Along with the increase in shopping and dining options in Forest Park over the past five years, the village has seen the beginnings of a flourishing art scene. Art galleries like Plan B Gallery and Boulevard Fine Arts have sprouted up along Madison Street, and local artists have begun to play an increased role in the town’s special events, such as the Main Street Association’s Progressive Dinner/Arts Al Fresco.
One of the more unique elements of the local art scene is the availability of artwork in unexpected places. Whether stopping for a cup of coffee at Blue Max Caf, 26 Lathrop Ave., or a haircut at Macdaddy Salon, 7506 Madison St., one never knows when they might catch an artist’s work on display or even leave with a painting in hand.
One person largely responsible for the presence of art in Forest Park’s “alternative spaces” is Barbara Weigand of the Oak Park-based ArtsWarrior, an artist representation agency. Weigand, former co-owner of La Piazza Caf, 410 Circle Ave., said she has long seen the potential for a thriving art scene in Forest Park.
“Having been involved with the community, that experience led me to understand what Forest Park has to offer both to a businessperson and to the arts,” she said. “The community is very open and very creative.”
While doing business in Forest Park, she came in contact with Nelson Ameer, owner of Macdaddy, and Liz Doyle, owner of Blue Max, and soon began organizing rotating art exhibits, showcasing her clients’ work at each venue.
The exhibits have allowed her to reach people who might have never come across her clients’ work at more traditional venues, like the art galleries on Harrison Street in Oak Park.
“I’ve built a customer base I might not have reached through any type of traditional art organization. One woman who purchased a painting over the weekend is a customer of Macdaddy, who said, ‘I probably wouldn’t go into most art galleries.’ She’s a creative person and loves art, but they have two children, and it’s just not necessarily something they would do,” Weigand explained.
The business owners who display her clients’ work share her enthusiasm, stating that the rotating artwork keeps their stores fresh for their customers and add excitement to the workplace for employees.
“For my business, the most important thing is how the place looks and feels for my customers and staff. Keeping the environment ‘alive’ is so important. Art does that,” Ameer is quoted as saying on the ArtsWarrior website, www.artswarrior.com.
The current Macdaddy exhibit, titled “Greetings from the Hood,” features paintings and photographs of Chicago neighborhoods and landmarks. Fisher provided the paintings, while Robert Davis took the pictures.
Fisher, a current Berwyn resident and an Oak Park native, teaches acrylic painting classes for the Park District of Oak Park and is a founding member of the “From the Horse’s Mouth” artists’ studio in Berwyn.
He said that, in addition to his more abstract works, he has been painting Chicago landmarks since about 1999. In that time, he has painted everything from the Buckingham Fountain to Maxwell Street to St. John Lutheran Church in Forest Park.
He mostly paints from photographs, but said he hopes this will soon change. “A hundred years ago in France you might see Monet painting the cathedral-you don’t see that anymore, except maybe someone doing caricatures. By the end of the summer I want to get a peddler’s license and start doing on-the-spot painting.”
In addition to the city’s famous landmarks and cultural symbols, Fisher said he strives to capture neighborhoods and scenes that may soon be lost forever to gentrification, like the used car lots that line Western Avenue.
“You might get bad cars at those places, but you’ll miss them when they’re not there anymore,” he explained.
Fisher’s work has also been displayed at Macdaddy’s other location in the West Loop, and is regularly showcased at Buzz Caf in Oak Park.
He said opportunities like those available in Forest Park through ArtsWarrior have benefited his career immensely. “On Harrison Street, if you go through all the galleries, you could probably count 10 people. Artists want to get their work where the people are. People don’t have to buy anything-they may just take a look and then give me a call when they want something done,” he said.
Davis, the photographer, displayed a mixture of his photographs of natural scenes, architecture, and nightlife in the Chicago area at Macdaddy. “Greetings from the Hood” was the first formal art exhibit in which his work has been displayed.
A former freelance photographer for the Chicago Tribune, Davis may be better known to many Forest Parkers as the lead vocalist for the R&B/Motown band R’ Gang. The band has performed at numerous Forest Park bars, plus local events such as this year’s Forest Park Summerfest.
“Having art in different places, that’s a huge plus. My band plays at a lot of bars and restaurants, and we’re able to persuade them to have artists come in. I think it’s a huge plus for a lot of artists without money or who are not known enough to have their work in exhibits.”
Davis said he is even considering purchasing a storefront in Forest Park along with several other artists to display and sell their work. “I’m good friends with the mayor of Forest Park, and he told me he’d let me know if something comes up. I figure if anyone would know, he would,” said Davis.
The current exhibit at Blue Max is entitled, “Freeing the Bound,” and features a collage by Cristeanna Bastion of Oak Park. “These bits of detritus are the components of our personal rituals: the morning coffee, the evening tea, the book we read to gain insight, to pass the test, to pass the time … It is all about placing the unnoticed into the spotlight, giving ‘the underdog’ a voice and a chance at renewed life,” reads a description of the exhibit provided by ArtsWarrior.
The exhibit runs through Sept. 30.
In addition to its contribution to the local art scene, ArtsWarrior and many of its clients have a charitable side that cannot be overlooked.
Weigand is a founding member of the Strike at Cancer Foundation, which, Weigand explained, “pairs professional artists with cancer treatment facilities to promote healing through expression.”
Many of the artists Weigand represents, including Fisher, donate a portion of their sales to the foundation, and some of the business owners, including Ameer, have also gotten involved.
Davis sets up an annual charity softball game each year to benefit the foundation. This year’s game will be held Sunday, Sept. 24 in North Riverside. He also travels to the hospitals that work with the foundation to take photographs of terminally ill babies for their families.
“Many of them have been in the hospital since the day they were born. Their families have never had any photos of them before,” said Weigand. “We’re not going to cure cancer. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it’s the small moments,” she noted.
More information on the foundation is available at www.strikeatcancer.org.
The “Greetings from the Hood” exhibit at Macdaddy runs through Aug. 31.