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Photograph: John SissonSTRINGS ATTACHED Pop-Up Art Loop artist Sara Schnadt works on a site-specific installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007.

Space invaders

The Pop-Up Art Loop program begins in three downtown storefronts.


Pop-up galleries have burst on Chicago at last. We first read about this phenomenon months ago: As the recession squelches demand for commercial properties, landlords from London to New York to Evanston have decided to turn their empty spaces over to art—temporarily—rather than let them languish as vacant eyesores.

On November 24, the Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA) initiated the Pop-Up Art Loop program in three temporary galleries. At 29 East Madison Street, suite 170, visitors can enter the Chicago Photography Collective’s free exhibit featuring works by 25 professional photographers, including Patty Carroll and Paul Natkin. The public can also step inside Sara Schnadt’s string-and-mirrors installation Network at 220 South Wabash Avenue. In 2007, Schnadt, an artist who serves as a performance-art curator and Web master for the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), created a similar piece for the Museum of Contemporary Art’s UBS 12x12 series (pictured).

On the Monroe Street side of the Sullivan Center (33 S State St), the Chicago Underground Film Festival contributes the video installation CUFF–Inside Out, which screens short works and clips “so you can have a five-minute walk-by experience and not commit to a couple of hours,” says CLA executive director Ty Tabing. “That wouldn’t work—especially during the winter.”

Tabing tells us Pop-Up Art Loop came together in less than four months. “The initiative started with our chairman, Lou Raizin, [president of] Broadway in Chicago,” Tabing says. “He had read about these initiatives in other cities, and the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs was looking at this program in other neighborhoods,” so the agency’s director of cultural planning, Julie Burros, offered the CLA advice.

Tabing describes the curation for this pilot round of the Pop-Up Art Loop as “ad hoc.” The CLA invited artists who “had a relationship” with someone in the program’s working group, he explains. That group included representatives from the DCA, the CLA’s marketing committee and “people from the neighborhood,” says Tabing, adding, “We started talking about what they’d like to see as a property owner, what could enhance the pedestrian experience during the holidays and beyond.”

In other cities, pop-up galleries have been initiated by artists, curators and local governments as well as business-oriented organizations akin to the CLA. Burros, also reached by phone, says the DCA won’t oversee a pop-up gallery program itself, but it’s consulting with several “neighborhood organizations and aldermanic offices,” such as Vi Daley’s in Lincoln Park, that want to foster their own temporary art spaces. “The really tricky part is dealing with the landlords,” she says, suggesting locally based groups would find it easier than the DCA to persuade neighborhood property owners to donate space.

The DCA has ample related experience to draw on as consultants, however: Burros cites the Open Studio Program, which enabled passersby to watch artists at work in the vacant Page Brothers Building (177 N State St), and temporary installations in the Chicago Pedway. “We’re pursuing meetings with the Department of Business Affairs,” she adds, to propose licenses permitting pop-up galleries to sell the artwork on display.

The CLA plans to renew Pop-Up Art Loop with a bigger budget in 2010. “We’re thinking about outreach to the artistic community and requests for proposals,” Tabing says. “If the retail world is in the condition it’s in, with no real strong savior in sight, we’re recognizing that and trying to activate spaces that would otherwise be dark and inactive—and certainly not doing anything to enhance one’s experience in the area.” Tabing hopes the temporary galleries appeal to the CLA’s neighbors as well as suburban shoppers and tourists. “You could work 40 hours [a week] down here and still be someone we want to integrate into this program.”

The Pop-Up Art Loop galleries are open Tuesday–Sunday, 11am–7pm, through December 31. For more information, visit

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