What started as a simple passion and an opportunity to showcase new and emerging Chicago-based artists turned into something more. In early 2010, artist Vincent Uribe founded LVL3 Gallery an independent gallery in Wicker Park. Studying Art History and Arts Administration, Associate Director Allison Kilberg began assisting Vincent shortly after. From their inaugural show entitled, Maybes to recently celebrating their one-year anniversary, LVL3 is going strong and expanding the programmatic scope of things evermore.
I initially met Vincent during the beginnings of Sixty, last spring. We talked about some of the tribulations that are part of creating an art space or small organization. Everything has a place and purpose in the art world—whether commercial, not-profit or independent. And Chicago is brilliantly pieced together by so many spaces (different and alike) introducing all types of art to the world. All of this is hard to follow but Sixty is taking that challenge. The list is ever-growing and adding to that list we would like to introduce, LVL3 Gallery.
Tell us about the LVL3 alternative space from your each of your own perspectives.
Vincent Uribe: I started LVL3 in February 2010 without much experience in running a gallery. My goal was to create an exhibition space dedicated in supporting collaborative work and group shows in hopes of fostering connections between emerging and established artists. We have had 12 shows since the first opening and have made many important connections.
Allison Kilberg: I started working at LVL3 shortly after the first opening. I had too much spare time on my hands and wanted to get more involved in the local art scene. I heard Vincent had just opened this space, and that he was looking for help, so I sent him an email. We ended up working really well together and after a few months I became Associate Director.
Where did the name LVL3 come from?
We had a few names we were thinking of and we couldn’t decide which one we liked best, so we put them in a hat and pulled out LVL3.
How does the space fit into the Chicago art periphery? Who is your audience?
We want our space to be open to everyone, whether you’re involved in the art world or not.
What do you think LVL3 adds?
We’re showing work in a professional environment, but still having fun supporting artists we’re interested in.
How has the programming expanded since you first began?
We started in February of 2010, focusing mainly on three-person group shows. Then different Opportunities kept popping up and things started moving really quickly. We were asked to participate in the NEXT fair, which brought us a lot of attention. We still focus on the three-person group shows, but we’re open to a lot of different projects that fit our mission.
How does this space compare to other gallery spaces in Chicago?
The Gallery has a lot of history as an art space. When it came into our hands, we focused on improving its condition. LVL3 is a live/work space, but we’ve clearly defined the two areas as separate.
What makes being in Chicago unique or different than if your gallery existed in say in New York or L.A?
Rent in Chicago is a lot cheaper than New York and LA; so being able to run such a large space in a popular neighborhood on a restricted budget would be nearly impossible. The art community in Chicago is also really tightly knit. It’s a challenge to maintain resources in Chicago when a lot of opportunities end up escaping to New York and LA.
How do you deal with funding projects and affording the space?
It’s all out of pocket. We have a donation jar at all of our openings. A lot of the time we juggle between buying groceries or exhibition postcards!
It has now been a year since you first started running the space. What have you learned since you began? Is there anything that you are doing differently or want to start doing differently? What would you keep the same?
The entire year has been a huge learning experience. We’ve been learning from our mistakes and we’re always trying to improve the way we run things.
What are the pros and cons of being an independent space?
Pros: It’s more affordable and we have more flexibility with our programming. Cons: Since there have been a lot of crackdowns on alternative spaces in Chicago, we’re always a little concerned with that.
What should we look forward to in the coming months regarding upcoming events and exhibitions at your space?
We’re getting ready for our second annual benefit auction, hArts for Art, on March 19th. We’re interested in supporting the local community, so donating the proceeds to Association House’s after school arts education program is something that we are really looking forward to.
Many of the artists are people we’ve featured on our blog or have had in past shows. We’re excited to see the outcome of the auction and hope to surpass the amount raised last year.
We’re pretty busy until summer with two group shows.
Is there any other programming that you are doing that is different from what you have done previously?
Typically we curate all of our exhibitions ourselves, but recently some artists have come to us with ideas and we’ve been working with them to create shows that meet both of our specifications. We’re also considering our first solo show to take place in the fall.
On occasion you have done projects in other spaces. Do you mind explaining some other projects that you have worked on associated with LVL3 but situated elsewhere?
We’ve been lucky—most of the opportunities just sort of fall into our laps and they’ve all been too good to pass up. It’s always an exciting challenge to work in unusual spaces, such as the Merchandise Mart space and the train car we curated for Art on Track.
Will you be participating in NEXT this year?
So far we’re planning on it, but we still have some details to work out.
How have people responded to past exhibitions?
As a fairly new gallery, we’re been thankful for the amount of support we’ve been given. We’ve received a lot of help from people who are interested in what we’re doing.
What is the purpose of the LVL3 blog? How has it been received and how do you choose the artists that you highlight on it?
The purpose of the blog is to expand our audience while featuring artists from all over, locally and internationally. So far we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback about it and really enjoy featuring artists we don’t have the means to show at the gallery. We find the artists a variety of ways, from websites, references, our personal research and going to openings.
Where would you like to see LVL3 in 5 years?
We hope to keep expanding our programming. Our Artist of the Week blog has gotten a lot of attention so far, and eventually we’d like to start some sort of publication. There’s also the possibility of one day opening up a second location in another major city.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences?
Some of the most memorable times are when we see people with positive reactions after seeing a show. Watching someone come in and enjoy the show is really rewarding. We’ve also built a number of strong relationships since we started, with both artists that we’ve shown and visitors coming into the gallery.