A Joliet art gallery has been ordered to vacate its space on North Chicago Street in the Rialto Square complex.
Gallery Seven, which has occupied the space at 116 North Chicago Street since 2009 has until December 11 to move according to gallery owner Richard Ainsworth in a press release.
The gallery has operated at the site rent-free for the past 8 years and had previously occupied another space within the Rialto Complex at 7 Van Buren Street.
According to the statement Ainsworth was not aware that an eviction notification was coming.
That's not true according to Rialto Board president Bob Filotto who said that board members spoke to Ainsworth before the formal notice was given and also gave the gallery the option of paying rent to stay in the space.
"We did speak with them," said Filotto who was appointed to the board in January and serves as its president, "We didn't just send them a letter and evict them."
Filotto said that the agreement for the gallery to reside in the space rent-free preceded his and the current board's tenure.
"My understanding was if we ever found someone willing to pay rent that they
would be willing to relocate," he said.
"We're just trying to generate some cash flow for the theater."
Ainsworth said this week that the eviction notification was a surprise despite discussing the possibility of paying rent with the board over the summer.
"Earlier in the summer they asked what we could afford to pay," he said noting that one estimate showed that the space could fetch as much as $14 per square foot for rent or about $12,000 per month. That figure was beyond what a community art gallery run by volunteers could afford said Ainsworth.
The gallery volunteers, he said, pay for utilities at the site, and helped to rehab the space, which he said was in disrepair before the gallery took up residence there.
"I thought they appreciated what we did by keeping the lights on and
cleaning up the place and making it a showcase," said Ainsworth who said when they took over the space it was piled with junk and was being used for storage.
“I believed that the conversation he had in the summer with the theater's board was the "beginning of a dialogue."
"I had no idea it was going to be the end," he said.
The gallery provides exhibition space for local artists to display their work on consignment and "curates and hosts open and juried exhibits featuring local artists."
In addition, the gallery has been the site of fundraisers for local non-profits including Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and has donated art to local charities.
In recent years, the gallery volunteers have contributed to the upkeep of the building with the donation of labor and funds to make infrastructure repairs.
Currently, he said that the group was working to find a new home either in Joliet or a nearby community.