Housed in a former Hammond Organ and clock-making facility and warehouse is The Black Couch (4200 W. Diversey Ave.), along with a few other creative companies, including a theatre company and a custom furniture and a small woodworking company. Mark Narens and Suzann Norris founded The Black Couch as a creative space three years ago, consisting of a multi-use studio, gallery, event and performance space. The name of the space comes from the modest beginnings of their artistic endeavor, when the only piece of furniture they had at the space was a black couch.
Norris explains that “after ten years of organizing and curating exhibits and music performances in the suburbs, as well as teaching art classes,” she and Narens decided to move into the city from the northwest suburbs of Chicago in order to live and work in a more diverse place. According to Norris, they also wanted to “reach out to and provide a creative space to the local community” that often lacks the financial resources with the opportunity to learn about and make art, and the space to exhibit their art and perform music. They also hoped to have a space for community members to exhibit their art and perform music.
Narens and Norris teach group and private art classes. Narens, a graduate of the American Academy of Art from the 1980s, supports himself and the studio space by making and selling a prodigious amount of artwork, working constantly on his paintings and mixed media works and drawings, often on a large scale. His work is on display throughout several rooms of studio space, along with a rotating monthly exhibit of local artists. Some artists also display their work on the long hallways that lead to the large event and display space. Many of Narens’ works are commissions, and they include painted glass table tops. Indeed, Narens has established himself as that rare type of visual artist who can support himself through his art sales and not a day job.
Every month, The Black Couch hosts three events open to the public. Narens’ and Norris’ young adult son, Matt, and Matt’s friend Gabby Ochoa, help find artists and organize these regular evening events. On the second Fridays of every month, there is an exhibit with three or more featured, mostly local artists, as well as music. Artists can sell their work and keep the entirety of the sale price. On the third Wednesdays of the month, there is an open mike and spoken word evening. The fourth Wednesday of every month features live painting and instrumental music and beats.
An important part of The Black Couch’s mission, according to Norris, is “giving back to the community.” Narens annually donates his work to charity auctions to support sick children and their families. These donations can raise up to $10,000. In addition, a portion of the income from all of the events are designated for supporting charitable causes.
In the next few months, The Black Couch will relocate to remodeled sections of the enormous former Hammond Organ space, a section where an old and leaky roof will no longer be a worry. This move is welcome, for when I arrived to talk to its founders, they were compelled to rush around the large, open exhibit space and put buckets and containers to catch water dripping from the leaking roof. Recently, the building was bought by a new owner, Baum Realty, and work has already begun in stages to gradually update and remodel the building that had been neglected for decades. Thus, the future looks promising for The Black Couch, present and future tenants, who can offer the surrounding neighborhood many more years of art.