Nature and landscaper photographer Crystal Malave (left) and Iraida Montijo in the lobby at the Karcher Artspace Lofts in Waukegan. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 13, 2013 2:23AM
Cassandra Ellwing arrived home earlier this spring to a welcome that was unexpected but not surprising.
“I came in from work one night to hear a five-part a capella version of ‘Rolling in the Deep’ by Adele,” Ellwing said.
“It was a great way to come home.”
Home in this case was the Karcher Artspace Lofts, the result of a $14.6 million effort to take an empty building haunted by its past and transform it into a 36-unit beehive of artistic expression.
“We now have visual artists, musicians, actors, photographers, a jewelry maker and a furniture maker, to name just a few, who are living in our downtown,” said Jane Waller, chair of the Waukegan Cultural Arts Steering Committee, in announcing to the City Council last month that all of the apartments in the nine-story building have been spoken for.
“The Karcher is now alive with artists, and creativity is in the air,” Waller added.
“I think this is huge for Waukegan — an old historic building at the gateway to our downtown district has been repurposed and refurbished. It is now home to young, creative, vibrant people who are part of our growing art district.”
The process of filling the Karcher involved more than just the five years of fund-raising and 12 months of construction.
Applicants for live/work units not only had to meet area-median income requirements, but they had to declare an art form and audition for Artspace officials in Minnesota, often via Skype.
As Waller told the council, variety is the spice in the pool of residents. Ellwing, a Mundelein native who serves as company stage manager at the nearby Clockwise Theatre, applied as a theater artist and singer.
The roster also includes Benito Gomez Jr., 24, a musician from Waukegan; Jillian Chapman, 28, a fine arts photographer from Lake Forest; Eric Joseph, 35, a videographer from Chicago; Crystal M. Malave Roldan, 21, a landscape and nature photographer from Puerto Rico; and Nicole Romany, a culinary artist from Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Waukegan native Ivy Ford, a musician and fine artist, said that mix has made for a village within the renovated 85-year-old building.
“I would say the best way to describe it is that from the start, there was this sense of community,” she said.
“From the first day, each resident makes everyone else feel welcome, and the whole concept is very compatible and enabling for us to do our art.”
Ford added that she brought two pianos into the Karcher — one for her third-floor apartment and a “community piano” parked in basement area.
“We get together to jam and hang out. Everyone really seems to be able to utilize each other’s talent to make it an enjoyable place to live,” Ford said. Asked how long she can see herself living at the Karcher, Ford added that “I joke that I’ll get some satellite homes to live in, but this will always be my home base.”