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Suddenly Center Stage

In the past decade, Chicago has gone from follower to influencer in the art world, with names like Theaster Gates, Francine Turk and Nick Cave all vying for bragging rights. It takes an entire city to fuel the fire, so why the outbreak of artistic enthusiasm? The answer may lie with the following folks—some of the art community’s recent wave-makers who continually crash the local turf with creative talent.

(From left to right)

1. Restoring anything to its former glory is no easy task, but in the devoted hands of Carolina O. Jayaram, the Chicago Artists Coalition (which cultivates exhibitions, educational opportunities and a support system for up-and-coming talent) has tripled its staff in the last two years and moved into posh new 8,000-square-foot digs in the West Loop. A Miami native, Jayaram loves life in the Windy City due to the great sense of community in the philanthropic scene. “I want to build a sustainable marketplace here and assist emerging artists in making the contacts they need to get to the next level,” she explains. Indeed, her annual Starving Artist event in June—a benefit that pairs visual artists with culinary pros to create edible “installations”—made the Best Party hit list this year. Next up? Jayaram is thrilled that Joseph Cruz, an alum of the CAC’s Bolt Residency program, will be showing at EXPO Chicago at Navy Pier in September.

2. Smart and sophisticated, Monika Szewczyk—who just joined the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for Visual Arts—is, along with her husband Dieter Roelstraete (see No. 3), part of a fresh crop of curators in town. The recent transplant has filled vacancies everywhere from the Witte de With Center in Rotterdam to the Vancouver Art Gallery, but what sets the Poland native apart? She makes risky her business—taking chances at every turn. Artist and department head Jessica Stockholder says Szewczyk has an “extraordinary mind” for “curating adventurous exhibitions” like the mnemonic paintings and photogravure by local David Schutter this past spring and Wall Text (co-curated by Zachary Cahill), which features an exceptional array of Chicago-based interdisciplinaries. This curly-haired cutie, who likens exhibitions to “an essay that cannot quite be written down” is currently working on a project with the Collectors’ Collective that focuses on contemporary African art, entitled Diasporal Rhythms—slated for an October 2013 run.

3. It is no secret that the Museum of Contemporary Art is an institution miles ahead of the curve—so too is one of their newest curators, Dieter Roelstraete. Hailing from Belgium and hot off a professional gig at the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, this art expert likens his favorite contemporary artists to journalists, detectives, investigators… and even spies. After his first major project at the MCA (Goshka Macuga’s anticipated first U.S. solo exhibition, which was dubbed at once “stirring” and “unabashed” according to Chicago Tribune critic Lori Waxman), he is setting his sights city-side, working with the likes of Michael Rakowitz, Pamela Bannos and Jason Lazarus. Friendly and affable, it’s no surprise Roelstraete feels at home in Chicago—traversing the city for openings and artist talks with his curator wife Monika (see No. 2). On off days, he can be found at venerable music hot spots such as the Constellation or the Hideout. For Roelstraete, art is passionate work, but music is simply a passion.

4. While Hunt Tackbary may bear one-half the namesake of his mother, the interior design queenpin Holly Hunt, he has certainly carved his own career niche in the past two years with the company. His first big hit came with discovering Lonney White’s mixed media pieces, and Tackbary has continued to use his influence to represent up-and-coming artists and accessory makers. How does he do it? “Getting out there—every day, every weekend,” Tackbary says. “Visiting local galleries, whether here or in New York, and trying not to visit the same ones. It’s a good way of keeping my ear to the ground.” Not to limit his view, Florida-born Tackbary is also working on The Artisan Collection, an effort to connect international craftsmen with high-end clientele—bridging the divide between artists and interiors showrooms. In fact, locals like Lynn Basa—from whom Tackbary recently commissioned a suite of 16 bold black-and-white works for the company—are beginning to consider relationships with interior design firms as a career boon. “The rise of the celebrity interior designer means they are now bringing up serious artists’ prestige,” she says. Tackbury will no doubt be elevating area artists’ careers for years to come.

5. Lucy Liu knows the struggles that come with being an artist. As chief curator at ArtBarcs (the online gallery and personal e-curator consultant), she is helping the locals like Allison Svoboda and Roland Oria go from artistic islands to self-promoting success stories by offering them a digital platform to showcase their portfolio. But more importantly, she lives the life herself—as a trained fine artist. Liu’s own artistic process is “self-medication; one I can totally lose myself in,” and she wants to help other artists break into the industry. Through the artist-in-residence program at the Florsheim Mansion—which she and husband and ArtBarcs co-founder Russ Rosenzweig also own—artists can showcase their work and attend the various networking events and informal gatherings to “bridge the gap between the creative and professional worlds,” Liu explains, “and mingle with the next generation of collectors.” This just in: The Mansion now has a guesthouse that art lovers can rent and custom-curate to “be full of all the art they ‘loved’ on the site,” Liu says. “So it’s kind of a first-ever Gallery of Me.”