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  Gwen Zabicki helps local artists  

Volunteer Spirit: Space Saver

Gwen Zabicki turns vacant storefronts into studio space for artists.

by Rachel Farrell

Having lived in Chicago’s Logan Square for eight years, painter Gwen Zabicki, MFA ’12 noticed that Armitage Avenue had an abundance of vacant storefronts with “For Rent” signs on them. Many of these spaces sat empty for months, if not years. At the same time, she knew many local artists were looking for studio space in which to work, but couldn’t afford to pay rent.

So Zabicki founded a nonprofit organization to provide “what seemed like the perfect solution to this problem,” she says. The South Logan Arts Coalition recruits property owners to donate vacant storefronts as short-term rental space for painters, sculptors and other artists.

The arrangement benefits more than just the artists who use the spaces rent-free. “Once the space is occupied, it’s much more rentable,” Zabicki says. “When people see activity, it generates interest.” It also helps improve the neighborhood’s appearance.

Even so, most property owners are reluctant to participate. Of the roughly 60 owners Zabicki has contacted, only five donated space—three for studios and two as temporary “pop-up” galleries.

Still, many members of the community are showing their support. The Logan Square Chamber of Commerce helped Zabicki secure a pro-bono lawyer. Alderman Rey Colón sent letters to property owners on Zabicki’s behalf. And the owner of Parson’s Chicken & Fish, a new restaurant, hosted a fundraiser to benefit SLAC; proceeds were used to purchase liability insurance.

For 2014, Zabicki has set a goal of securing six storefronts as studio space. She’s already received 58 applications from artists.

“I wish I could find space for everyone,” Zabicki says. “Artists work really hard. They deserve it.”

 

 

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