For one month, the Op Shop fills vacant storefronts with art

The Op Shop “is an idea to activate otherwise vacant spaces through art to improve the quality of life for the community now,” said Laura Shaeffer, the Op Shop’s head operator.

By Stacey Kirkpatrick

Located on the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park, the Opportunity Shop turns an empty storefront into temporary art space, garden shop, thrift store,and anything else its creators want to be.

Better known as the Op Shop, it “is an idea to activate otherwise vacant spaces through art to improve the quality of life for the community now,” said Laura Shaeffer, the Op Shop’s head operator.

Inside, one spacious room houses a variety of items for sale and exchange. Art installations fill the back half of the building and, after a bit of rearranging, the open space is also used for live music performances. The University, which owns the space, is permitting the Op Shop to occupy the building that wasformerly a Blockbusterfor a month; the shop closes May 1.

This Op Shop is the second in Hyde Park, and another will likely pop up in a different vacant store in the future, according to Shaeffer, who is looking around. The last Op Shop was on 55th Street and Cornell at a space owned by Mac Apartments for December.

“We adapt ourselves to the space, the context, and the lessons we have learned with previous Op Shop experiences, as well as ideas that have developed from past incarnations,” Shaeffer said.

This version of the Op Shop is more interested in “ad hoc-ism, and we call this ongoing project space ‘Adhocity,’” Shaeffer said. “This one is a raw unfolding project space, reflecting what we believe to be the concerns and needs of the community at this present moment in time.”

Shaeffer describes herself as “a humanistic artist” who creates art “that results in meaningful change and exchange.” “This project is my response to the environment here in Hyde Park,” she said,

The Op Shop features Saturday market days, during which sellers, led by Hyde Park resident and Union Church member Jane Comiskey, put up personal collections for sale. The Church not only sponsors the market days but helped get the Op Shop insured.

Victoria Bills, a high school student in the Lab School, is working with other students from the Lab Schools and Kenwood High School on a mural called, “An Exquisite Corpse.” Inspired by Oulipo poetry, Bills decided each student would take a section of the wall to paint a section of the corpse. Similarly, the mural will be a compilation of different students’ sections of the corpse.

At the Shop’s entrance stands a large calendar board covered in post-it notes promoting upcoming events. Opposite sits a large chalkboard that reads, “General Economy Exquisite Exchange,” the motto of the Gardener’s Exchange, which was created by an artist collective comprised mostly of School of the Art Institute graduates.

Patrick Thornton, one of the artists in charge of the Gardener’s Exchange, described it as not only a place for sales and trade—on Saturday, Thornton traded a bucket of compost material for a basket of biscotti—but also as “an installation art piece.”

In addition to plants, seedlings, and gardening books, there’s also a heaping pile of compost sitting inside the entrance. The compost is collected from restaurant waste and is used to provide nutritious soil for gardening.

The group works “to trade with trust, transparency, and love, as any neighbor would do,” rather than barter, Thornton said.