You’ve always liked art. In fact your favorite memories from summer camp are the arts and crafts classes. You’ve made dozens of friendship bracelets. You can latch hook a rug like nobody’s business. You still have that composition book with the black and white marble cover, from when you went through your poetry phase in junior high. You painted watercolor unicorns and action figures. You sculpted miniatures of the entire cast of “Saved By The Bell” out of clay. But, you grew up. You got a job. You became responsible. But it’s still there, somewhere inside of you. You wonder, what would my life be like right now if I’d pursued art?
Well, you’ll be happy to know you have some options. You could pay the $35,000 per year to go to a private art school, or, you could mosie on down to Gallery’s Choice in Downers Grove, Illinois and learn oil painting, stained glass, jewelry making, watercolor painting, mosaics, copper enameling, acrylic painting, lampworking, origami, or silk painting. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
The owners, Rose and Bill Jarecki, along with their daughter, Katie, are living testaments to what life can be like when a person follows their dream. Having gotten an MBA and spent fifteen years in corporate marketing, Rose decided to leave that life behind and follow her dream of living an artistic life. She is a self-taught glasswork and silk-painting artist who has pieces displayed in the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.
The shop has been open for five years in Downer’s Grove and in that time has gone through some radical changes. Giving up half their retail space, for one. I asked her what made her decide to partially turn her art gallery into a working art studio. “I noticed other artisans getting discouraged and not making the money selling their work as they’d hoped,” Rose explains. “Customers have changed their focus when it comes to the arts. More and more people are saying, ‘I don’t want to buy it, I’d rather experience it, make it myself’.
“And if they do want to buy something, they want it to be custom and unique. Not something that’s been sitting on a shelf somewhere. The most successful artists are the ones who respond to the customer’s wants. So we made the decision to dedicate 50 percent of our retail floor space to classroom and studio space.”
I asked how business has changed since going from being just a retailer, to a retailer and art learning center. “I really feel that we are giving back to the community,” she says. “We are very family oriented with a hands-on approach. We’re doing both chilldren’s and adult’s classes, but I especially love being able to give kids the support I always had as a kid. I was allowed to try anything. We’ve had over 5,000 Girl Scouts come through our doors. And we make sure that students have some success right away, in order to encourage them to not be afraid to try different, maybe more complicated techniques.”
It’s not just kids who keep the shop busy. Gallery’s Choice hosts “Girls’ Night Out” events, birthday parties, and couples’ stained glass classes. And, I have to mention that I was impressed and surprised at how much shelf space had been given to display beginning artists and art students. “People are more sensitive to keeping business local. So, the community seeks us out. I’ve noticed that it doesn’t really matter, as much as you might think, if a piece is made by a beginner versus a long-time professional. Customers are telling me, ‘I don’t want a print or a replica. I’m tired of going to the mall.’ I’m hearing that on a daily basis. If a piece speaks to a person, they buy it and the value is that it’s been made by hand.”
The response to Rose and Bill’s hands-on approach has been tremendous. I can’t help wondering if we can expect their model to be the new direction for art galleries and shops. But, Bill feels there’s room for different art experiences. “We like to make art more accessible for people, that’s true. But, there’s definitely room for our type of shop, as well as the high end galleries. In fact, people come into our place and learn to make and buy art, and then they are not afraid to go to the high end shows. If they take a stained glass class here, then they can attend a retrospective on Louis Comfort Tiffany and feel comfortable. They are now interested and not intimidated. They feel they understand the work better, they can speak with knowledge about the medium and the process, and can better appreciate the genius of the masters.”
Increasing their class offerings has certainly transformed the business, but Gallery’s Choice remains, very much, a gallery with dozens of local artists and artisans on display. “In the beginning it was just my work. I was kind of scared to let other artists show here,” Rose admits. “Coming from a business and not an art background, I struggled with wondering if I was good enough, but it was about getting over that. Artists just found us through word of mouth. I’m glad, now, that I had the confidence to let other artists show their work alongside mine. It’s been wonderful. We’ve found such a high quality of work. Jewelry, fiber arts, glass makers, etchings. And we get tons of referrals from customers as well.”
And now, Gallery’s Choice is using the social networking site Facebook in order to give the public a chance to see some classroom experiences, new artists and upcoming programs and events. I asked Rose if giving up half the sales floor has affected the number of artists they are able to show. “Oh, there’s always room for one more,” she replied. “We aim to keep our gallery accessible. We are a self made environment.”
Gallery’s Choice, 1014 Curtiss Street, Downer’s Grove, IL, 60515, USA.