"I always had the desire to create an exhibition space," conceptual artist Edra Soto says. Offered a solo show at Northeastern Illinois University in 2012, Soto and her husband, Dan Sullivan—owner of Navillus Woodworks, which specializes in custom fabrication for art museums and galleries—imagined creating a structure to display their personal art collection. "The show would be an opportunity to comment on and talk about the artist-run spaces in Chicago. There's a big community—people exhibiting in their loft or in their home or in their studio," Sullivan says. With funding from NEIU, 3Arts, and the Propeller Fund, the pair constructed the Franklin—a modular exhibition space in the form of a shed—and installed it inside NEIU's Fine Arts Center Gallery for "Living By Example," a show of their acquisitions.
Now the Franklin lies in the couple's East Garfield Park backyard, where it serves as an outdoor exhibition space. The open-air gallery hosts about nine shows per year, and artists are invited to exhibit year-round. "Some artists really want to do the February show," Sullivan says.
With six removable walls, the space is adaptable. "I've seen all kinds of configurations of the Franklin," Soto says. "Immersive video projections, sculptures connected to the structure. One group completely covered the gallery with this replica of classic paintings all painted on cardboard, and at the end of the exhibition they gave it all away."
During exhibitions the couple invites guests inside their home to view their personal collection. "The motivation is to open peoples' eyes to how much great, affordable art there is to acquire," Sullivan says. He and his wife grew their collection by attending fund-raisers and silent auctions, and through trades. "I've traded furniture for art, I've bought stuff off the wall in people's studios," Sullivan says. "It happens organically."
The next show at the Franklin, opening October 12, will be "Michael Milano: Smooth Times," featuring experimental sound and moving image work by the SAIC alum.
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