NewCity: Fine Arts Building Act Five: Encore—Today’s Tenants, A Group Portrait (5 of 10)

Fine Arts Building / formerly the Studebaker Building, 1884 and 1898, Solon Spencer Beman, 410 S. Michigan Ave. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Fine Arts Building / formerly the Studebaker Building, 1884 and 1898, Solon Spencer Beman, 410 S. Michigan Ave. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Outdoor Courtyard at the Fine Arts Building / formerly the Studebaker Building, 1884 and 1898, Solon Spencer Beman, 410 S. Michigan Ave. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Outdoor Courtyard at the Fine Arts Building / formerly the Studebaker Building, 1884 and 1898, Solon Spencer Beman, 410 S. Michigan Ave. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Venetian Court at the Fine Arts Building / formerly the Studebaker Building, 1884 and 1898, Solon Spencer Beman, 410 S. Michigan Ave. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

“The Fine Arts Building’s managers aren’t sure exactly how many studios there are, estimating the number to be somewhere between 175 and 190. The artist spaces in the 200,000-square-foot building have been modified so many times—combined or cut up as tenants grow or get smaller—that even the engineers don’t know which partition walls are original.

“Counting the artists working within these walls, or surveying their artistic disciplines, might be equally futile: some of them share space, others are employed by the leaseholders, many simply come to the building for lessons or collaboration. Also, many are multihyphenates. Cecilia Beaven (studio 915), for example, paints, draws, animates, makes movies and sculpts. And of course, tenants move in and out almost every month.

“The most accurate and up-to-date listing of tenants can be found on the building’s website directory. The most pleasurable way to discover them, however, is to wander the halls.

“Studios whose historic tenants were notable are marked by placards with capsule biographies, but current tenants choose how much or how little they want to share. Many offer brochures, postcards and business cards, or post articles about themselves or their work—Kundalini Yoga in the Loop, studio 514, has an extensive display—but others carry on in secret, with no identifying signage at all.

“A few are playfully misleading. The frosted-glass window of studio 420 advertises “The Law Offices of Sterling Bodett and Bodett, specializing in aesthetic litigation BY APPOINTMENT ONLY” but is actually the studio of visual artist Matt Bodett, who is not a lawyer but a teacher at Loyola University and Columbia College. He also curates the next-door gallery, Press Here: Center for Mad Culture, “which explores the cultural and aesthetic possibilities of madness.” Then there is the narrow, unnumbered door next to the seventh-floor restroom, labeled Chicago Designer Closets.

“You might think someone’s having fun—but that’s real. (This playfulness has precedent. When Tom Graham owned the building, an unknown tenant carefully lettered a sign identifying an unleased studio as the William Shatner School of Acting. Then again, the United Planetary Federation, also in the building, was real—as far as that goes.)

“What is known is that the sheer variety of tenants is astonishing. In the Fine Arts Building you can find architects, art therapists, authors, a baker, a barber, a general interest bookstore, a ceramicist, chamber musicians, a collagist, a commercial realtor, counselors and therapists, dance instructors, a literary editor, filmmakers, a financial advisor, a flute repairer, a fundraising and grant-writing consultancy, a guitar teacher, illustrators, interior designers, a jewelry maker, lawyers, literacy specialists, mediators, a mouthpiece maker, opera singers, painters, a paperweight dealer, photographers, pianists, puppeteers, a talent agency, a sheet music store, singers, violin shops, vocal instructors, a woodwind maker, and yoga instructors.

“A singer, actor or musician can find almost everything they need for their career here: agency representation, auditions, haircuts, head shots, coaching and training, sheet music, fundraising expertise, rehearsal space, yoga for mindfulness, massage after a performance, therapy and counseling—even legal representation should things go awry.

“They can even find affordable space in which to practice—or start a new practice—of their own.” (Graff, NewCity, 11/27/23)

Read the full story at NewCity

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