South Logan Arts Coalition: Combating Neighborhood Blight with Art

South Logan Armitage Photo Theresa
A short looking West on Armitage in what is commonly referred to as South Logan. Photo: Theresa Boehl

Gwendolyn Zabicki is not thrilled by the pockets of blight scattered throughout Logan Square, especially on Milwaukee and Armitage Avenues west of California Avenue. She would rather see the windows in those dark, empty storefronts filled with the glow of light and the buzz of activity and creativity.

With that vision in mind, she started the South Logan Arts Coalition (SLAC), an organization with the mission to provide area artists with the chance to use some of those empty spaces as artist studios. Not only is this an excellent chance for artists—they would be provided with a rent-free space to hone their craft—it’s also a unique way for property owners to contribute to the arts and overall improvement of Logan Square.

“This [neighborhood] is the primary residence of Chicago’s artists,” says Zabicki. “If we can showcase that, it will attract business.”

Gwendolyn Zabicki of the South Logan Arts Coalition
Gwendolyn Zabicki, of the South Logan Arts Coalition, is on a mission to bring artistic creativity to the empty storefronts along Milwaukee and Armitage Avenues in Logan Square. Photo: Gwendolyn Zabicki

SLAC is a not-for-profit organization affiliated with the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce. The organization is currently taking applications for artists interested in being assigned studio space. More information about the eligibility, application and the selection process is available at the SLAC website.

Zabicki’s idea was inspired by pop-up art galleries and mobile exhibitions like Art on Track, a temporary display of art onboard a six-car CTA train in the loop. She also was impressed by the efforts of business owners and organizations working to make improvements to the storefront facades on Milwaukee Avenue north of Kimball.

After graduating in May 2012 with an MFA from University of Illinois at Chicago, Zabicki, who is currently the painting and drawing artist in residence at the Lillstreet Art Center, jumped headlong into this project, which she says has been a tremendous learning experience.

She started by walking down Armitage Avenue, making a list of addresses and researching building owners. She secured a pro-bono lawyer and set up a board. Next she sought the help of graphic design and marketing company Bright Bright Great. As each piece of the puzzle begins to come together, Zabicki continues to expand her network of contacts, finding people both in the neighborhood and in the art world to give their support.

“If I tell enough people, eventually I’ll meet the people who can help facilitate this,” she says.

Ongoing fundraising efforts are in the works. In addition to monetary support, Zabicki is accepting donations of materials—things like extra paint, rollers or other items an artist might find useful.

A Logan Square resident for seven years, Zabicki has been fascinated by her city surroundings, a fact reflected in her painting. Now, through SLAC, she can have an impact on the aesthetic of the neighborhood that she admires.

“I’ve always been an urban landscape painter,” she says. “In my mind, this is an extension of everything I’m interested in.”

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