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Coffee Lab owners open art gallery on Prairie Avenue

Shelves+with+small+easels+and+art+prints+line+the+walls+of+the+new+gallery

Photo courtesy of Daniel Aquino

Shelves full of art prints on easels decorate the space at Prairie Ave Gallery. Operated by the owners of Coffee Lab, the new location opens Saturday.

At Coffee Lab and Roasters, drinks aren’t the only draw. 

After working with the local art community to display the work of Evanston artists during the past two years, Coffee Lab co-owner Daniel Aquino said art is what brought life to the cafe when in-person dining was limited.

Now, the cafe is continuing its partnerships with the arts community by creating the new Prairie Avenue Gallery located at 2601 Prairie Ave. 

Opening Saturday, the gallery will feature local artwork including paintings, greeting cards, art prints and other merchandise. The new location will not sell coffee or made-to-order food, but instead will offer unique snacks and candies. To start, Prairie Ave Gallery will offer ube candies — a nod to Coffee Lab’s well-loved purple ube latte — and small batch-made Turkish delights. 

At the start of the pandemic, Aquino said he and co-owner Jason Kim removed Coffee Lab’s seating, leaving the place bare. He got in touch with the nonprofit arts organization Evanston Made and started a partnership where local artists could display their work at the cafe.

As the partnership grew, Coffee Lab created a schedule for featuring new local artists each month. Closely intertwined with the Evanston arts community, Aquino said the cafe became like a modern art gallery.

“It brought in a lot of locals and a lot of new loyal customers,” Aquino said. “So that’s how it blossomed into another expansion of Coffee Lab, which is this retail art gallery boutique that we have here on Prairie Avenue.”

At Prairie Ave Gallery, Aquino said he aims to celebrate the diversity that exists in Evanston. 

He said he envisions the gallery attracting artists, travelers and locals who are interested in learning about different cultures. 

“That’s something that we’ve been trying to hold true as a mission of Coffee Lab,” Aquino said. “To make a safe space for all people regardless of your sexuality and regardless of your ethnic background.”

Aquino said he also plans to use Prairie Ave Gallery as a venue for Evanston nonprofits to hold their events. The gallery will partner with Evanston Made and Kids Create Change, a nonprofit promoting equitable arts programs in Evanston. Aquino, a board member for Kids Create Change, said much of its programming focuses on youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth. 

Evanston artist Geraldine Martinez-Benz is one of several who will display her work at the new gallery. She said she paints portraits with bold colors and especially enjoys creating art that honors her Filipino heritage. Along with paintings, the gallery will feature notecards, art prints, mugs and tote bags with Martinez-Benz’s designs.

Martinez-Benz said she has been wanting to create merchandise for a while but never got around to it. She considered selling her work online, but then Aquino offered her a place at the Prairie Avenue Gallery.

“To have an opportunity for a physical space for it, it’s really wonderful,” she said. “It’s a huge opportunity for me.”

Another artist featured at the gallery, Shellie Argeanton, said Coffee Lab has made art accessible for local creators because finding display spaces isn’t always easy for artists.

Argeanton said the new gallery is a cozy spot with the sun shining in from Central Street, great for locals, artists and Northwestern students to explore. 

“There’s lots of little items that you could buy as gifts,” Argeanton said. “Maybe something you want to send home because you haven’t been home in a while, or to send your love out into the world and appreciate art and local artists while you do it.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @amccadd

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