After 17 years and countless exhibits and performances, the I space Gallery in Chicago will close its doors for the last time.

In December 2009, UI students and art lovers alike will bid a tearful farewell to I space, the UI’s Chicago—based art gallery. Over the years, I space has played host to exhibitions of artists in various stages of their careers—from UI alumni and other world—renowned artists to current students in the College of Fine and Applied Arts. Though the gallery’s closing is a sad event, it also provides an opportunity to look at its positive role through the years.

I space is located in the heart of Chicago’s River North Gallery district, an art mecca renowned for its numerous gallery venues. Since its inception in 1992, I space has acted as a UI satellite in this area, linking students and faculty with Chicago’s famed arts community.

According to director Mary Antonakos, about 50 percent of the work featured in the gallery is directly connected to the University (i.e. student and alumni shows). The other 50 percent consists of pieces by visiting artists at the UI or proposals from campus committees within the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

The gallery played a particularly important role for graduating seniors with majors like graphic and industrial design, who had the opportunity to show their work in a professional setting before leaving the University. For young designers going into the art community, Antonakos said, this is a perfect time to exhibit their work.

“The experience of putting on an exhibit in a professional environment, dealing with installing lighting, making labels—these are the different steps artists have to take to show work professionally, so it’s like an initiation into the professional community,” explained Antonakos.

In addition to student shows, the gallery also hosts between 15 and 16 exhibitions and projects per year. The exhibitions range from solo painting shows to large installations to interactive displays.

In I space’s current exhibit, “Made in China”, UI architecture professors Erik Hemingway and Allison Warren use video monitors, disassembled bicycles and research from their visits to the country to explore the meaning of this omnipresent phrase.

Unfortunately, this will be the penultimate exhibit to fill the I space galleries. Its final shows (“The Philosophe’s Tango: Permanence and Flow” and “Architecture of Crisis”) will go up on November 20 and close December 19. According to Antonakos, the gallery’s closing comes from an all-to-familiar culprit these days — the economy.

“The financial crisis hit, and that was kind of the beginning of the end,” she said. “The Provost was looking at the proposal when the worst hit. I’m kind of speechless because there are so many complex reasons why the gallery exists, just on one level. But you have to make difficult decisions in a time like this.”

The gallery’s closing disappointed a number of people, she adds, especially those in Chicago and the River North area in particular. She has hopes for another space that will be able to accommodate the entire college, especially more performance-based pieces, but this idea will have to wait until the financial crisis clears.

“We definitely want to continue to have some presence in Chicago, but what it’s going to be and where, I don’t think anyone knows.”

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