Lillstreet Art Center, located on 4401 North Ravenswood Avenue, is an incredibly rich community center, studio space, and school where people can learn all kinds of artistic skills. But it wasn't always so; as the volunteers and interns for Lillstreet will eagerly tell you, it became such a diverse arts center over many, many years of unexpected development and change.
According to a staff member named Abby, the institution that would eventually become the Lillstreet Art Center first opened on Lill Avenue in the year 1975, and was called 'Robin's Clay Company', named after it's founder, Bruce Robin. A sculptor by training, his business was initially just a center and workshop for clay sculpting. But after hosting some workshop events that lower-income and homeless individuals could participate in, he noticed how they deeply enjoyed the opportunity to do creative work, and started 'hosting other classes' that taught other forms of artwork.
“He [Bruce] was very open to new mediums.” Abby added.
Today, the Lillstreet Art Center occupies an old gear factory just south of the Montrose Brown Line stop, and each of it's three floors contains a plethora of work spaces and art classes for children and adults, for people looking to learn a fun hobby, or for those looking to learn constructive skills.
The first floor is host to kid's classrooms, pottery workshops, metallurgy centers, and an art gallery/store, where people can buy ceramics, paintings, and other creations. Around a central pillar , there are shelves full of art kits and creative toys for children, ranging from a 'design your own superhero' package to a jam-making kit. Hungry guests can catch a bite to eat at the First Slice Pie Cafe, a non-profit restaurant that specializes in delicious pies and uses the funds from sales to cook nourishing meals for homeless and low-income families.
The second floor is filled with studios, stocked with the tools of the trade for artists who need a space to work in. There are gas, electric, and soda firing kilns for ceramic artists, torches, drills presses, jewelers benches, shears, and hammers for jewelers/metalworkers, and many other useful resources. Artists can apply to use these spaces exclusively for a several month period, usually paying around $150 a month.
The third floor contains most of the adult classrooms, and the classes and workshops available here are truly diverse. Whether pottery, metalsmithing, jewelry-making, enameling, glass fusing, painting, drawing, embroidery, quiltmaking, screenprinting, bookmaking, photography, or digital illustration, you'll probably be able to find an event that teaches it.
Adult classes at Lillstreet are organized by seasonal semesters. Most of the Spring classes begin around March 31, and those who register before March 10 for the 5-10 week classes get a discount. The summer camps for kids age 3 and up run from early June to late August; parents can sign their children up for these camps any time before May 30th, and their topics range from clay and sculpture to cartoon drawing and move making.
The Lillstreet Art Center is ultimately too big a place, both physically and as a community space, to be described in the few words of this article. School, restaurant, community center, studio space, summer camp, philanthropic organization–part of the reason it's become so successful is that it's become so many things for so many different people.
But no matter how it's changed or will change, it will continue to be a center for the arts.