trying to achieve without being too confusing, having a gallery space that is also a work-space.

KR: We all make our work here.

CM: I’d say we are all multi-faceted art makers.

BH: We kind of do a bunch of different stuff – creating or producing. We like art.

Current show Form Over Function ends February 28th. See more photos from the exhibit below. Peanut Gallery’s next exhibition opens April 1st with works by David Sprecher. In the meantime, head down to 1000 North California for Peanut Gallery ‘Art Night’ on Tuesdays or ‘Movie Night’ on Thursdays. Check out Peanut Gallery‘s website for more information.

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