Sep 17, 2023 - Things to Do

Sidewalk street art studio welcomes visitors to Chicago

GIF of an artist painting on a sidewalk
Nicholas Barron sits in front of his studio on Sheridan Road in Rogers Park. GIF: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

On a weekday afternoon, cars whiz down Sheridan Road from Evanston, past the cemetery and the beautiful rocky view of Lake Michigan. As they make the little curve around Howard Street and enter Rogers Park, an unusual sight greets them.

  • No, it's not a sign. It's a sidewalk art workshop.

Why it matters: Longtime Chicago artist and musician Nicholas Barron's art studio is becoming the unofficial welcome mat for the many visitors and residents traveling to the city from the northern suburbs.

Photo of a man standing in front of his gallery
Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

State of play: Barron set up his gallery at 7759 N. Sheridan Road this year, using the sidewalk in front of the building as his workshop.

What they're saying: "Chicago doesn't have a big street art culture like New Orleans does. I'm going for a New Orleans meets Chicago type thing," Barron tells Axios.

Details: Barron has been painting since 2008, but he spent decades before that performing music with his band Swimmer and other projects around town. Since the pandemic, Barron has traded in the guitar for a full-time paint brush.

  • "Painting is not as immediate as music," Barron tells Axios. "But a lot of people have told me my paintings feel like they're alive."
Nicholas Barron. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

Right before the pandemic, Barron moved to Rogers Park. He quickly asked the landlord about the open spaces in the front of the building.

  • "I moved into this building, and there was a space open right when I needed it. It didn't make sense. It was sort of like divine intervention."

Zoom in: After he took over those spaces, he gradually moved outside.

  • "Last summer, I started to leave the door open every day, and I painted furniture and I left it outside," says Barron. "Then, out of nowhere, I started just selling paintings like crazy, and all sorts of people stopped and came in. People with money started coming in off the street. It just changed my life."

Flashback: Barron is no stranger to street art. Back in the 1988, he founded the Coalition for the Advancement of Street Art.

  • He pushed to protect buskers and street performers from being banned from Chicago's streets and subway stations.

Reality check: Barron is doing way less performing since the pandemic, but he's still sticking to the streets.

  • "I love to paint in the alley. I know everyone in the neighborhood now. I feel like I'm part of this urban energy that I've been dealing with since I was a street musician, which is really exciting."

If you go: Barron's studio is open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 6pm.


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