Eight years ago, Jessica Juarez, a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, was dissatisfied with the art shows she attended. Not because she saw a lack of talent, but because she thought there was talent out there that was being ignored. After visiting many different shows throughout the city, she came to two realizations: First, the majority of artists showing pieces were male, and second, the same people seemed to be frequenting all the shows.
Along with a friend of hers at the Art Institute, she started the group now known as the Venus Collective: an all-female association of Chicago artists that hosts exhibitions at venues in many different neighborhoods of Chicago to raise money for women’s charity organizations.
Kristen Atkinson, a show organizer, described the Collective’s first art show: “Targeted to a particular crowd, [Juarez] wanted to open the art scene up [to people] who might not frequent the traditional gallery show.”
As the Collective grew, Atkinson said it kept to its goal of expanding and diversifying the Chicago art community. “For a number of years after that, [the Venus Collective] just focused on having one annual art show, showcasing local women artists, people who are into the art scene,” she said. “Every year the name would change and the neighborhood would change, and the idea was to reach out to different people and different communities.”
Although the members of the Venus Collective consider it a feminist organization, that label doesn’t in any way restrict the content of the artists’ pieces. Rather, they are trying to foster a supportive environment in which women can feel free to show their art in a safe and accepting atmosphere.
One of the artists, Karolina Faber, doesn’t even consider herself a feminist. “A lot of my works have to do with femininity, but they’re very subconscious choices. Feminist art is not the style of art that appeals to me the most,” she said. “My pieces are feminine, but I wouldn’t consider myself a feminist, but that my art is feminist—maybe a little bit.”
On October 9, the Collective gathered on Cermak Avenue for Just Be: Soul Revival 2010, this year’s incarnation of their annual art exhibition. The event featured visual and performance art, as well as several musical performances.
For Elizabeth Rodriguez of Lelièvre Design freelance studio, Venus provided the perfect setting in which to display her art for the first time.
“The Venus Collective is sensitive to artists’ needs, while also [being] very professional. The event was an open space to be who you are and take your inspiration and your talent and let it be,” she said. “I wanted my first time to show my work to be for a good cause.”
Atkinson described the event as something akin to a religious experience. “It was a warm and inviting vibe; the energy was high that night,” she said. “I feel like with art there’s this observational wall: you’re just a bystander to it, but this show stood out because it brought people into it and engaged them. You were a part of it.”
All the proceeds from this event went to Rape Victims Advocates, an independent non-profit in Chicago that provides services to victims of sexual assault.
The Venus Collective is about more than art. It’s also about caring for others and bringing attention to social issues. As Faber pointed out: “The show wasn’t just about art: It was also about community and awareness of women’s safety.”