Interview: Montserrat Alsina of Galeria Colibri, Pilsen Open Studios

What initially began as a simple gathering of artists looking to share their work with other artist friends in the community has turned into a highly anticipated annual event that fosters unity for the love of art in Pilsen. We had the pleasure of meeting with current Director, Montserrat Alsina, at her Pilsen gallery Colibri. Ms. Alsina shared her thoughts about the festival and the reasons behind its continued success.

It’s a beautiful, sunny afternoon in Pilsen as I make my way to Galeria Colibri, located on 18th Street half a block west of Damen. I have fond memories of this gallery as it was one of few places, back when rock en español began its growth in Chicago, that allowed local band performances. Yes, it was a small space for the raucous sounds that emanated from the angst of the young community’s musicians, but it was perfect even then. This carries with me as I meet the charming Montse Alsina and we begin our chat.

Ms. Alsina is originally from Venezuela and came to Chicago in 1985 to get her Masters in Performance Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She’s been a part of the Pilsen community for more than twenty years now. She moved to Pilsen almost twenty years ago and remembers hanging out with fellow artist friends at La Parrillita, where Yollocalli Arts Reach is located now. There, a community of Latino artists emerged which included Marcos Raya, Jose Gonzalez and Aurelio Diaz, among others. She became heavily involved in support of community events and activities, including being an active traditional Aztec dancer. In 1998 she bought the building that now houses her and Robert Ferreyra‘s gallery, Colibri. “Colibri began so that we could have a space in Pilsen to keep the artist community visible and strong. That was the main idea. Now we do a variety of events here including exhibits, theater pieces and our monthly fandango.”

Gozamos: Where did the idea to start this event come from?
MA: Pilsen Open Studios began nine years ago. It’s interesting that it actually came from a phone call that Robert received from someone at the Cultural Center and it sprang from there. Cynthia Quick, Hector Duarte, Gabriel Villa, Miguel Cortez and a few others began having meeting and little by little it began.

How many artists and spaces did it start with an what is it like now?
At the beginning there were 32 spaces, maybe 50 artists. My involvement at first was more with helping Jeff Maldonado with press releases and such. Linda started the first year, then Jeff did it for four more years and I’ve been doing this for the past four years now. We’ve had between 37 spaces to last year’s 56. This year we have 41 spaces. We rearranged it a little bit this year, how we wanted to approach it. We wanted to go back to the focus of the studios. We have over 85 artists this year and we are going all the way to Halsted, where people have their own independent studios and galleries.

It’s definitely a lot of work. How do you keep motivated?
I think it’s just the love I have of art and the love I have for this community. It’s about getting us together, to open up our doors and showing what we’re doing as an artist community. It’s important to show it to the public. This year we’ve got a great connection with schools. We’re bringing in student work from surrounding schools and asking the Pilsen artists to join us in supporting and encouraging them. We also started a Passport Booklet that students can take with them to each studio and gallery to have signed, take notes, or get stamped as part of points they’ll receive in school for it.

How do artists apply to be a part of the Pilsen Open Studios?
We start with the community. Some of the galleries invite people from outside the community. We do cross-cultural-marketing with artists in Little Village as well. Then we start having meetings a few months before the event starts. We start committees and it grows from there. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I first starting doing this. To me it’s just fun, I like it. I like bringing people together. I like talking to people. I like people and I think I have a nice way with them. Like I said before, this is for the community to stay together, a strong artist community. If we’re not organized others will come and take it over.

You know, people really appreciate things like this once it happens….
Yes, but it’s a lot of work. There are changes in the barrio and we’ve got to adapt to that. Colibri, Calles y Sueños, Antena, Oxala, Pros Arts, Casa Aztlan, etc etc… all these little things make this place a wonderful place. Let’s do something together! Let’s talk!

Pilsen Open Studios will take place Saturday, October 15, 12 noon to 8pm, and Sunday, October 16, 12 noon to 6pm. Colibri Studio Gallery (2032 W. 18th Street), will be the central location for maps, tours and information of the event, as well as the boarding and departing point for buses taking visitors to the different sites. For maps and more information, visit or call (312) 733-8431.

Pilsen Open Studios is part of Chicago Artists Month 2011, the sixteenth annual celebration of Chicago’s vibrant visual art community presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture.  For more information, visit

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