The works sit displayed in an empty gallery. Paintings were hung on the walls and sculptures set in place more than a month ago. The opening was planned for Friday, the 13th of March, perhaps an omen. That was the day, Gov. J.B. Pritzker began announcing restrictions on gatherings. The art opening at the Carriage House Gallery of the Oak Park Art League (OPAL) was canceled. 

This was a turning point at OPAL when everything began to change. 

“It’s been tough,” said Jill Kramer Goldstein, OPAL’s executive director. “Financially, I think the landscape for nonprofit art organizations is going to look very different in a year, at least in the state of Illinois.”

OPAL typically holds 10 to 12 classes and workshops each week. All were canceled, included the latest session, Spring 2, which is listed optimistically on the OPAL website as beginning May 4. The classes and workshops, primarily for adult artists from beginners through advanced, consist of offerings like Mixed Media Sketchbook, fiber art, drop-in figure drawing, Farmers Market Watercolor Workshop and Expressionist Oil Painting. But on April 23, a new stay-at-home order came from the governor that keeps everyone but essential workers quarantined through May 30. Summer offerings, such as camps for elementary school students, scheduled to start in June, are becoming uncertain now too.

“We are a space that heavily relies on programming that happens in person, and a lot of small group learning in person, and all of a sudden the rug gets pulled out from under you,” said Kramer Goldstein. 

The nonprofit’s revenue stream is sourced by this programming and somewhat by their exhibitions, where a small entry fee is charged to artists. There are also memberships, renewed yearly on a rolling basis. OPAL is receiving renewals.

“We haven’t shut the lights off and put a padlock on the door – it’s just a pause,” Kramer Goldstein said. “We’ve had so many members really step up and make monetary donations, make donations of their time.”  

OPAL is also receiving offers to volunteer when it re-opens and members and teachers are in touch with Kramer Goldstein, making plans for the future. 

The Oak Park Art League was founded 99 years ago. The centennial celebration kick-off announcement has also been affected by COVID-19. Derby Days, held in early May to coincide with the Kentucky Derby, is OPAL’s largest fundraiser. That has been postponed until fall and along with it the centennial celebration, which may not kick off until the end of 2020 with a celebration through 2021. The monetary loss from the missed A Day at the Races is $15,000 to $17,000, the goal set for the May 2 event.

Kramer Goldstein and the OPAL board have been working to fill the shortfall. They applied for the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Plan loan through their bank to cover payroll but were denied in the first round. They are hoping for approval in the second round. 

They have also applied for the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund and are awaiting news.

And, money will be coming in from a previously planned sale of 17 paintings from OPAL’s collection. The works, mostly from the 1920s and 1930s, will be auctioned by Toomey & Co, Oak Park, on May 6.

These paintings, which if sold on the high end of the estimates, could go for as much as a collective $15,500 – Kramer Goldstein’s wish. The funds are slated to go toward programming goals and building maintenance.

The Carriage House, 720 Chicago Ave., will soon be emptied of its Entanglement exhibit as the art is packed up for artists to pick up. The exhibit can be viewed online, however, with a virtual walk through ( The April Artist Member Show has been moved to June and another show, slated for May, is also postponed.

A Meet the Maker Monday series is being brought to light in virtual form. Originally imagined as an in-person event to launch in April, the art league has retooled using technology to bring the event into homes. It begins May 18 with Pamela Penney, an OPAL board member and fiber artist, doing a tour of the E.E. Roberts designed Carriage House that is the home of OPAL and sharing what she has been creating as an artist during shelter in place.

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