“Waukegan is known as that destination to come experience art,” city spokesman David Motley has said. One of the biggest reasons is a monthly event punningly named ArtWauk.
Filling downtown properties with art
The concept of the wauk/walk was first developed in 2002 by Waukegan artists to fill vacant downtown properties with art. Since 2011 an Art Wauk has been held on the third Saturday of every month, giving visitors a chance to tour art galleries, hear music, and enjoy food and drink in as many as 20 locations. Every month different artwork, artists and spaces are involved.
Locations participating include the Karcher Art Loft, the Family Piano Co. and the Three Brothers Theatre.
The organizers for Art Wauk explain that “the basic model is this: A property owner gives keys to a small retail space to one of our ArtWauk artists. The artist rallies the troops to re-paint walls, scrub the windows and floors, replace lighting, and turn the space into a professional gallery, recruiting more artists and hanging a show. The whole volunteer force then turns into a marketing machine, distributing thousands of fliers by hand and utilizing social media to draw crowds downtown. The ROI for the property owners is hundreds of people walking through their spaces, looking at our signs reminding them that the property is available for rent. Every single one of the spaces we worked on has now been rented to a paying tenant.
“Property owners have been thrilled, business owners are making money, and the overall perception of downtown has dramatically improved.”
Top gallery exhibits attract visitors
Galleries participating in ArtWauk have hosted internationally, nationally and locally known artists who work in a variety of media with diverse themes. Internationally known contemporary visual artist Trevor Bell’s warehouse-sized abstracts were featured in Urban Edge Gallery. Sculptor Bruce Niemi, whose works appear throughout the United States, was integral to the exhibit entitled “Texture.”
A curated show from the Richard Harris Art Collection attracted first-time visitors to Waukegan, including families in town for graduation at Naval Station Great Lakes, art enthusiasts from Chicago and Milwaukee, and Genesee Theatre patrons who made a point of arriving early specifically to see the exhibit. Original works by Rembrandt, Toulouse-Lautrec, van Ultrect, Albrecht Dürer, Jasper Johns, Marcos Raya and Robert Mapplethorpe were among the museum-quality pieces featured.
Performances and pop-ups round out the event
The Mic in the Karcher Artspace holds spoken-word showcases monthly and experiments with pairing performance and visual arts. Karcher 405 Gallery developed a show celebrating Black History Month entitled “Black [N][V][Adj]”, featuring a film, roundtable discussions, physical art and culinary art centered on the African-American experience in the United States.
Live performances and pop-up galleries round out the offerings during this cooperative art experience. On any given ArtWauk night, Jerry Seinfeld may be making people laugh at the Genesee Theatre, Three Brothers Theatre may be showcasing the world premiere of an up-and-coming playwright, and punk bands may be at the Burgundy Room – within blocks of each other.