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Illinois: A Living Wage for Starving Artists
Forest Park Review
Tom Holmes

October 26, 2010
View the Original Article


This Saturday, Oct. 30, the American Artworks Gallery on Madison St. will hold its grand opening. In so doing, it will introduce a different kind of art gallery to Forest Park's main business district.

The new gallery's letter to potential artists states, "American Artworks Gallery - created by artists, for artists - is an upscale, multimedia showcase designed to help independent artists professionally display their work." The letter describes the business as an "artist's collaborative," which is "A Living Wage Enterprise."

Here's how it will work: Artists can rent space in the gallery - $50 for a three foot by two foot place on the floor or $100 for a four foot by 10 foot wall space - to display their work, which will be sold on a commission basis. In addition, they must donate eight hours a month to help staff the store.

What the artists get in return is 77.5 percent of the proceeds generated by sales of their work. The guideline given for pricing is that artists should calculate a "living wage" of $11.50 per hour of work put in to create each piece. In addition the gallery will provide "consistent marketing and promotional events," networking opportunities and what they call "Sunday Rejuvenations," free members' only mind and body classes.

As the name of the business implies, only work by American artists will be displayed. Lisa Dodge, who co-owns the gallery, said that items for sale will range from handmade greeting cards at $4 a set, jewelry for $80 to $500 to an oil painting by Matt Collins of the Ponte Vecchio, which will go for $3,200. Dodge said she already has 25 artists on board.

Dodge acknowledged that Dave Manola, who owns Boulevard Fine Art, is the pioneer when it comes to bringing upscale art to Forest Park. She said that in some ways the two galleries will be competitors for the same client base, but in many other ways they will complement each other. For example, Manola's gallery offers paintings from around the world created by "emerging and established" artists. Boulevard Fine Art also does custom framing.

"Though our target customers are related," Dodge said, "they are not identical, so we think our presence will only help his business by adding to the street's diversity and offering shoppers more options."

Dodge describes herself as a lover of art with business acumen. A long time collector of art herself, she worked as a product developer for a Chicago area firm called Consumer Packaged Goods and while working for the Restoration Foundation of Unity Temple in Oak Park, she developed a merchandising strategy that took in more than $150,000 a year. She has an M.B.A. from Dominican University.

Dodge raved about the business climate in Forest Park. She said the town's businesses have a reputation of doing a lot of cross marketing. She found the landlords in town generally more flexible than those in Oak Park and River Forest and said that Forest Park's Chamber of Commerce and Development "really offers its members bang for their buck."

"As a new organization that is going to have to go guerilla [low cost or no cost advertising] with most of our marketing," she explained, "we found the promise of their support to be a big lure."

American Artworks Gallery is located at 7314 Madison St. Contact information: 708-557-1761 or americanartworksgallery@gmail.com. Drinks and free food will be served from 6 to 9 p.m. at the grand opening on Saturd