Young artists integrate into Chicago art scene by opening DIY gallery space

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When you walk into the Yards while a show is in full tilt, it’s easy to forget that this small gallery is actually a home.

It was jarring to see the pile of boots by the door, still wet from the brown slush outside, or the pile of dishes in the sink of the small kitchenette—during shows, that kitchenette acts as a bar. I didn’t find it strange because there was an egregious mess. It’s just different seeing spaces and people as they really are, rather than dressed up for something else.

The Yards is, in fact, a private residence, and when it’s not being used for a show, Antonio Linneman, 23, Will Dryden, 23 and Yue Ren, 20, all live there.

They started the gallery from the ground up, beginning first as a dream for an inclusive space in the Chicago art scene and growing into an artist-run space that has hosted a few shows in its first 6 months with more on the docket. The idea grew organically between the three artists, starting first with Dryden and Linneman and growing to include Ren as she got more involved with the space.

“I’ve wanted to do it for a while,” Dryden said. “About a year ago, I decided that if I’m going to be in Chicago for a few more years I want to do something with my degree and I want to keep doing what I’ve been doing…and see if I can make something good with a space for a long amount of time.”

Linneman and Dryden both said that Chicago as a city and a scene was part of the reason why they decided to create the Yards.

“It kind of came up organically,” Linneman said. “[It came from] us wanting to stay in Chicago and us just sort of being like, well, what’s the next step with us being here?”

Chicago is different as an art scene because it is more open and accepting of new gallery spaces. On top of that, Chicago’s cost of living is much lower than cities like Los Angeles or New York, which are two other cities with big art scenes. In those cities, paying the rent on a place like the Yards would dry the artists up before they got a chance to host a show.

“Chicago is a great place for [hosting art shows],” Dryden said. “It’s interesting how the city reacts to new spaces coming up all the time and people love them and it’s great.”

The Yards was founded partially out of a desire to create an authentic space geared towards younger artists to show a true love for the arts rather than to make money. For this reason, the Yards is not-for-profit.

“It’s really neat to see spaces like this grow out of genuine passion for the arts and for promoting young artists rather than, like, ‘oh, we want to sell you a painting to put above your 5,000-dollar couch,’” Ren said.

It was important for the space to be entirely artist-run for this reason. When a space is run by artists, for artists, it eliminates some of the power dynamic that can be found in for-profit galleries.

“I think that standing as equals is really important and it’s definitely something that I can’t imagine would be quite as possible when you’re dealing with someone who is not an artist,” Ren said.

This thread of equality was reflected in almost everything Linneman, Dryden and Ren said. The idea of the Yards as a space for artists, by artists makes it possible for them to open up the space for proposals by artists who are looking for a place to showcase their work when it might not be possible for them to get the opportunity in a mainstream gallery.

“A lot of our conversations just happen naturally,” Ren said. “A friend of a friend or someone walks in and says ‘I want to propose something,’…and if we have a shared vision and it works out, it’s really rewarding for both parties.”

Another important influence that informs their decisions on what to do with the space is whether or not they’re showcasing diversity. This can be in the artists they choose, the mediums these artists work with, or even from show to show.

“I feel like there are a lot of spaces around Chicago that I’ve been to where I’ll go to a show and then I’ll go again maybe three or four months later and it looks the exact same,” Dryden said. “And maybe I’ll go back a year later, and it still looks the same.”

In the end, what Linneman, Dryden and Ren want out of their space is to do something new, exciting and rooted in the young artist scene in Chicago.

“We want to allow for growth,” Linneman said. “We’re a young artist space that’s inclusive, especially to other young artists and allowing them to have a platform to go show their work. We want to be a part of the community.”

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