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One of Chicago’s Creative Corners: Bridgeport Art Center

The Bridgeport Art Center offers studio space for artists of all varieties and has recently added a new studio for fashion designers.

The center featured the work of 170 artists in 2012, and it is extremely important for younger emerging artists as a venue, said Lelde Kalmite, curator at the center.

_JIN1926“We help the kick-starters to ease into their art career easier,” said Kalmite.

Located at 1200 W. 35th St., the center is on the near South Side of Chicago and is located in the former Spiegel Catalog Warehouse. It is a multifunctional building known for its different functions by local artists and residents, according to its official website.

The center’s official website says the building was constructed in 1911, but it has been renovated with modern utilities while retaining the “loft” look of many city properties with a “brick and timber” appearance. It is very spacious with its high ceilings.

James Boardman, venue manager at the center, said the center has studios for 60 artists, 20 clothing designers, 150,000 legal boxes, 300 storage units, 300 companies and two event spaces, among other offerings.

Boardman said these numbers clearly show the varied uses for the building as well as the business conducted there regularly.

“My job is selling event space,” said Boardman. “I was a caterer for 30 years, and now I plan events for clients by selecting their caterer, music and decor.”

Boardman said the center recently hosted an event for a craft brewery association. They had two parties for 1,200 people with craft beer so they had 60 different breweries.

“That was only two weeks ago, ” Boardman continued. “This week we have two weddings. One is for 200 people, the other is for 300 people.”

One of the more interesting parties at the center was a celebration attended by 1,200 people for President Obama’s birthday, which was held there a year and a half ago, Boardman said.

“That was an amazing event, ” said Boardman. “It took a week, and we had the Secret Service here for a week scanning the building. It was a challenge.”

Bill Thomas, assistant manager of records at East Bank Records, works at the art center’s front office. He said the center has a building manager who is in charge of everything, and they also have people who are in charge of individual areas.

_JIN1926According to the center’s official website, the center has recently opened a Fashion Design Center for designers. It includes a central cutting area with a large table for sharing and a common area for business meetings. Designers also can set up runway shows there.

Kalmite said she is not only the curator at the center; she is also an artist and has rented space there for three years. Under her direction, the art center has built up a whole new program of curated art exhibits, she added.

She said on a typical day, she paints for three or four hours in her studio and then works to plan the shows. She generally plans at least a year in advance. However, as each exhibit comes along, there is a lot of organizational work.

According to Kalmite, the art center is home to a few famous artists, including the world-renowned sculptor, Virginio Ferrari, who has over 30 sculptures displayed as public art throughout Chicago.

“This exhibit is the culmination of a year’s work, ” said Kalmite. “It is our first solo exhibit here at the Bridgeport Art Center by Virginio Ferrari.”

Kalmite said they were very lucky that Ferrari decided to move his studio to their building last summer.

“I asked him if he would like to show in the gallery,” she said. “He has a long list of commissioned work in the Chicago area, but he has also had commissioned complete work throughout the world.”

Kalmite said Ferrari’s last work was in Shanghai and Beijing, and he has had retrospectives in Paris and Milan, as well as all over the United States.

Ferrari is the art center’s superstar of the year, Kalmite added.

One of the artists who rented studio space at the art center, Lisa Tolbert, is a mosaic artist. She has been at the Bridgeport Art Studio for a little over two months.

Tolbert said she practices a very unique type of mosaic art, named “Pocasset Mosaic Art.” This deals with broken china.

_JIN1982“During the holidays, it is very popular time for my art form, ” said Tolbert. “Similar to plates, there is a lot of holiday plates, so I do a lot of holiday-themed pieces, which worked well with the art show that I delivered here a week and half ago.”

According to Tolbert, she will be making life-sized pieces for the City of Chicago that will be displayed in Millennium Park. She plans to stay in the Chicago area and offer classes through Groupon next year.

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