Feel welcome at any age at Artistic License event

Ben Ginsburg

My name is Ben Ginsburg, I'm a 26-year-old Chicagoland area native and art gallerist. While I don't necessarily have a talent for the arts, I've always appreciated them from afar. I started my career on a much more traditional path. But even before I left my role working as a CPA at spent a large public accounting firm, I maintained a strong connection to the arts. I've also served on the associate board of the Lookingglass Theatre. After work and on weekends, I'd explore local estate liquidations, thrift and consignment shops looking for art. Over time, I amassed a large collection of second-hand artwork. When I talk with other young professionals about my collecting, most reply by confessing that they know nothing about art. The funny thing is that neither do I; I just never asked permission to explore.

As my collection grew, space in my apartment becoming scarce. I'd auction off items to make room for new discoveries. Everyone who visited was entranced. The walls drew curiosity and sparked conversation. I'd host LEADS groups and participants would walk around exploring. The beauty of art is the reaction it elicits. I began looking for ways to "spread the wealth". Was there another way to get the art to the end user while preserving the value I reclaimed when I discovered it? I set out to reclaim context and build community around accessible artwork. The art world is tricky. Young people like me, who lack formal education in the arts, often feel intimidated. Those who are bold enough to explore discover a certain social stigma associated with not having the financial wherewithal of a seasoned collector. As a buyer you're told what to, how to, why to appreciate art. The experience can be off putting. It leaves a residue of doubt, a sense you don't belong. The people I want to reach, don't know a ton about art but are searching for ways to engage with it in a welcoming and affordable environment. That's why I created smiling rock gallery, a home for art that is lost, forgotten, and misunderstood. It is built on the premise that art is for everyone, and should therefore be accessible.

The gallery has an incredibly eclectic collection of art that has lost its context. We welcome visitors to participate in reclaiming the meaning of these works by authentically and unapologetically engaging with art. But smiling rock gallery is not only a platform for those searching, it's also one for those who want to be found.

Chicago has an incredibly rich culture, but it is also deeply segregated.  And I believe that segregation has resulted in insulated creative "pockets" around the city.  So, smiling rock gallery engages local artists within these pockets, encouraging them to bring their work to a welcoming space.  By eliminating most of the barriers artists traditionally encounter when searching for a gallery to showcase their works, smiling rock has started fostering connections between communities and people who wouldn't otherwise interact.

smiling rock gallery is an exercise in rethinking the traditional art industry model of representation. Art is about storytelling. The representation model requires that artists entrust someone else with the ability to tell their story. While not exclusively nefarious, I believe this model is inefficient. I've set out to act as a connector, not a representative. smiling rock gallery neither judges the artists it welcomes nor tells visitors what they should like. We give artists license to do what they love, and our guests license to love what they do.

ARTISTIC LICENSE is our greatest undertaking to date. A one night only experience honoring art that is often seen, rarely heard: Graffiti. Graffiti is the true definition of outsider art, and the community responsible for its creation very much underground. With 10+ of Chicago's most prominent graffiti artists in tow, we took over an industrial warehouse space in Fulton Market, transforming it into a one of a kind testament to the strength of this often forlorn creative community. The experience, occurring Saturday, November 23rd 6-9 PM, was built to give artists a platform to proclaim "what we do is art" and invite guests to explore, discover, and celebrate their work. Tickets are available at artisticlicense.eventbrite.com.


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