Wicker Park arts spaces TriTriangle and No Nation face the ax

On Saturday, October 22, Wicker Park experimental arts space TriTriangle hosts a tenth-anniversary show featuring Chicago electronicist Rush Falknor, local free-jazz and new-music multi-instrumentalist Kyle Gregory Price, and media and performance artist Ryan Dunn, among others. Dunn lives at TriTriangle with his family and curates its performances, but the future of the space is in doubt—ironically because an organization working to keep artists in Wicker Park might buy the building and evict TriTriangle.

TriTriangle opened in 2012 on the third floor of the Lubinski Furniture building at 1550 N. Milwaukee, in the space that formerly housed Enemy. The building has incubated unconventional arts spaces since the 1980s, including Cinema Borealis, Buddy, and Heaven Gallery, founded by David Dobie in the nearby Flat Iron building in 1997 and moved to the second floor of the Lubinski building in 2000. Dobie’s wife, Alma Wieser, is the current director of Heaven Gallery and the founder of Equity Arts, which hopes to buy the building—her long-term plan is to transform it into a community-centric arts hub that supports BIPOC artists and enterprises. 

But TriTriangle doesn’t have a place in this plan. No Nation, a nontraditional arts space that occupies parts of the second and fourth floors of the Lubinski building, has only been offered a role it doesn’t want.

Audio artist Jeff Kolar performs at the opening night of TriTriangle on October 20, 2012. Credit: Ryan Dunn

In late 2019, when the building had just hit the market and the group that would become Equity Arts was still taking shape, Wieser estimated that the purchase and subsequent renovations would cost at least $20 million. A sale still seems distant, but if it happens, the building will be placed in a perpetual purpose trust to ensure that it will remain a community arts asset, protected from any future sale.

If everything pans out, Equity Arts (as the building will likewise be named) will host art studios and organizations in its upstairs lofts. In keeping with the model Wieser has established at Heaven—she opened a small vintage store within the gallery that helps fund it—the ground floor will be filled by two anchor businesses and an incubator for retail entrepreneurs. In May, NewCity reported that Ed Marszewski (founder of Buddy, Lumpen magazine, and the Public Media Institute) and Silver Room owner Eric Williams (a member of the Equity Arts board of directors) have signed letters of intent indicating they’ll operate satellites of Buddy and the Silver Room as the anchor businesses. 

“This is about redeveloping the building to be spaces for arts organizations that are open to the public,” Wieser says. That aspect of the plan—that the spaces be open to the public—presents extra complications for TriTriangle and No Nation, because the people who run them also live in them. And it’s not the only thing Equity Arts wants that they don’t.

Dunn moved into Enemy shortly before it closed in 2012, and he says that at the time he tried to foster community among the tenants in the building—they included Cinema Borealis (which has since moved), Heaven, and exhibit space and online publication LVL3. “I met a lot of resistance immediately with that,” he says. Dunn claims he’s met a lot of resistance specifically from Wieser, in regards to TriTriangle’s current operations and its place in the building. 

“There have been really unfortunate arguments,” he says. “Me being accosted, yelled at, by her, being really dismissed as a venue, as a space that exists. As you can tell from the Equity Arts project website, she doesn’t even include us in the history. She doesn’t include Enemy in the history; she doesn’t include No Nation in the history. There are plenty of other spaces that are not included there. But for her to erase the people who are currently here, who have been here for a decade—I don’t really know how she feels justified in doing that.”

No Nation has occupied space in the Lubinski building since its launch in 2010, and Wieser says she invited cofounder William Amaya Torres to be involved in Equity Arts. “They came to some of our early community development meetings, and they were a part of some of our BIPOC arts leaders committee,” she recalls. “They came to one of our meetings and said they didn’t want anything to do with the project, because they said that this is their home and they would be displaced from living here.” 

Torres and No Nation programmer Aza Greenlee, who both live in the space, say they first heard about Equity Arts just before the pandemic. They claim they crashed a meeting about the project, then still known as Community Arts Wicker Park, and only afterward received any sort of invitation to get involved. “They did offer to include us, but nothing that they were proposing, or about, had any appeal to me personally,” says Greenlee. “And actually it has a direct contradiction to who we are as a space and what we thought that our home is or could be.”

