Say it with us, Chicago: "Make no little plans."
Seemingly heeding the advice of Daniel Burnham, the curators behind Comfort Station, a multi-disciplinary art space located in the heart of the city's bustling Logan Square neighborhood, aren't letting the minimal square footage at their disposal stop them from aiming high with an ambitious new plan to expand their programming.
But, first things first: their 2579 N. Milwaukee Ave. headquarters, originally a shelter for trolley riders built in the early 1900s and restored and reopened in 2010 by Logan Square Preservation, is in desperate need of a little extra TLC.
With a few modern amenities -- like storm windows, insulating and functional air conditioning -- the space could remain open year-round rather than shuttering the space during the frigid winter months. In order to make it happen, the team behind Comfort Station late last month launched a Kickstarter campaign.
HuffPost Chicago recently spoke with Jordan Martins, the space's program director, about their effort to make Comfort Station, a Logan Square institution, a bit more comfortable.
HuffPost: What is your first memory of coming across Comfort Station yourself? For me, I remember walking past and wondering what on earth that tiny, old-fashioned cottage was used for.
Jordan Martins: I moved to Logan Square five years ago, which was a different Logan Square than it is now. At the time, Lula Cafe was just this beacon of culture and good food and there wasn't even a coffee shop in the neighborhood. But I remember walking by there frequently and having that same kind of experience.
HP: And how did you get involved with bringing programming into the space over the last two years?
JM: Jessie Devereaux had been one of the main art curators of the space since programming began there. I'm a visual artist and I did a studio visit with her and she mentioned that she was doing some work at this space right here in Logan Square. When I googled the address, I was just like, "Where could she possibly be talking about?" and then we finally had this conversation I now have with all kinds of people about the space: that it's this little cottage right in the middle of the neighborhood. It's that place.
I had an art show there -- the first show they had -- and David Keel, member of Logan Square Preservation and the director of Comfort Station, and Jessie were just starting to use the space for programming and I got involved then. A friend suggested having music concerts during the monthly exhibitions to help bring in people to the space so I asked some friends to do weekly shows. We realized immediately that the space was not only interesting to show art in but also that the acoustics in there are pretty amazing and really unique, so we started Comfort Music after that.
HP: I understand you have another of other types of programming in the works too. Is that part of what helped inspire this Kickstarter campaign to improve the space? What are some of the improvements you have in mind?
JM: This next year, we're trying to make these improvements so we can expand programming and have more of a presence in the neighborhood, building on the momentum of the programming we've done through David and Jessie over the last two years. We're putting new gallery lighting in to make it more professional and the Kickstarter is addressing a particular problem that's been a running for a while: that Comfort Station is not that comfortable, which is why our regular programming season has typically been from April to November. We've had to shut down the space for the other months because it's too cold to use.
Even with the grants we've gotten -- such as the Propeller Fund grant -- and the fundraising we've already done, we still need a little more to make the space the best we can for what we need it to do. We're partnering with a company in the neighborhood called Biofoam, an environmentally-friendly insulation company and they're taking a big step for us to help us try and make the space LEED-certified and use the space as an example of what a truly energy building can be in the community right now. The Kickstarter will help fund phase one of a larger project by insulating the space, getting the air conditioning fixed and everything. We're still waiting to hear back about what more we'll need and want to do to get LEED-certified but it's pretty exciting. The Kickstarter is sort of like trying to get a downpayment on the larger project, which we'll need to continue to fundraise for in the future.
HP: Given that Comfort Station is such a unique space and has so much history, how would you say that's a challenge, not only in terms of the renovation effort, but also programming-wise?
JM: The historical nature of the building hasn't been too challenging. What I will say is interesting about the space is that the character of its interior architecture plays a huge role in the programming. Most art galleries use the traditional model of the white cube, an empty white space that is a blank canvas to put art on. And that has a function for a very good reason -- it's easy to hang any work in a white cube and make it look good.
In our case, the space wouldn't necessarily be a very versatile gallery space all things being equal. There are a lot of arch doorways on different sides of the building that break up the space and there's not a lot of big open space. The architectural features on the inside are constantly present visually and has its own character -- and that may be a great example of how our programming works. We curate art that is going to work well in that context and a lot of artists shown here actually work with that interior space rather than in spite of it. One artist built custom sculptures based on the shapes of the interior space. And it's the same thing with the music. It's an old building with thick plaster walls, not dry wall, and it's on a concrete slab. It's a really loud space and you couldn't put a rock band in there because it'd be too overwhelming. So we bring in artists that will be able to work with that presence. The building is a very visible collaborator, sort of. Everything about the programming is geared around its particular character.
HP: What other sorts of programming are you lining up for the new season, which starts in April?
JM: We're adding a lecture series called Comfort Society in April. It's going to be a casual lecture series that is kind of inspired by the experience you may have had at a dinner party where you meet someone fascinating and wish they had a PowerPoint ready to show you. It'll be people sharing knowledge somewhat informally.
We've also been doing a weekly film series for two years that will be continuing this year and we're looking to have a program called Comfort Food, though we're not sure what that's going to look like. Beyond that, we've also consistently had community workshops on different topics, puppet shows and different classes. I think we are really crossing a threshold this year. The last two years we were breathing life into the space and getting some people to work together on great things. And next year we're looking to expand and make a way bigger footprint in the neighborhood.
With 25 days to go in the campaign through Friday, Comfort Station has raised almost $2,000 toward their $3,500 fundraising goal. Help the "Comfort Station Kickstarter get the rest of the way there and learn more.
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