SHoP closes up at Fenn

By JEFFERY BISHKU-AYKUL
Assistant to the Editor

The Southside Hub of Production (SHoP), located at Fenn House, 5638 S. Woodlawn Ave., closed its doors on Dec. 31 at the space it has leased for more than a year from the adjacent First Unitarian Church.

The three story building, built in the 1910s, has in the past housed classes for the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business and the headquarters for the now defunct Blue Gargoyle, a South Side literacy, tutoring and mentoring program. The space has since Sept. 24 of last year set the stage for ShoP’s myriad concerts, meditation sessions, and potluck dinners.

The path to ShoP was a long and winding one for Laura Schaeffer, a Philadelphia College of Art alum, who spent more than a decade as an artist in Berlin before settling in Chicago. Schaeffer operated two galleries and several creative spaces in Hyde Park before creating SHoP.

Wicker Park’s Can Gallery, Schaeffer’s first, opened in 2000 and closed the next year. The space was located in the front part of the loft she lived in. Despite the proximity of her living quarters to the gallery, Schaeffer was inspired to bridge the gap entirely.

“I started to think what if there were no boundaries between home and gallery,” Schaeffer said. “And would people engage with the work differently if you were the host rather than a gallery?”

In 2006, Schaeffer opened the Home Gallery, a public gallery that doubled as her family’s home. Though the idea of living among art works appealed to Schaeffer, she says she tired of keeping her home tidy for the public and “being on call in my house.”

Home Gallery made way to four successive Hyde Park Op-Shops, creative spaces open to the public in four neighborhood locations between 2009 and 2011. Located on the 1600 block of East 55th Street, the first Op-Shop combined arts and crafts for kids with a rummage sale — hence its name, short for “opportunity shop,” the Australian term retail shops that sell items for charitable organizations.

It was during these years that key elements of SHoP were developed, such as its inclusion of all age groups, focus on sustainability, and holding regular potlucks.
Schaeffer says SHoP “was marrying the Home Gallery with the Op-Shop and then bringing other things like the desire to separate spaces and have a very productive environment.”

The first Op-Shop also facilitated First Unitarian member Cindy Pardo’s introduction to Schaeffer. Pardo, owner of The Fair Trader store located on the same block, would later serve as the liaison for SHoP’s deal to rent space from her church.

“It was a very contentious operation from the beginning,” Pardo said of the decision to lease Fenn House to SHoP. “There were some people who felt that giving the space to SHoP for a below market rate was not the appropriate use of it.”

Though First Unitarian ultimately decided to lease the space to SHoP for a year, its time in the building was eventually extended to the end of 2012. It is unclear exactly where the organization will move or when, but Margaret Huyck said at a Dec. 2 potluck that the organization was eying various properties.

Last Saturday’s SHoP closing party — a combination silent auction, cocktail party and live concert complete with dancing —was the group’s final major event. Though Fenn House will soon stand empty, Schaeffer says she has no plans to leave the area.

Hyde Park “doesn’t have a community center and it doesn’t have an experimental, non-institutional independent arts venue,” Schaeffer said. “So I think this is a good place to stay. I’m committed to the community, I’m committed to the people that I know now and love here, my kids go to school here, and why not?”

j.bishku@hpherald.com