The Beverly/Morgan Park neighborhood will come together to celebrate art, music and community spirit at the annual Beverly Art Walk on Saturday, Oct. 7.
Businesses, churches, schools, private homes and studios will display the artwork of over 200 artists. Musicians, food vendors, activities for kids, performance artists and a craft fair will be set up at various locations. The event is free, and visitors can walk, bike, take a trolley or drive to the sites.
Sal Campbell and Monica Wilczak are the co-founders of the Art Walk. Both moved to Beverly in the early 2000s to raise their families. They pursued their careers, Campbell as a marketing consultant, Wilczak in development and fund raising, and they volunteered with local organizations.
Both were artists and longed for and envisioned a thriving local art scene. Then they met four years ago through Megan Barba, of Tranquility Salon Co. at 99th and Walden Parkway.
“We were both talking about our love for the arts, about wanting to meet other artists, and Megan introduced us,” said Campbell.
They felt like friends instantly, Wilczak said.
“We were both thinking the same thing about artists in the community, and we realized that together we could do something bigger and better than our individual ideas,” she said. “We decided the day we met to organize the Art Walk.”
Their vision had several goals, the first being to make art accessible in Beverly/Morgan Park.
“We value the arts and wanted to make this local; we wanted people to see they don’t have to go downtown to find art,” Wilczak said. “We want our children to value art so they feel comfortable viewing a variety of works. We wanted to make this a destination for the arts.”
The second goal was to support and promote local artists and local businesses, and to bring people into businesses they wouldn’t usually visit. They also wanted artists to increase sales.
They wanted the event to be family-friendly and reachable by walking and biking. An “art walk,” they believed, with exhibits and activities in numerous locations, as opposed to an “art fair” with all the artists in one place, was the way to go.
“We honestly had no idea of the scope of what we were getting into,” Campbell said. “The entire process was very grassroots.”
Their idea began to take shape.
“It was all word of mouth, very organic,” said Wilczak. “We were told, ‘You should talk to this person, and you should talk to that person.’ [19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea] was very helpful. The learning curve in the beginning was steep. What is an art walk, what are we doing? People were excited about the idea.”
The first year, about 3,000 people visited the Art Walk, which included 75 artists at 35 locations.
Since the inaugural event, the Beverly Area Arts Alliance was formed with a board of directors that includes Wilczak, Campbell, David Barsotti, Lizzie Benner, Corrine Rose, Chris Wilczak and Carla Winterbottom. The volunteer board members bring a variety of talents to the Alliance.
Wilczak works full time as associate director of individual giving at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Her fundraising, organizational, event planning and volunteer management skills enhance the Alliance. Her own art is now on hold due to her many commitments.
Chris Wilczak, Monica’s husband, has been a major player in the Art Walk from day one. An experience architect for IBM and an artist in a variety of media, his skills include marketing, communications and organizational strategy. He handles the group’s web and print design.
Campbell is lead curator for the Alliance and handles designing and installing the exhibits. She now dedicates herself full-time to volunteering with the Alliance and creating sculptures.
Campbell’s husband, Baird, is a pilot for UPS, which frequently takes him abroad. An avid photographer, he exhibits his images from all over the world, and Monica said he’s “an amazing volunteer.”
“We’re a family affair,” she said.
Mounting such an art exhibit of art is a monumental task.
A call goes out to artists, and they submit images of their work. Campbell selects and decides where to display them. Last year, 200 artists submitted 1,000 images, including paintings, photos, sculptures, textile arts, jewelry and pottery, for 55 venues.
“It’s like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle,” Campbell said. “In my mind, I put together clusters of artists whose styles I think go together. It just kind of hits me; I don’t really know where it comes from. I am always pleasantly surprised; rarely do I have a negative reaction to the art.”
Campbell’s “mind’s eye” for art is an intangible gift that is difficult to define but easy to see at the Art Walk.
Installation requires the help of about 75 volunteers.
Campbell works closely with artists, business owners and staff to arrange delivery and set-up of the works. Many details, from lighting to security, come into play.
Studies have shown that community art events and organizations produce positive effects. For those directly involved, interpersonal ties, social networks and a sense of attachment to the community are enhanced. For the artists, increased recognition is just one reward.
For the audience, art leads viewers to consider another person’s take on the world. Art provokes a response—among those are enjoyment, curiosity and even anger. Art stimulates the viewer’s knowledge and creativity, and it even reduces mental fatigue.
Art events add a flourish to a community’s image and attract visitors, bringing economic benefits for local businesses and new investment in the area.
They also increase volunteerism, community pride, as well as tolerance and understanding of cultural diversity. Simply put, they bring people together.
Feedback about the Beverly Art Walk confirms that.
“This has enriched my life immensely. I am constantly meeting new people, new artists, and that is very exciting,” said Campbell. “I just marvel at all the wonderful people we have in this community.”
The Wilczaks are both graduates of the SAIC. Reaching out to others in the community from the SAIC helped their efforts. One of those artists was Judie Anderson. She and her late husband Bill, both SAIC graduates, moved to Beverly in the 1960s. The Andersons started the arts school at the Beverly Arts Center (BAC).
“Meeting Judie Anderson was almost life-changing for me,” said Chris Wilczak. “Monica was getting involved in the SAIC alumni association and looking up other alumni in the area. We met Judie, and I was just so blown away that we had this awesome, fantastic artist in the area. And little did I know then, there were a lot of SAIC people in the area.”
