JOLIET – Gallery Seven this year is celebrating its 10th year of offering a venue for local artists that otherwise is hard to find.
The gallery is the last survivor of a 2007 initiative called the Rialto Arts District.
“This is the only commercial gallery in town,” said Richard Ainsworth, president of the Gallery Seven cooperative.
Ainsworth formerly ran his own gallery, which was the only other commercial gallery in Joliet before it closed in 2014.
“Before I opened my place on Taylor Street, there was no place for artists to sell in Joliet. They had to go out of town,” Ainsworth said.
Now local artists can go to Gallery Seven.
In addition to displaying the photography work of the nine Gallery Seven members, who make up the cooperative that runs the venue, the gallery also puts on shows, features an artist each month and takes in work by local artists to display for sale. One section of the gallery serves as a gift shop with cards illustrated by local artists, hand-crafted jewelry and other items.
Shows usually draw 30 to 40 people, many from out of town. The gallery has had up to 150 people for some events.
Noted artists have appeared, including the late Matt Lamb Jr., an internationally known painter who brought one piece priced at $100,000, although it did not sell.
“We’ve had some pretty good shows,” Gallery Seven member Jim McCollum said. “We had a painting once that sold for $2,400.”
Making an impression locally can be challenging, however, as demonstrated last week at a luncheon held by Gallery Seven to celebrate its 10th year. Many were invited but few came to the event at the gallery at 116 N. Chicago St.
About a half-dozen people showed up, evenly divided between invited guests and those who wandered in. All were welcomed to eat.
Donna Nevels of Homer Glen, a Gallery Seven member, called the turnout “sad.”
“We’re very proud of this gallery,” Nevels said. “We’re unique.”
The gallery is run by the seven photographers, who all do somewhat different work. One of Nevels’ specialties is encaustic photography, reflective of the centuries-old art of hot wax painting. McCollum and his wife, Karen McCollum, have gained recognition for their photographs of changing messages on the John Lennon Wall in Prague.
Another thing that makes Gallery Seven unique, Nevels said, is “because we’re still here.”
Gallery Seven was one of four galleries that opened in storefront space available at the Rialto Square Theatre in an attempt to create some synergy between the local art community and the theater. The city that summer also held an outdoor arts festival that filled the downtown streets with artists from the Chicago region.
But art proved to be a tough sell in Joliet. The festival ran on a smaller scale the following year and then never returned.
The Rialto Arts District disappeared as the three other galleries shut down.
Gallery Seven survives in part because it does not pay any rent for the space it has in the 2 Rialto Square building next to the theater. The galleries never did pay for space, which typically was vacant anyway.
The Rialto board has discussed the possibility of selling 2 Rialto Square, which gives the gallery some concern about its future.
“I hate to think we’re here day to day,” Ainsworth said. “I’d like to think this is something the community wants and supports.”
Ainsworth said the gallery gets some business from Route 66 tourists who come by to see the Rialto while they are in town. It also has some regular local customers who buy items at the gift shop.
“We’ve become Joliet’s community gallery,” Ainsworth said. “We didn’t start out that way. We started out just showing photographs. But we’ve morphed that way.”