Beloved Chicago Nonprofit Threewalls Lays Off Staff and Downsizes Venue

Rent has tripled at the West Loop district venue.

Threewalls.Image: Courtesy of three-walls.org.
Threewalls.
Image: Courtesy of three-walls.org.
Photo: courtesy ThreeWalls.

Photo: courtesy ThreeWalls.

Facing tough times and rising rents, Chicago art venue Threewalls is leaving its West Loop venue and laying off its staff of two.

An announcement released Thursday afternoon by Jeffreen Hayes, the new executive director as of 2015, said that “within 60 days of [the start of] my tenure, an unexpected reality developed—Threewalls was not financially stable.”

Rising rents in the West Loop district have been part of the problem, said the board’s director, Gary Metzner, who is also a specialist at Sotheby’s, in a phone conversation.

“Rent has at least tripled in the twelve years we’ve been there,” he said. “When your neighbors include a Nobu and an Ace Hotel, it’s tough to remain in that part of the city.”

A January show has been postponed, but subsequent shows are expected to be on schedule, says Metzner.

Threewalls.Image: Courtesy of three-walls.org.

Threewalls.
Image: Courtesy of three-walls.org.

Dubbed “one of Chicago’s most vital visual arts organizations” by the Chicago Tribune critic Lori Waxman, ThreeWalls was founded in 2003 by Shannon Stratton, who ran the show until she moved to New York’s Museum of Arts and Design as chief curator in June 2015.

ThreeWalls focuses on solo exhibitions by emerging artists from Chicago and the greater Midwest, Metzner said, as well as exhibitions of midcareer artists such as Claire Pentecost, a Documenta veteran, and Faith Wilding. It is one of the few organizations certified by Working Artists in the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.), which lobbies museums and other nonprofits to pay a stipend to the artists they exhibit.

“We have to go to a tighter ship and cut costs,” Metzner told artnet News. “We hope to be in a new space by this time next year. We’ve watched other beloved institutions go away, and that is not an option. Our gala is still happening, this May, and we hope that will help get us back in a sound position.”


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