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Pay It Forward>>Peanut Gallery

Pay It Forward is a collaborative, experimental fundraiser devised by Autotelic {Studios} and Sixty Inches From Center. We are experimenting with the idea of paying it forward to other arts organizations who work to support artists and a thriving arts community in Chicago. Our Pay It Forward Series will highlight one of the eight projects that we have chosen to be part of our fundraiser each week, leading up to our Pay It Forward Fundraising Party + Housewarming on November 23rd, 7 PM at Autotelic’s new location, 1856 N. Richmond.

This week, we interviewed the folks at Peanut Gallery, a growing studio and artists’ collective based in Humboldt Park. Inspired by the Parisian salons of the 18th century, Peanut Gallery hosts a weekly open house and brainstorming session where one and all are welcome make art, discuss ideas, and clink glasses with their neighbors. They also host bi-monthly exhibitions from emerging artists with opening receptions on Sunday afternoons. Charlie Megna, Kelly Reaves, Dana Elliot, Traci Hercher, and Brandon Howe form the core of the co-op, and dedicate themselves not only to their own work, but also to inspiring—and uncovering—the work of others.

Sixty Inches From Center: How did you guys start? 

Peanut Gallery: Charlie and Kelly decided to start showing work in Charlie’s studio because we knew a lot of talented, underrepresented artists, and being in the Flat Iron building at the time, we had built-in foot traffic from their First Friday open house events. Brandon Howe and Kate Arford joined in soon after, we moved to Humboldt Park, and the rest is peanut butter.

SIFC: What’s your mission? 

PG: Our goal is to connect creative people with one another and nurture a vibrant, inclusive community, while encouraging questioning of established norms and general, good-spirited mischief.

SIFC: What makes your project unique?

PG: We are unique in the way that we operate as a cooperative; every member has studio space and equal responsibility toward all aspects of the gallery’s programming. We also pride ourselves in being non-commercial yet accessible and welcoming.

SIFC: What is the one thing that you want people to know about your organization?

PG: We think art is a lot of fun, or at least that’s what we like about it, and we bring that sensibility into all aspects of our operation, from the artists we exhibit to the way we operate in our studios.

SIFC: What are your goals?  What’s coming up?

PG: We are excited about getting some workshops and other interactive events going and making some money to help cover our overhead costs. We have a few new members: Traci Hercher (not so new) and Dana Elliot. We’ve got some Zoetrope workshops coming up with Jessi Meliza, and David Sprecher’s second solo exhibition with us is opening October 20. We’re also trying to raise funds to become a Non-Profit Organization or to sign up for fiscal sponsorship.

SIFC: How does the concept of paying it forward apply to what you do and your relationship to the Chicago arts community?

PG: This is a labor of love for us. We have been paying rent for gallery space for years because we are excited about all the talent around us, and we want to share it with others. We understand that the artistic community relies a lot on itself — we have to use our unique skills to support each other’s practices. All of us at Peanut Gallery enjoy doing that sort of work. Art making, exhibiting, etc. takes a long time to start to “pay off” — you have to put in a lot of work before you get attention, respect, and a lot longer before you start making money in this field. So that’s what we’re doing — kind of “paying it forward” in advance, or at least putting in our time. And trying to have fun and learn a lot in the process!

SIFC: Why did you agree to be part of this fundraiser with Sixty and Autotelic?

PG: Why not? The project sounds great, we like the work ya’ll are doing, and it’s nice to feel included.

To find out more about Peanut Gallery, visit

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