Art West, a  West Side art gallery, permanently closed last Thursday—just a few months shy of its second anniversary.

On June 20, Art West founder and West Side native Alexie Young released a newsletter to community members announcing the North Lawndale gallery closure, citing “unforeseen zoning challenges.” 

“I was so sad at first. Then I began questioning what I could have done differently. I started thinking about how I’ve been fighting to keep that space thriving, and it had been so difficult,” Young told The TRiiBE on June 24.

She opened Art West in the fall of 2020 during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with the mission to rebrand the West Side through arts and culture. She also wanted to position the West Side into conversations about Black arts and culture, which typically centers South Side neighborhoods like Hyde Park and Bronzeville. 

“The Black experience is very rich on the South Side, especially, the Black arts industry you think about Bronzeville and Hyde Park, and I wanted us [the West Side] to be included in those conversations,” Young said. 

The TRiiBE spoke with Young a few days after announcing the gallery’s closure to learn more about the forthcoming closure, what’s next for Art West, what she’s learned from this experience and what advice she’d offer to entrepreneurs.

In its short time, Young said, Art West successfully cultivated a safe space for the creative community and those interested in art, creative experiences, music and networking to gather on the West Side. 

“People who would come to Art West were from neighborhoods all over the city. Some people traveled far, and some people visited from other states. So we were able to attract a very diverse crowd of people,” Young said.

Art West’s influence even stretched to the West Coast. For example, an artist from California wanted to host an art show in the space. They’d learned about Art West from friends in Chicago, Young recalled. 

Last fall, she started pursuing additional licensing through the City of Chicago for the gallery, located at 750 S. California Ave. Young said she was looking to use the space for art classes and other activities but needed to apply for a public place of amusement (PPA) license to begin hosting those types of events. 

To be clear, she said that pursuing additional licensing was not about Art West hosting parties in the space. 

“It wasn’t just, “Oh, we want to throw parties.” We were also feeding the community and paying artists. We were building up an ecosystem in our creative community. I had a team of creative professionals who were able to thrive in their roles in our space,” Young said. 

According to the City of Chicago, a PPA license is required to produce, present or conduct any type of entertainment or amusement. For example, venues like theaters, concert halls, nightclubs, comedy clubs, dance clubs, sports stadiums and bowling allies require PPA licenses. 

She added, “People in the community had somewhere safe to connect with like-minded people. So if anybody’s looking at this and saying, “They were just trying to throw parties.” We were doing so much more than that. It [Art West gallery] was so much more than that.” 

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While applying for the PPA license, which Young said is a rigorous process, she learned from the city that the space they were renting was not the proper fit for the new activities they hoped to add.

Art West has an active limited business license for the business activity of the sale of art that is active through Nov. 15, Elisa Sledzinska, a Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) spokesperson, emailed The TRiiBE on June 23.  

In February 2022, Art West received a cease-and-desist order from the BACP. The department issues these orders when an establishment must stop business activities outside the scope of its city-approved license activities. 

A few weeks ago, the city informed Young that the original permit for the property meant for it to be used as an office. However, Young said she and her landlord weren’t aware of this until she began applying for the PPA license over the last few months.  

Young said that obtaining the PPA license would have required the building’s property owner to have two bathrooms, 10 percent parking, an architectural site plan and more. 

“The landlord would have needed to build out the space specifically to fit our occupancy,” Young explained. 

All of those steps would have been costly, she added. So, over the last few weeks, she began weighing her options and sought help from the local Chamber of Commerce. 

“When we found out about the permit, I started thinking to myself there was nothing else that I can do right now, and if we were to shift and try to rezone the space, get an architectural site plan, like, those are expenses that I don’t think my property owner was prepared for,” Young said. 

She added, “We’re still all recovering from the pandemic. In general, things are getting tight for a lot of people. I don’t want to speak too much about him [the landlord], but I don’t think we collectively were prepared for what that might mean in terms of cost to rezone.”  

Ultimately, Young made the tough decision to close Art West. However, she is committed to finding a new space for the gallery in North Lawndale. Although it was disappointing to close the gallery, Young said she learned a lot over the last two years as a business owner that will prepare her for the future and for other entrepreneurs looking to open brick-and-mortar businesses. 

“Find out if your property owner has the proper permit,” Young said. Also, she encouraged entrepreneurs to do as much research as possible, get an attorney to help navigate the city’s business licensing process and tap into business development resources that may be available through the community’s local chamber of commerce. 

So what’s next for Young and Art West? Young said one of her goals before finding a new space is to continue to work toward launching West Side Redefined, an asset mapping project. She described it as a docuseries highlighting legacy businesses, new businesses in the neighborhood and other cultural amenities. Art West will also engage with communities outside North Lawndale and the West Side. 

Young said community members could support Art West by purchasing merchandise they’re looking to get rid of during this transition.

“We hope that people will continue to follow our work. We still plan to do community engagement. If people have any ideas about where our new location should be, that’s great,” she said.

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.