This article originally appeared on Creators.
After graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Toshiro Kamihira and Samuel H Goldstein quickly realized how hard it was for a newly graduated art student to make a living off their art. Kamihira and Goldstein found that the mystique of an art gallery as an institution separate from an art store had become a barrier for young artists trying to sell their work. The two graduates decided that some money is better than no money and started their own gallery/shop called TCC Chicago, with a focus on bringing young up-and-coming artists to the area.
The first show they threw was an exhibition called Five Below , sort of a garage sale for artists. They invited friends, colleagues, and teachers to submit work for the show and sell it for $5 or less. They hosted the pop up at a friend's venue over a three-day period. TCC made it a point to take as little money as possible from the artists — a typical gallery splits sales from artwork 50/50, but TCC split their profits with artists 67/33. In a conversation over email, Goldstein tells Creators, "Most people thought we were an official gift store, others thought we were just hacks." They further developed the concept in another $5 or less exhibition that featured work exclusively by artists in Kamihira and Goldstein's graduating BFA class.
The collective continued to host shows in alternative spaces and focus on gathering art from their community and selling it in new and interesting ways. Eventually, in August of 2015, TCC rented out a storefront in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood for an official TCC Gallery Store. The storefront allowed them to build a brand, host bigger events, and expand their reach of influence with each new show. But in a certain sense, legitimizing the operation put TCC at odds with the local DIY community: TCC has a business license and a legal entity that protects its members, and they generally want their shows to be advertised and well attended. "All of us at TCC have history in weird music spaces, apartment galleries, etc., so we try to run the Gallery Store with the same ethos in mind," says Goldstein.
The shows that run at the TCC gallery range from brutal to the banal, with works featured in almost every medium. Goldstein says they typically plan their shows as curators, reaching out to one or two artists they think have resonant work, then helping to choose that work, generate new pieces, and organize ideas. "With such a large space, we like to plan shows that transform and move the space away from a white-cube-gallery and towards something unique for each artist. We also heavily encourage artists who make work that can sell in a store context! We like to pair gallery vibes with those of the coolest corner store bodega."
TCC got rid of the $5 price ceiling pretty early on so they could work with a wider range of artists and sellers. Now, anyone off the street can put on an event if they have the resources. Goldstein said a local bike gang has their annual bike jousting celebration in their basement. A friend's band played their farewell show at the venue and sold tapes and shirts from a merchandise table.
TCC remains devoted to serving their community. Goldstein says they aren't in it for the money but to improve the art and artists in the area, "We've had potlucks, painting and dinner shows, closing brunches, dance parties, peeing on the floor, virtual reality experiences, years-long reunions, and more. We've had the police shut events down, we've leaked gallons of water through the roof, we've built pedestals, stairs, a fake bed and a real garden."
Learn more about TCC Chicago on their website.