Student Stories

Kitchen Sink: An Artist's Dream

On Wednesday evenings on the second floor of the Logan Center, every starving artist’s dream comes true. Students can satiate their deepest artistic cravings using the oil paints, watercolors, and acrylics piled in the open air space, courtesy of a new arts organization, Kitchen Sink.

“It is just a nice space to do visual arts things and have supplies, which can get really expensive,” said second-year Juliet Eldred, a Kitchen Sink frequenter. “It’s nice to have a space with these resources in a less conceptual and academic environment and more just, I am just going to draw a sailboat.”

Second years Angela Lin, Carrie Volpert, and Amanda Lee are the founders of Kitchen Sink. It all started one day last spring when Lin and Volpert walked through Wicker Park on a mission to get their cartilages pierced, reminiscing about how art had been a big part of their pre-college lives. This trip left them with both piercings and a resolve to create an open art space here at UChicago.

Plan A was to rent a building on 57th Street and have it serve as a 24/7 art space. “Initially we wanted [Kitchen Sink] to encompass everything, all sorts of experimental art concepts,” said Lin.

It was exactly this spirit that led to the name “Kitchen Sink.”

“It was meant to represent this all-encompassing space. “You know the phrase, ‘everything but the kitchen sink?’” laughed Lin, explaining a possible origin of a burglar leaving behind only the sink. The name stuck.

The three friends then put in an RSO application. Though it was not approved, they credit this process for pushing Kitchen Sink past the hypotheticals.

“The process of getting in touch with our advisor [Laura Letinsky] forced us to nail down something specific. Because we realized we can’t present this woman with some wild art fantasy,” said Volpert, “We definitely had a lesson in practicality, shaving it down from the initial idea.”

When the RSO route did not work, the three decided to make it happen on their own. Lin had the supplies brought over in bulk from China via relatives and friends. As for how much she spent, Lin remarked dryly, “I could pull up the receipt but I kind of don’t want to look at it.”

Lin’s donation was crucial to getting Kitchen Sink off the ground. With supplies in hand, they approached the Logan Center in search of a space to host their events. Kate Barutha, the University Arts Engagement Coordinator, described the board’s initial hesitation: “A painting club seemed like it could be messy, it could be all over the place, there are lots of needs.”

However, once the Logan staff sat with the group face-to-face, they recognized the zeal and dedication of the team. They decided that Kitchen Sink was offering a highly demanded service that was deeply aligned with the mission of Logan.

On any given Wednesday, dozens of students sprawl across the second floor, chatting away while they hack at their creations. Zachary Williams, a professional artist and RH of Chamberlin House, comes by and creates his own work, occasionally giving students pointers on their pieces.

Barutha especially enjoys seeing the second floor of Logan being used in this organic and lively way, “This building is packed with people…looking at art and talking together. To see that students are sitting down in every corner and they are painting the donut that they are about to eat, it is really exciting to see the space activated in that way.”

Art spaces can often be intimidating to those who can’t tell a filbert from a bright (these are types of brushes, btw), but Kitchen Sink attracts people at all different levels. Anyone is welcome to give their artistic impulses free rein.  

“It is really welcoming and open…I’ve seen some people who are very talented doing these intricate pot projects they have been working on for a while and I have also seen people who really have never studied or tried it out with a little idea for their apartment or a gift for their parents,” said second-year Lucia Ahrensdorf. Ahrensdorf’s first creation was a painting of her friend Angela’s face on the body of an ant. She calls it as “Antgela.”

Another attendee, second-year Panya Gupta, hasn’t taken an art class since middle school and says she would have gone for four years never laying a hand on a paintbrush if it weren’t for Kitchen Sink. In fact, serving the needs of students like Gupta has become Kitchen Sink’s niche in the campus art scene.

“I think we are trying to create more people interested in art, while [other arts organizations] are strengthening the people who are already interested in art,” said Lin. Other large arts organizations on campus include Outside the Lines, which hosts weekly figure drawing sessions among other events, and FOTA, which plans events and exhibitions to promote student art.

With its unique role on campus defined, Kitchen Sink secured funding this past winter from the Uncommon Fund, a pool of money allocated by Student Government to support student initiatives. A Kitchen Sinker told the leaders about the fund the day the application was due, so Lin ran home and filled out the form. They were awarded “something random like $800.13. There were a couple pennies in there,” laughed Volpert.

Once the Uncommon Fund money runs out, the Logan Center will happily jump in to support the group. “We have asked them, ‘give us a budget, you guys have been amazing. Tell us what you need,’” said Barutha. Since the success of Kitchen Sink, the Logan Center staff has become even more intent on supporting other student art initiatives with an eye out for those that bridge together departments and different areas of campus.

As they gain more support, Kitchen Sink plans to increase the number of excursions they sponsor. On April 23rd, they hosted “Kitchen Sink at the Art Institute,” during which the Logan Center provided buses from Reynolds Club to the museum. Students could pick up sketchbooks and pencils at the Kitchen Sink table and draw what came to their minds as they wandered the exhibits.

That said, Kitchen Sink is still very rooted in the Logan Center space. This space has been crucial to many other new and growing arts initiatives as well. Professor Laura Letinsky has been in the DOVA department for 21 years and, having experienced the move into the Logan Center three years ago, describes how the center has changed its corner of campus from “the never-reaches of the University of Chicago” to the lively space it is now.

She also explained that Kitchen Sink is part of an overall growth in arts resources and student enthusiasm, the two going together in a chicken-and-egg way. “There has been much more interest–it has sort of exploded–because the building allows for that. We also have more equipment, we have more funds, there is more support from the arts council. There is more faculty, there are more students. Across the gamut, there is more!”