I arrived at Berwyn’s newest art spot, Gallery 22 to an all too coincidental tune. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs was blasting from the stereo of Jessica Calek and Dan Streeting, the minds behind the gallery, as they hustle to put the finishing touches on their T-Shirt show, which featured T-Shirts made from every material imaginable and hung from aesthetically awesome neon green custom hangers made by Jessica herself.
I mention the album, because it was a triumph for indie everything when they won the Grammy for best album a couple years back. It was the first Grammy winner I can ever remember people being like, “Who the hell are these people?” There were even websites set up to debunk the credibility of music’s newest indie darling, if such a thing exists. 22 is sort of an embodiment of the album and its city/suburban comparisons and undertones. Not to mention, it’s off the beaten path from the galleries we already know and love, similar to Arcade Fire’s beginnings as a band.
Jessica and Dan practically simultaneously asked me if they should turn the music down for our interview, and I responded that I would never ask someone to turn down Arcade Fire. We laughed and began our conversation about the origin of 22, their backgrounds, and where they see this space evolving in the future.
First of all, when did you guys open?
Jessica: The beginning of December (2011). We had a series of design and art markets building up to the holiday season, but we we were really stuck about our opening, so we had some posters up. We took the papers off the window the night before we opened. We didn’t really advertise until January when we had our first proper gallery.
So what was this space before you guys took it over?
Jessica: This was a hobby shop for forty years, and the guy who ran it retired. My family owns the building, and my mom couldn’t get it rented. We couldn’t find jobs, so it all kind of worked out really well at the right time.
What does the 22 stand for? I automatically assumed that it represented Cermak Road/22nd Street.
Jessica: Most people don’t guess that. (Laughs)
Dan: Because we run this space for many different things, we don’t want the name to be tied to one specific thing. We also wanted something memorable with a visual look.
Jessica: If you look through our poster campaign (which Dan does), they all have the 22 on it kind of in the same spot of every poster.
Dan: Every time you see that big 22 on a poster, we want you to know that it’s from us and this place. We want people to recognize it.
How has the reception been here since you opened?
Jessica: It’s been great. I had no idea what to expect. Everyone’s been very positive and excited to have high-quality work in the neighborhood.
I grew up in Berwyn, and I noticed one of your flyers a few months ago and thought, “Wow. Berwyn has a gallery now? This is exciting.” When did you realize you wanted to run a gallery?
Jessica: It just happened organically.
Dan: It happened accidentally, almost.
Jessica: I’m pretty confident in our ability and our organization. We both run our own businesses out of here as well, so the gallery brings attention to us as designers. Plus, it’s fun to have the galleries.
Dan: I describe it as a portfolio you can walk inside of. We can showcase Jessica’s work as an architect building design systems and curating the shows. And, I do the posters and the graphic design work. It allows us to provide a service for the community.
Jessica: Having a physical place, a brick and mortar building for people to visit is important nowadays when everyone has their work online. You can click on a website and forget about it, but here you can actually come and physically see it.
Do you feature all local artists or is it a mix?
Jessica: We try to feature a variety. Our last show was ⅓ Berwyn people/Western Suburbans, ⅓ Chicagoan artists, and ⅓ were national/international artists. That seems to be a pretty common breakdown for each show.
Dan: It’s worked because we want to focus on what’s going on here, but we also want to bring someone from outside and start conversations, so people can see what’s going on outside and talk about what’s going on here.
Jessica: We both graduated from Cranbrook (Academy of Art) this past May, so we have that built-in network to bring in high-quality of work and artists.
Do you guys have a specific mission?
Jessica: I don’t think we have a specific mission statement.
Dan: We’re a small gallery in a small suburb, so that brings a certain stereotype of what that might be. We want to kind of prove that that’s not a barrier to creating good work.
Jessica: It’s been sort of a battle to get people out here from Chicago, but once we do, they’re like, “Wow, this is fantastic. You guys are doing great work.”
Dan: You don’t have to go to Chicago or New York to see great work. It’s right here. It’s easier to get here than people think.
How can our readers keep up with what you’re doing?
We have our facebook page and our twitter account which we update regularly. We put all our posters up on there. We update our website weekly. We have a mailing list. Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Locally, we put up posters a week before every show. We now have a monthly market, too. We want to build a reputation for holding high-quality events.
What does the space look like in between shows?
Dan: It serves as our studio. The process is really important to us. I think that we try to highlight the process that goes into creating shows. The method that they’re produced is just as important as what they look like.
What do you want to be known for as a whole?
Jessica: A crossover between the fine art world and design. It’s not as frequent to see an architect’s work or a designer’s work, but we try to have alot of that in most of our shows.
Dan: Trying to blur the lines. Having a gallery with a focus on design is pretty important to us.
We’re kind of making it up as we go along. We just finally sat down and planned out the rest of the year.
Jessica: We’re just really excited to be here and meet more people. Everyone’s been really enthusiastic, and I just want to keep that going.
Growing up in Berwyn during the age of DYNOs and pegs, blunts and basketball, we didn’t have this sort of unique space. 22 is putting Berwyn on the map, artistically speaking, and you’d be wise to check out what they’re up to.
The opening reception for their newest exhibition, Home Town will be Friday, May 18th. It features the work of sculptor Mike Helbing, photographer Tommaso Lesnick, and artists Robyn Oliver and Mr. Walters and will run through June 10th.
Berwyn in the house!
For more information visit: http://22berwyn.com/