When Corry Williams was converting an old West Side church into an art gallery, he noticed a 9-year-old girl named A’mya peeking in the window every day. Now, five years later, A’mya’s artwork is a permanent fixture of his 345 Art Gallery.
Williams says that’s what he wanted the gallery to do — bring people in the neighborhood together, especially children, which he aims to do through classes, community events, murals and field trips.
Over the last five years, Williams has juggled the gallery at 345 N. Kedzie Ave. and collecting with his work as a police officer, which he’s been for more than 20 years. But once he walks inside the gallery, he says, he’s a regular guy, not a cop.
“It’s Corry Williams at the gallery, it’s not Officer Williams,” he says.
Charmaine Gardner, the gallery’s events manager, says Williams’ desire to improve his community through art stems in part from his work as a police officer.
“He sees the community in an unfiltered look, so he knows what the community needs, and he takes on that responsibility humbly,” Gardner says.
Through art, Williams says, kids learn to process their “pain and exposure” to things like drugs and violence.
“Art is letting kids know that, despite the adversity they’re faced with, they still gotta rise,” he says. “Keep climbing. Don’t give up.”
Williams says he wanted to “build a destination” in East Garfield Park. “Sometimes, people say, ‘This is so nice it should be downtown,’ ” Williams says. “No, it should be here, right here, where it’s at.”
The sorts of art displayed and taught in classes at the gallery varies, and the exhibits rotate. The exterior of the building features murals and mosaics.
One mural, by Traz Kozcacuauhtli Juarez, features the Chicago lakefront and skyline.
Another, a collaboration between artist Damon Lamar Reed and kids in an After School Matters program, includes variations of the word “rise” and children standing on a building.
Reed says the murals — another one is planned, though the gallery is closed for now because of the coronavirus shutdown orders — have drawn people to the gallery and sparked conversation about art.
“People who walked by, we would have discussions with them about how the mural was impacting them,” he says. “People would say, ‘I didn’t know there was an art gallery here,’ and it really does a good job of creating a culture.”