“People are always asking me if I chose art as my cause because I am a maker. I tell them, ‘I don’t make things, I make things happen,’” says Lisa Degliantoni, smiling the huge smile and laughing the deep laugh that Evanston has come to know so well.
As the woman who launched Evanston Made, Degliantoni is perhaps the most recognizable arts dynamo in the Evanston community. Degliantoni moved here with her husband—artist Dave Ford—and their two children seven years ago.
Perched on a folding chair in the sunny gallery at her family’s Evanston storefront, she is telling tales: There’s the story of how she and Dave left careers in New York City and Texas (Lisa in media—managing editor at Psychology Today, Mother Earth News and Spy magazine, and Dave a sculptor and art handler), to work in and support the arts on the North Shore. There’s the story of how Evanston Made was born as a simple artist-studio tour five years ago. And there’s the story of how Evanston Made just evolved into a nonprofit to fund visual artists, and create more art events.
“When we first came here and I was asked to be on the Evanston Arts Council, I was so excited to be part of a group to fund and promote Evanston art,” says Degliantoni. “I’d heard that Evanston had more artists per capita than any other city in North America, and I was like, “Omigod! Where are they all?” I couldn’t wait to meet them on a studio tour. But when I asked about the tour, I was told there wasn’t one. I was shocked! So the first order of business for me was to set about making sure we had one.”
Degliantoni put that first tour together in 2013, starting with 20 participants. The self-guided tour gave the public a glimpse into the world of Evanston creatives—a chance to meet them, mingle with the arts community, and purchase locally-made art. In the years since, the tour has grown to include 65 studios, and Evanston Made has expanded to include community art projects, a kids art component, and the Evanston Made Group Show, which has become the best-attended event at the Evanston Art Center and now includes a month-long pop-up shop.
Stumble and Relish—a shop featuring handmade and vintage goods, created a now-well-recognized logo for the group. And most recently, Evanston Made artists launched a new First Saturdays initiative—a monthly mini version of the annual studio tour.
“We now have more than 200 artists participating, and it keeps growing. Evanston Made has finally become a recognized entity, one that Evanston has embraced and wants to support and grow into a sustainable presence,” she explains.
With that in mind, Evanston Made just restructured to become a membership-based 501(c)(3) with a board of directors and new plans for community engagement. “Our hope and dream is to be a funding organization for visual artists who need help to kick start their projects or careers,” says Degliantoni.
Monies from memberships in Evanston Made will help provide grants to visual artists, as well as funding Evanston Made events. Eventually, as the organization grows, the plan is to broaden support to include funding for all Evanston arts—dance, music, and drama. “But for now, we are focusing on visual arts,” notes Degliantoni.
“For most of the arts, a physical platform exists—dancers, musicians, and actors perform on a stage. But so often, visual artists work in silos. For them, there is no physical platform on which to congregate. Evanston Made seeks to give them that platform,” she says.
As the organization grows into its nonprofit identity, Evanston Made is redesigning its website to offer richer, deeper content. It’s adding a more sophisticated arts calendar and will add more curated art exhibits and community art projects.
“The website will also have a marketplace online store where artists can sell their work, and artist profile pages to help artists increase their online presence,” says Degliantoni.
“Evanston is very supportive of its own. People are turfy, but in a really cool way,” Degliantoni sums. “You know, when I started with this, I didn’t set out to be the executive director of a nonprofit organization. I set out to have an art party. Like all good parties, it’s lasted a long time, and it keeps growing.”
To learn more about membership and upcoming events, visit evanstonmade.org.