The Daily Northwestern

Arts Council Program gives downtown a makeover

Dan Hill

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Downtown Evanston took on a new look Tuesday. Local artists filled empty storefront windows downtown with original paintings, portraits and pottery.

Vacant spaces on Church Street and Orrington and Maple avenues received the makeover through Evanston Arts Council’s “Art Under Glass” program, which was implemented to beautify the city and promote local artists, Council Chairwoman Jill Brazel said.

The Arts Council first distributed applications earlier this year and formed an independent jury to select the artwork. The council, which comprises five committees of volunteers, cleaned out the storefronts in time for the inaugural “Art Under Glass” reception June 17 in the lobby of 708 Church St. to showcase the public displays.

This week, the Arts Council replaced the artwork installed in June with new pieces and added pieces to a new location on Maple Street formerly occupied by Allegra Print & Imaging. A reception for the new pieces is planned for Oct. 21.

The Arts Council and Farnsworth-Hill, Inc., the company that manages the 708 Church St. building, reached an agreement allowing artists free access to the space provided the Arts Council met electrical and other out-of-pocket expenses, said Jim Nash of Farnsworth-Hill, “We don’t get paid anything – it’s strictly donation,” he said.

Several businesses have recently left the 708 Church St. building in the face of economic struggles and an uncertain future.

The site was approved by the city council in March for the construction of a 35-story condominium tower. Without a definitive date for the building’s demolition and reconstruction, business owners have been hesitant to fill the vacancies, said Nash.

Nash said he had been looking for creative ways to fill the empty spaces with advertising, but eventually decided to try the “Art Under Glass” program.

The recession artwork received mixed reviews from Evanston residents, but the diverse Evanston arts community responded positively to the Council’s plan to show off local artists’ work, Brazel said.

“It’s a good thing that we put it out there for people to give them a good feeling instead of looking at empty windows,” said local artist Janet Doroba.

Doroba’s colorful, abstract paintings were among the new pieces installed Tuesday. The drawings represent a new artistic perspective in her work, she said.

“Putting it out there pushes you to do more,” she said. “It pushes you to the next level.”While “Art Under Glass” provides a unique display for local artists, some business owners said the paintings cannot hide the ugly realities of the economic climate.

“It’s just a waste of space,” said Richard Iverson, manager of Williams Shoes, 710 Church St. “People don’t want empty storefronts, they want businesses.”

Iverson said he doesn’t see business improving with the looming condominium proposal. And the artwork? While admittedly aesthetically pleasing, Iverson said the paintings remind him of the ghost town downtown Evanston is starting to become.

At Ben and Jerry’s, 1634 Orrington Ave., employee Bhaskev Patel took a similar stance. “Better is business than art,” he said.