Chicago has a rich history of independent gallery spaces showcasing the city’s multi-layered diversity of art. Many of these galleries are/were trailblazers not only in content, showing new artists and styles later renowned by the art world, but also in practice, with collectively-run operating models and new visions for how galleries might contribute to the larger arts ecosystem. 

At present, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Flaxman Library holds the archives of the Randolph Street Gallery and Threewalls, with archival material spanning five decades. The Archives at the Art Institute of Chicago, hold the records of the ARC, Artemisia, Young, and Hoffman galleries. Like the archival collections held at the Flaxman Library, the gallery archives held at the Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archives (a unit of the Art Institute of Chicago Archives) also offer a look at a remarkably fertile period in Chicago’s visual arts landscape from 1973 to the present. 

These robust collections provide an intimate and detailed view of Chicago’s independent gallery activities from the 1970s onward, demonstrating the growth of new modes of arts in the Midwest including site-specific performances, video and new media experimentation, second-wave feminist works, and Photorealism, alongside the development of administrative structures as part of a holistic artistic practice. These archives evidence how gallery business models shape an arts ecosystem, and how market forces (selling in a traditional gallery vs. a co-operative gallery structure) may shape artistic output. The galleries’ archives also present an opportunity to examine past processes for showing and supporting visual arts in small galleries, and to find opportunities to create new, more equitable processes addressing cultural, racial, economic and gender biases.

This website aims to demystify and contextualize the histories of these six galleries within the broader Chicago arts scene. Whether you’re a researcher, artist, gallery owner, or curious soul, we hope that the tools provided through this website—gallery timelines, image archives, collections databases, and more—will inspire you to delve deeper into Chicago’s unique history of artist-run spaces and commercial galleries.