Waukegan High School alumnae Emilie Dieck-Correa and Michelle Miscenic-Patch know first hand that dreams can come to fruition with passion and persistence.
The co-founders of Dandelion Gallery, a nonprofit artist cooperative, say the 3,000 square-foot gallery in downtown Waukegan is thriving in its nearly one-year old location.
Every month participating artists are encouraged to drop off five pieces of work. The gallery’s professional artists then select what will be featured in that month’s show. Dieck-Correa said this method of curating keeps each show fresh and unique.
“Every month it’s like a jigsaw puzzle,” she said, adding that she and others have been known to work well into the early hours of the morning to lay out the show. “You won’t see the same thing twice.”
Dandelion Gallery’s name pays homage to Waukegan-born author Ray Bradbury’s novel “Dandelion Wine,” which builds upon Bradbury’s experience growing up in Waukegan.
“And like a dandelion we keep growing and spreading,” Dieck-Correa said.
Previously, the gallery was located in a smaller space across the street, but as its popularity grew artists Dieck-Correa, 37, of Waukegan, and Miscenic-Patch, 35, of Beach Park, knew it was time for the gallery to expand.
Dieck-Correa discussed how the gallery took root, its contribution to the emerging Waukegan art scene and what it’s like to share quality, contemporary art with her hometown community.
How did Dandelion Gallery get started?
Our opening in this space, 109 S. Genesee St., was in August of last year. Prior to that we were across the street at 108 S. Genesee St., and that’s where it all got started. In February [of 2011] David Motley [a Waukegan City employee and artist] called and said, ‘Would you guys be interested in getting ArtWauk started again?’ And we thought, ‘Absolutely.’ [ArtWauk is a monthly art stroll event in downtown Waukegan]. The space at 108 S. Genesee was vacant. We thought we could improve the space and make it a gallery. We’re not going to sign a lease – just see how it goes and test the water. We had always wanted to do something like this – for years – but we just didn’t have the means back then. We went in, knocked down walls, painted and put in track lighting. Twenty days later we had a gallery. That was our first show in March 2011. And it was such a wonderful night. It was packed. The feedback we got was, ‘Oh my gosh this feels like SoHo [New York].’ We were so encouraged by that. After that we sat down and said, ‘This is not going to be the Emilie and Michelle show, that’s not what we want. What we do want is other local artists to come together and supplement the space – have a nice, diverse stretch of work.’
We had an open call to artists and had artist interviews in April. We gained 14 artists from our first call. We hung the show for ArtWauk and it was another dynamic night. The feedback we got was so motivational. We thought, ‘Let’s keep moving forward.’ Then we met Joe Hughes, the owner of the Merchants Block Building. We had grown and we needed more space and the building seemed like a great fit. He could not have been more accommodating. When we knew we were going to be in this much space we were able to make another call to artists. Again the diversity of the work got that much stronger. We remain now at 27. The bar is being raised in terms of quality.
How did David know to reach out to you in regard to getting the arts going in Waukegan?
I’ve known David ever since high school. We’ve always been on the same page – we’re both artists. There’s a shared optimism of no one can tell you what you can’t do.
What is your art background?
I have an art history degree. When I went to school I was an apprentice to a Colombian painter and shared a studio with an Italian painter, as well. When I graduated from high school I thought, ‘Where is the furthest point away?’ I just wanted to get away. Being in shows is great, but it was time to get a real job. My mom had sent me an article that said if you speak Spanish and have a college degree outside of education you are a candidate for bilingual education at a Waukegan school and they would pay for your masters. So, I came back to Waukegan and worked in Waukegan for eight years. I reconnected with Michelle. She teaches art. Now I teach Spanish at Deer Path Middle School in Lake Forest.
What was it like to come back to your hometown?
It was so refreshing to be back after being so many places. As a native of Waukegan to have been able to experience so many parts of the world and bring that back and ignite this passion, this flair for art is incredible – the ability to turn a community around in the name of art. To get people out of their houses, walk around and see art. It’s a way to bring the community together. We don’t take no very much for an answer. If you don’t like something, do something about it. Encouraging the arts in the future of Waukegan – it gives me no greater pride.
How is the gallery funded?
Right now we are fueled and funded solely from what member artists are paying to us for exhibition space. It’s a cooperative of artists. What’s important to us is the exposure of modern, contemporary art. We also accept donations and those are tax-deductible. We’d love to have hardwood floors.
What is the vision moving forward?
Any type of good change takes time. A year later, we are so thrilled with where we are. Our next call to artists is in September – and we’re already getting calls from artists wanting to schedule interviews. ArtSpace [a nonprofit project transforming Waukegan’s Karcher Hotel into 36 affordable residential units for artists] is a big question mark. We don’t know how it will bolster what we are already doing, but we are excited. Our dream of dreams is to open a center for the arts. Waukegan is ready. It’s like a blank canvas. We have the harbor. We have a lot of things going on. We’re the pioneers and we hope we can inspire other businesses to come in. We’re continuing to raise the bar.
109 S. Genesee St., in Waukegan
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday
Saturday, Aug. 18
•Dandelion Gallery Run/Wail for the Arts
Saturday, Sept. 22
A portion of the proceeds will benefit, “Spreading the Seeds,” a campaign that will award three Waukegan HIgh School seniors $500 scholarships for their achievement in the visual arts.
To learn more, visit www.dandeliongalleryrunforthearts.weebly.com or call 224-430-9975.