“Beyond the Walls”: Evanston Made’s “Art Under Glass” revitalizes vacant storefronts


Courtesy of Lisa Degliantoni

An art installation in “Art Under Glass.” Evanston Made installed art into vacant storefronts across Evanston.

Angeli Mittal, Reporter

Vacant storefronts across downtown Evanston shed their brown paper wrappers to become vibrant art galleries through Evanston Made’s “Art Under Glass” initiative at the start of October.

The exhibit, which has locations on Church Street and Sherman Avenue, was created by members of Evanston Made, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering and advocating for local artists. The project grew from a City Council recommendation to renovate the exterior display of retail vacancy spaces.

Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said he expects the number of vacancies to increase this winter. However, he said he hopes the project might make the empty storefronts more welcoming.

“If you have a block that doesn’t have lighting or looks like all the stores are closed, you’re just not going to walk by it,” Zalmezak said. “You’re not going to bother. But if you’re looking down a block and you see bright colors… it gives people a reason to come out and actually see the art.”

Lisa Degliantoni, the founder and executive director of Evanston Made, said the initiative provides needed support for artists, who are facing decreased engagement and sales due to COVID-19.

She said walking by shuttered favorites — like Andy’s Frozen Custard, which closed at the end of March — makes people sad. But “Art Under Glass,” Degliantoni said, could help alleviate some of the pandemic’s weight.

“I love the concept of accidentally running into art in places that it was unexpected,” Degliantoni said.

To foster interpersonal connections virtually, Evanston Made’s “Art Under Glass” also allows the public to get to know the artist “beyond the walls” of a storefront.

Degliantoni said each window features a poster and a QR code that links to a website with artist profiles. Evanston Made is also conducting interviews, creating podcasts and hosting virtual interactions with artists that are open to the public.

“That personal connection, we did not want to be lost,” Degliantoni said. “Even though physically the artist isn’t going to be there to talk to people, you can scan the QR code and go learn more about that, and you can read a little bit more about their process.”

Degliantoni works with Downtown Evanston Executive Director Annie Coakley, who connects landlords with “Art Under Glass.”

Coakley said “For Lease” signs are important, but she’s glad to spotlight a different image of the storefronts.

“Art seems to be a better fit for these windows,” Coakley said. “We’re exposing some new talent that maybe some Evanstonians don’t know about.”

“Art Under Glass” was piloted about a decade ago, but with the recent influx of vacant windows, Coakley said City Council reaffirmed its desire to replace the “boarded up” windows. Now, Degliantoni is modernizing the idea to include non-traditional mediums, like collage, household materials and graffiti, as well as classic easel board paintings.

One such artist is Barbara Ruiz, whose company Retro*Fit creates fashion products from upcycled “garbage,” as Ruiz put it.

“It takes creative passion to cut an octopus out of a piece of fabric and sew it onto a handbag,” Degliantoni said.

Also featured are Christie Russert’s abstract poster collection, which draws from the 1960s peace movement, as well as Destiny Wesley and The Ready Generation’s fashion line, which seeks to spread awareness of social justice issues specifically affecting Black people.

While the current installations are temporary exhibitions for the month of October, Degliantoni said “nothing is ever just for the month of anything when (she’s) involved.” She sees “Art Under Glass” becoming a city-wide, year-round initiative.

“When it comes to art being made in our community, there are so many people of so many different backgrounds and ages that are making stuff in this town,” Degliantoni said. “We want to support letterpress artists and poster makers. We want to support people who are making sweatshirts with money going to Black Lives Matter.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @amittal27

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