Bridgeport nonprofit the Public Media Institute (PMI) has stayed busy over the past year, helping to launch brand new initiatives like the outdoor Community of the Future Market and the Community Kitchen and Canteen at Kimski, which provides free meals on a pay-it-forward model. But now that much of Chicago are opening up again, the nonprofit will finally get to debut a project that predates the pandemic era—a massive art shop and event space in the Chicago Cultural Center's Garland Gallery called Buddy, which opens its doors to the public on June 2.
A collaboration between PMI and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), Buddy showcases the work of more than 200 artists and small manufacturers from across the Chicagoland area, selling everything from fanciful sculptures and photography prints to tie-dyed sweatpants and handmade earrings. The store is an evolved version of the Small Manufacturing Alliance, which used to put on events and pop-up shops in venues across the city—it also shares a name with a defunct Wicker Park artist-run space that once served as the headquarters of local publication Lumpen magazine. When the opportunity arose for a permanent spot at the Cultural Center via a DCASE call for project proposals, PMI jumped at the chance to open up a centralized location for artists to sell their wares to a downtown audience.
"The idea of the shop is was always that we have this amazing opportunity to be in downtown Chicago and to bring the work of artists from neighborhoods that maybe don't get as much play and attention downtown," said Stella Brown, the project's lead organizer. "It feels a little bit like I'm running a library of Chicago artists."
For its artist selection process, the team at Buddy reviewed applications in conjunction with a peer-led team of artists to assemble its roster of several hundred vendors, which include Pilsen-based youth arts collaborative Yollocalli Arts Reach and The Weaving Mill in Humboldt Park. The curation leans toward a mix of high and low art, aiming to create a space that's accessible for all kinds of patrons, whether they're tourists or locals.
"One of the big ideas behind the store is having a place where we can sell a $1500 edition of a photograph that's framed or a freestanding ceramic object—and we can also sell $10 postcards," Brown said. "So we're appealing to people like a museum store would and selling higher priced clothing and fine jewelry items, but also having something that you can walk away with for 10 or 20 bucks."
Buddy was originally meant to open for in-person shopping in April 2020; for obvious reasons, it switched to an online-only format for the remainder of the year. Now that the shop is on the verge of opening to the public, Brown and her team have also laid the groundwork for various programming series and events. "The space was actually designed for public programming in the store in mind," Brown explained, noting the stage-like arch in the center of the room and wheeled shelving that allows for rearranging.
Right now, Buddy is showcasing a neon artist installation from Morgan Sims in the Randolph Street window of the Cultural Center, which will continue to host rotating works from different artists from across the city. The space will also feature a rotating exhibition gallery indoors when it opens to the public, with the inaugural exhibition "Pocket Objects" displaying a collection of tiny dangling keychains curated by the artist Noël Morical and available for purchase. Other initiatives, like a BIPOC-focused artist residency program called Re:place, plus talks and other one-off events, are forthcoming as well.
"We always wanted to have the store kind of function as a meeting place, a platform, a stage for people who were interested in having a voice in downtown Chicago," Brown said. "We're hoping as things open up, we can have more people in this space to have things like performances and music and book releases and panel discussions within our space."
Buddy will be open from 11am–4pm Wednesday through Sunday starting June 2. If you're interested in shopping, try to swing by in June—thanks to a grant, 100 percent of proceeds will go directly to artists for the entire month.