'Art in Vacant Storefronts' Thesis

ART IN VACANT STOREFRONTS: A NEW ARENA FOR CREATIVE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

By Lauren Rosenberg

Department of Arts Administration and Policy

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Spring, 2011

Abstract: In the United States, pop-up galleries are appearing with growing regularity in cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago. The practice of placing art in vacant storefronts, while seen as preferable strategies by landlords and community stakeholders who might otherwise face emptiness, vandalism or neglect, has also been employed as strategy to beautify neighborhoods, draw pedestrian traffic to commercial areas, attract new tenants, and provide much needed exhibition space for artists. However, there is value in this trend beyond its ability to solve the problems at hand. In fact, some artists use empty storefronts as sites for creative research and development, “laboratories” for experimentation. Reminiscent of the alternative, artist-run spaces that rose to prominence in the 1970s, today’s omnipresent pop-up galleries can potentially fill some of the void left by the National Endowment for the Arts when it stopped funding experimental spaces for artists. This paper aims to determine the significant merits of the pop-up gallery trend in a comparison of this practice to earlier artist-run organizations; an examination of both practices as sites for creative research and development; and a discussion of the benefits and limitations for artists who exhibit work in vacant storefronts, facilitated by various organizational models.

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