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Interview Fri Mar 19 2010

Laura Shaeffer Talks Op Shop


Laura Shaeffer is on a mission to create a more cohesive and diverse community for the arts in Hyde Park -- and she needs your help. The Op Shop, which will open on March 26th at 1530 E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park, is "a transitory, experimental project space for contemporary art." Essentially, the Op Shop is for artists to use as they please, and it's a great opportunity for students and emerging artists to have their work shown. Check out their open call for work and volunteers. The Op Shop, which is about to begin its second run, is Shaeffer's way of creating an art-centric space for Hyde Park in which creativity can blossom, relationships can form, and discussion can center.

Shaeffer also runs Home Gallery, a gallery space that combines the concepts of home and gallery to create a warm and inviting space for artists to present their work. Both Home Gallery and the Op Shop are separate attempts to bring artists and the public together and to allow for an open forum of the arts. Home Gallery's last exhibition was Nathaniel Russell's NOWS. I sat down with Shaeffer in her home, surrounded by Russel's artwork, to discuss her unique philosophy for the Op Shop, and the community that is growing around it.

Was the Op Shop inspired by Home Gallery? Is it an extension of this project or is it separate?

It is definitely not completely separate. It is an extension and it is inspired by what I learned here and also the desire to have a completely public space. The Home Gallery is public/private -- it's always right on that edge. The Op Shop is totally public. I always wanted a public space. It appeals to the desire to be democratic, to be inclusive. Part of the Home Gallery was about community -- getting to know my community and becoming a known person in my community. How do we creatively go about fostering conversation and communication in our community? Home Gallery is one way, the Op Shop is an entirely different way. The Op Shop is something you can stumble upon which the Home Gallery is not.

What is the primary difference between the Op Shop and a gallery?

It's an alternative economy. We're not "for profit," nor are we non-profit. We are looking into the possibility of creating an entity that is slow-profit. There's got to be an alternative to the way the economy is now and we're trying to create it in the arts. There's another difference in that we work with the space that we're given. We're nomadic. We go from vacant space to vacant space. We sign a lease for a determined amount of time. Galleries try to create a location identity. In the Op Shop, from the get-go, it was the concept that we would change every single show -- every show would be in a different location -- and we would use vacant spaces in Hyde Park. The University of Chicago is generously donating the next Op Shop. They have offered us the old Hollywood Video store of 53rd and Lake.

How do you facilitate these conversations that you're trying to have through the Op Shop?

[For] the last one, I went to the School of the Art Institute -- to the MFA program and went to every studio. I didn't ask myself, is this good or is this bad? I asked myself, is this person doing something that should be in the Op Shop? Is it an interactive practice? Or is it something that could somehow lead to discussion? I trusted my gut on it. I found like five or six people and my gut was pretty right on.

We have lectures, performances -- all of that is completely open. People can get involved in the Op Shop at any time.

The next show is based on the ad hoc. It's an extremely interesting idea. It is purposeful creativity -- using what you have, the resources at hand.

There's a lot of space for a lot of people to get involved. We want to create a cohesive environment where lots of things are happening but you don't feel like you're in an insane thrift store. There are thrift stores you want to be in and thrift stores you don't want to be in. Some thrift stores are just willy-nilly. Then you go into another thrift store and you can breathe. The idea came from the Opportunity Shop [the Australian term for thrift store] but not because it was a thrift store -- it's the idea of opportunity. The thrift store is a great analogy for it. You go to a really nice thrift store because you will find the things that nobody knows about.

Is affordability a part of the thrift store analogy?

I think making some work accessible to the public is of interest, but a lot of the work won't even be the sale. How artists sell their work is up to them. They price it and a certain percentage goes back into the Op Shop so the it's sustainable and makes a small profit to continue. But yes, some work will be affordable. Some work might be, if you're really interested in it, two thousand dollars. But you don't have to buy it. Most of it will be experiential. Every Saturday we're going to have a real thrift store in there. It's an open day, all day, where people from the community are coming in and setting up a thrift store. It's great for the community because we don't have thrift stores in Hyde Park.

How would you define the community you are helping to create here in Hyde Park?

I think expanding the audience is a very big interest of the Op Shop. We don't just want one economic level, or one age group or one race. Inclusivity is a huge part of our project. We want to expand the audience of art to these other demographics. The elderly, children, high school kids, people who don't have any money at all can come into the Op Shop and get something out of the experience. We tend to think that contemporary art exists only in the framework of the MFA students at the Art Institute, or a group of people that have made it. That's not true. There are a lot of artists that are working and we have to reach out to them. Once the doors are open, it's whoever comes in. They become the Op Shop. They determine the direction.

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Dianne Collins / March 20, 2010 1:16 PM

This is a wonderful idea; I would like to help. Will think of supportive role versus creative outlet. If you have specific needs, why not list them.

laura shaeffer / March 22, 2010 11:04 PM

Just wanted to say that our first opening is this Saturday night, the 27th of March from 5-9 p.m. Not the 26th. See you there!!

The Op Shop

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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