My relationship with Pivot Arts began in mid-2012 with Fable Festival. What could have been a short and to-the-point meeting with Julieanne about the logistics of hosting an event, spun into an hour-long dialogue about Edgewater’s arts community and resources available and lacking for residents of our wonderful neighborhood. Julieanne’s passion was contagious and sparked a desire within me to have a more active hand in creating space for performing arts. I left the meeting reeling with inspiration and excitement, completely sold on her vision for a new way to do performing arts while supporting local organizations and businesses.
It didn’t take much convincing to get me on board with Fable Festival. The name was enough to grab my attention, and the premise made it even more appealing: an Edgewater based performing arts festival in non-traditional venues. That all of the performances were original takes on classic myths, fairy tales, and fables was just icing on the cake.
My friend Jeff Fox and I have owned Kitchen Sink, a coffee and sandwich shop just east of the Berwyn Red Line station, for three years. We’ve always supported local visual artists by providing space to exhibit and sell work. The cafe has played host to occasional live music in the past, but these performances were few and far between. I had been kicking around the idea of hosting regular events, and Fable Festival came around at just the right time. Our business was about two and a half years old, and running smoothly. I had the time and energy to focus on events, I just needed the confidence to know I could do it successfully.
Julieanne and I decided that Kitchen Sink’s small space was best suited for staged readings, so we had The Sweat Girls read their own versions of Little Red Riding Hood, and Lifeline Theatre‘s emerging writers perform their own takes on fairy tales. The house was packed with many faces we had never seen in our cafe. People ordered sandwiches and lattes, there was a warm and positive energy in the cafe, nothing broke, and it was easily deemed a successful evening.
The immediate impact of the event — brand exposure and increased Friday night revenues — was not the only effect Fable Fest had on my business. In fact, to say it transformed my business would not be too much of a stretch. It absolutely transformed how I view my role in my business and the potential of the cafe to be greater than just a coffee shop. Though my coworkers and friends have always been encouraging, it took the experience of a successful theater performance at Kitchen Sink to feel confident about hosting arts events. It also reminded me of the visceral pleasure I get from hosting community events, and how eager my staff is to help out!
We currently have an events calendar featuring no less than five arts-based events per month. We’ve got an open mic/variety show, artist meet-ups, and a local writers showcase, to name a few. We recently hosted a preview of two local playwrights’ first production, and invited a teen improv group from the suburbs to have their Chicago debut here. Both shows went off without a hitch, and probably would not have happened if we had not experienced Fable Festival.
The concept of using non-traditional spaces as venues to build a support structure between local business and the performing arts community is a simple yet novel idea. I count myself lucky to live in a community so dedicated to supporting its neighbors and believe that Edgewater and Uptown are the perfect place to launch an initiative like Pivot Arts. I am excited to stay involved with Pivot Arts and watch it grow!
Ally Brisbin is the co-owner of Kitchen Sink Cafe, 1107 W. Berwyn Avenue in Chicago.