The doorway that leads upstairs to TriTriangle and No Nation Credit: J.R. Nelson

The consumer-oriented aspects of the Equity Arts vision make it a poor fit with the extremely niche experimental music and art hosted at TriTriangle or No Nation. Wieser also doesn’t want artists occupying their spaces. “It’s a different project, because housing is one thing, and we’re really trying to make sure that we have the maximum impact,” she says. 

“I’ve been working on this project for five years to save this building, and we have partner arts organizations that have now signed LOIs [letters of intent] that are almost all by POC,” Wieser says. “When we think about impact and the legacy of the building, it’s more impactful that we actually take this opportunity to make something bigger than ourselves, that we would have something that’s preserving the commons.”

Not everyone currently in the building agrees on Wieser’s definition of “the commons,” though. Torres recalls an Equity Arts meeting where Wieser suggested artists could collaborate with nearby businesses. “That’s not at all what we’re about,” they say. “This is an arts space for experimental stuff. If people want to make businesses, they can make their own business, but that’s different than the cultural production, art-making experimentations.” 

Wieser has offered No Nation’s organizers the opportunity to present in one of the upstairs lofts, provided they move out. But further meetings confirmed their bad early impressions. “I don’t want to do anything with a project that says it’s going to make the art but is trying to front the artists to get deals with the brands who are around,” Torres says. “So I told Alma, ‘We don’t want to be included in this.’” 

Wieser confirms that she didn’t include TriTriangle in the Equity Arts, citing her rocky history with Dunn. “When I did live here, Ryan was very disrespectful of me,” she says. “He’s been very disrespectful to my staff.” Wieser also claims she’s seen Dunn be violent to people—when pressed for an example, she says he kicked a plumber out of the building and threw a toolbox at him. Dunn responds that the plumber became “inexplicably aggressive” with him, and adds that Wieser didn’t witness the incident. “I demanded he leave because of his behavior, but I absolutely did not throw anything at him or anything of the sort,” he says.

Wieser also says Dunn bullied two former roommates out of the TriTriangle space. One of the former roommates in question, noise artist and Enemy founder Jason Soliday, denies this claim. 

“I am not trying to displace anyone,” Wieser says. “I want impactful programming to be happening through this building. I feel like that is the most important thing to us. I almost feel like with all of the labor that I’ve done for the past five years, I should be able to decide what I want to develop.” 

“The Equity Arts project, the boss of it all would be Alma,” Torres says. “We really value our independence. We don’t want to be working under Alma, on her space and under the Equity Arts thing. It doesn’t really represent, at all, what we do.”

Dunn and Torres have reached out to First Ward alderperson Daniel La Spata about their issues with Equity Arts. They don’t believe that an organization devoted to the health and longevity of the Wicker Park arts scene should begin by displacing artists. Torres says La Spata empathizes with No Nation, and corroborated this with a screenshot of a text message allegedly from the alderperson. La Spata did not reply to a request for comment by publication time.

TriTriangle Ttten YyyearsFeaturing xTAL fSCK, Rush Falknor, Kyle Gregory Price, Eric Leonardson, Nathanael Jones (“Études for Synthesizer”), Mirovaya Liniya (aka Gerald Donald and Julia Pello), and Ryan Dunn. 8 PM (doors at 4 PM), TriTriangle, 1550 N. Milwaukee, third floor, free, all ages

If Equity Arts does buy the building, TriTriangle will be out, including Dunn, his partner, and their seven-year-old child. “For us to lose a space that we’ve been able to operate in, like this, is a major blow, not only to us personally but to Chicago,” Dunn says. “DIY spaces come and go, and there are just not that many places that are able to maintain critical approaches to sound, because sound does have the potential to bother people. It does have a politics of its own that can cause conflict. But it can also be used to put voice to conflicts, and to social ills that are otherwise difficult to put voice to.”

The bill at Saturday’s tenth-anniversary TriTriangle concert also includes Soliday (as part of his duo with Jon Satrom, xTAL fSCK) and another former resident of the space, sound artist Eric Leonardson. The celebration begins with a social hour at 4 PM, and performances start at 8 PM. Like all TriTriangle events, it’s free and all ages, but the space will accept donations.

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