Anderson, who recently held an exhibit sponsored by the Alliance at the BAC, expressed her mutual admiration.
“The Arts Alliance has done so much for this community,” Anderson said. “They need and deserve our support. I have a lot of respect for and am very fond of the founders.”
Other local artists have been empowered by the Art Walk.
“We were surprised the first year,” said Chris. “It’s like people were bringing all of this art out of their basements. The momentum grew, and every year someone comes forward and says, ‘I am an artist from Beverly, and I would like to be involved.’”
Pamela Johnson-Howe, an award-winning ceramics artist who runs NorthWind Pottery studio, said the Art Walk brought her home.
“For years, my opportunities for art shows were limited to trekking to the North Side,” Johnson-Howe said. “When I found out about the Beverly Art Walk, I was immediately ‘in.’ I grew up in Beverly but grew away from the neighborhood because opportunities for artists were limited here. The Art Walk is responsible for bringing me home.”
It’s also shed some artistic sunlight, she said, on artists.
“Sal and Monica had faith in the art community in our area and have worked tirelessly to promote and support their vision,” said Johnson-Howe. “The result is that many of us who work alone have come out of the shadows, and lasting friendships and connections have been formed.”
Artists have discovered a community that supports the arts, but Johnson-Howe said, other rewards are enjoyed.
“It goes deeper for me than just the fantastic sales I’ve had at the Art Walk,” she said. “It’s also the warm welcome of Lisa and Katie at The Quilter’s Trunk, where I display, and meeting so many new people. I love watching little kids hold a piece of pottery in their hands. I like to think that, with all the various art at the Beverly Art Walk, a seed gets planted and grows into an appreciation of and a desire to create art.”
Attendance at the Art Walk has grown every year. In 2016, 6,000 people attended, and organizers estimated that better weather would have produced a crowd of 10,000.
According to O’Shea, the event is beneficial for the community.
“The Beverly Art Walk has become a signature event in our community,” O’Shea said. “The Beverly Area Arts Alliance has been a tremendous catalyst for positive change.”
The business community has been supportive of the Art Walk. Local businesses such as Horse Thief Hollow have reported to the Alliance that on the day of the event they had their “best day ever.”
According to Caroline Connors, executive director of the Morgan Park/Beverly Hills Business Association, the Art Walk is good for business.
“It showcases not only the exceptional artistic talent in the neighborhood but also the unique businesses in the Beverly/Morgan Park commercial districts,” Connors said. “The walk increases the visibility of neighborhood businesses through increased pedestrian traffic and provides business owners with a fantastic opportunity to engage with potential customers and highlight their business’ unique offerings. The walk also creates a sense of vibrancy in the business district and attracts visitors from other parts of the city and surrounding areas.”
Although data about the event’s effect on local cash registers has not been gathered, the participation of merchants paints a good picture on the subject.
“Many of the business owners are repeat participants,” Connors said. “They’ve said they enjoy being part of an event that promotes the neighborhood and builds community.”
For local residents, supporting the Alliance does not require a membership; it’s more of a loose coalition of like-minded souls.
“If an artist has exhibited with us, or if a person identifies with us, then they’re part of the Alliance,” said Campbell.
However, Wilczak said, there is a price to being down with the Alliance.
“We will ask you to volunteer,” Wilczak said with a smile.
She said the group always needs artists, volunteers, donors and sponsors.
“We welcome people to contact us to figure out how they can help. If you don’t know how you might fit in, we will talk and figure it out. We cannot do this without the support of the community.”
The Art Walk got its start locally, but its influence has expanded to other South Side communities, such as Blue Island, Pullman, Bridgeport and Bronzeville.
Campbell said reaching out to others is the key to success.
“If you want to have an interesting culture, you have to be constantly reaching outward,” she said. “Insularity is the opposite of an exciting art scene. If we find someone doing something awesome, we want to support that artist.”
The Alliance also holds other events, including “The Frunchroom” reading series, the Uprising Craft Fair for artisans, the “Art on Tap” rotating galleries at Horse Thief Hollow, exhibits at the BAC as well as various
“pop-up” art exhibits.
Like any organization, it also holds events to raise funds for its activities.
The Alliance recently received 501(c)3 tax-exempt status as a not-for-profit organization. Funding for the Alliance also comes from individual donations, business sponsorships and foundation support, and all funds are used to produce Alliance events and exhibitions and pay for expenses that include insurance, installation materials, paint and promotional materials.
The Alliance receives no commission from the sale of works at Alliance events—the artists get to keep it all.
No member of the Alliance receives any sort of payment or salary, and all give a tremendous amount of time and in-kind services. Like in many similar enterprises, Alliance volunteers often personally underwrite expenses.
For Campbell, Wilczak and other Alliance volunteers, they also gladly give a physical expenditure.
It was 9:15 p.m. on a recent Monday, and after an impromptu interview with a reporter, Campbell left for a meeting with artists about a pop-up gallery, and Monica headed out to get groceries while Chris put their kids to bed—not an atypical night for Sal and Monica.
Nonetheless, they’re thrilled to be the heart and soul of the Beverly Area Arts Alliance.
“This is how we roll,” said Monica. “We have jobs; we have families. Maybe we don’t have the cleanest houses, and we don’t get a lot of sleep at night; but this is our passion. This community is our home. We love it.”