LOGAN SQUARE — A video game gallery, featuring the work of both local and international video game developers, is slated to open next to The 606's Bloomingdale Trail soon.
After years of doing pop-up exhibits around town, Video Game Art Gallery, or VGA, is taking over an old photography dark room in the Bloomingdale Arts Building at 2418 W. Bloomingdale Ave.
Once it opens to the public 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. August 11, the gallery — billed as the only one of its kind in Chicago — will be open two days a week: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
A past VGA pop-up exhibit with Columbia College. [VGA/Instagram]
It's a dream for co-directors and longtime friends Jonanthan Kinkley and Chaz Evans, video game junkies who met while studying art history at UIC. Back in 2013, the pair founded VGA as a nonprofit, pledging to work nights and weekends on top of full-time jobs to make it a success.
All along, though, the goal was always to open a dedicated gallery space so folks could play video games, appreciate them as an art form and learn about their place in history.
"Globally, there's this common acknowledgement that, 'Wow games are really becoming a really rich, mature and diverse medium,'" said Kinkley, who works full time for the Art Institute of Chicago.
"There deserves to be a place for group conversation, for study, for inquiry, for play. And we wanted to do that for Chicago."
With a dedicated space, VGA will get to do more of what it's been doing for the past three years: Highlight video games and new media projects "of artistic distinction and cultural significance," Kinkley said.
VGA is known for featuring locally-made, little-known games like Dateline: Bronzeville, a depiction of 1940s Bronzeville, from South Side native Phillip Mallory Jones and exploration puzzle game Manifold Garden, as well as the work of video game developers from around the world.
A still from Dateline: Bronzeville, a video game created by Phillip Mallory Jones. [VGA/Instagram]
"We're not a fan of all games. We like to champion great games — games we think are important," Kinkley said.
Evans, who teaches classes at Northwestern University on video game development, new media and coding, is behind the gallery's first exhibit. Beginning August 11, the exhibit will highlight Savior, an experimental video game from Cuba being developed by Josuhe Pagliery and Johann Armenteros.
"With a unique story about metaphysics and deconstruction of the game world, a gothic art style and an existential tone, Savior challenges cultural expectations, as well as formal understanding of games," a news release reads.
A still from Savior. [VGA]
The gallery will host between three to five exhibitions a year, as well as regular talks, screenings and tours.
In addition to playing video games, folks will also be able to buy original video game posters, prints and pick up the nonprofit's peer-reviewed journal — VGAReader — which will highlight the work of video game developers and new media artists.
Over the last few years, Kinkley said he and and his volunteer-run staff, which includes a 25-person board of directors, saw great success selling posters, throwing annual events and hosting programming, so an expansion seemed inevitable.
"The budget's been doubling every year," he said.
When it's not open to the public, the gallery will be available to rent through Airbnb and other private rental sites.
Kinkley is also planning on launching an online crowd funding campaign in the coming days to help pay for needed equipment and materials for the gallery like game consoles, tech gear and art fabrication.
"It's really a pivotal moment," Kinkley said.
A rendering of VGA's new gallery, which opens August 11. [Courtesy/Ohn Ho]
"We noticed right away that we struck a nerve that was much larger than ourselves. The time was right for this type of space. We're excited to be at the helm."