Before Stephanie Keller built up her quaint paper-craft gift shop and gallery space in Lakeview, she was had been working at stationary shop mainstay, Paper Boy and saving up money she’d been scavenging from her years toiling away at DIY art fair booths around the city. She was finally ready to open her very own shop. And in May of 2010, at 2917 1/2 N. Broadway, with the help of local artists and friends, Inkling made its heartfelt debut.
“It was a very scrappy start,” Keller says standing by new chartreuse-accented cabinets a window-display-designer friend just built her. “They all came together for the greater vision of getting the store open, in order to have a place to see their work too.”
Now at her two-year anniversary mark, Keller says she qualifies to apply for Chase/ Living Social’s Mission: Small Business grant, a national grant that seeks to award $250,000 to 12 small businesses. But Inkling still needs 250 votes before she submits. You can log in and support her here.
With the grant money, Keller hopes to host art classes for the community—something she’s been dying to fit into her long six-day-a-week work schedule—and bring in small business experts to give workshops and advice to local artists. She’d also like to beef-up her e-commerce site for her shop, a shop that has been passionately promoting local artists since its start.
At Inkling, among a wall of locally made greeting cards, tables of charming giftables and an array of Chicago-centric accessories—Chicago flag clutches and wallets among them—you’ll find a gallery space dedicated to a monthly rotation of artists.
Keller opened the shop with a small business loan and a massive support system, featuring local artists like Laura Berger, Kevin O'Rourke, Jeremiah Catalano-Reilly, and Meng Yang, among others. At the first Fridays of each month, every showcasing artist gets a gallery party to introduce his or her work—typically a price-point-mix of larger wall pieces, prints and cards.
But Keller does more than offer a month-long residency at Inkling.
Many artists come introducing their work to the growing Lakeview art scene and leave learning the value of creating assorted prints at reasonable prices. They come in, having met Keller at a craft festival or gallery show, and get to see how their work fares in a brick-and-mortar shop. Keller hopes they learn to become more business savvy and branch out more in various media.
“A lot of these artists have realized that in order to make a living with this, you’re going to have to do art fares, sell online, do Fab.com sales, sell to retail establishments, do greeting cards—make useful things at different price points,” she says.
And as the owner of a gallery venue and self-proclaimed cheerleader, Keller wants nothing more than to expand on her dream of elevating local artists. It’s always been her shop’s mission.
“This is what I’m good at,” she said. “I’m good at promoting artists, I understand them through the art fares, I know what it means for someone to pay you on time, someone to give you work and to follow up—for them, this is not just a gallery space.”
This Friday, Inkling is hosting an opening reception for Dan Grzeca June 1st from 6 to 10p.m. For the month of June, Inkling will host Grzeca's silkscreen prints on its gallery walls. His professional portfolio includes gig posters for The Black Keys, The Decemberists, Phish and Iron and Wine.