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New artist incubator opening in Humboldt Park

The Honeycomb Network, 2659 W. Division St., will focus on mental awareness: “We want to normalize mental health care and break the cycle that pushes the negative stigma of speaking with a therapist,” said founder Denise Ruiz.

Denise S. Ruiz (from left), Dorian A. Ortega, and Cristina Gutierrez, sit together inside their new creative co-working space in Humboldt Park, the Honeycomb Network. They hope to open in June or July, Thursday.
Denise S. Ruiz (from left), Dorian A. Ortega, and Cristina Gutierrez, sit together inside their new creative co-working space in Humboldt Park, the Honeycomb Network. They hope to open in June or July, Thursday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Creative types with roots in Humboldt Park have launched a co-working space tailored to help launch black and brown artists.

The Honeycomb Network, 2659 W. Division St., offers artists from diverse backgrounds a place to learn and grow.

Denise Ruiz, Honeycomb’s founder, said it will serve as a hub for artists from around the city to collaborate with others while also focusing mental wellness.

“We want to normalize mental health care and break the cycle that pushes the negative stigma of speaking with a therapist,” Ruiz said. “We want to connect those two things by fulfilling our creative and wellness dreams.”

So while the office will also offer many of the same amenities as other co-working spaces — high-speed internet, a kitchen with coffee, offices and meeting rooms — it also will have an in-house bilingual therapist.

Ruiz, a writer, creative consultant and mixed-media artist, said the Honeycomb Network also will be an information hub where people can learn more about their respected practices.

The group will provide business coaching for entrepreneurs, health counseling and cooking workshops. It also will offer classes centered around cultural arts, like Afro-Caribbean dance.

“We are finding ways to reclaim our ancestry and our cultural lineage from something we may have never been taught,” said Ruiz, who is of Puerto Rican descent. “This is why Honeycomb was created, so we can rebuild together.”

It was important for Ruiz to open the space along Paseo Boricua — the focal point of the Chicago Puerto Rican community, along Division Street between Western Avenue and California Avenue. The strip is marked by the two iconic steel sculptures of Puerto Rican flags.

The Honeycomb Network replaces Joe’s Hardware, which for decades was a Division Street staple before closing about two years ago. The store’s longtime owner has an honorary street sign on the corner to remember his community work.

Cristina Gutierrez (from left), Denise S. Ruiz and Dorian A. Ortega inside their new creative co-working space, the Honeycomb Network. They hope to open in June or July.
Cristina Gutierrez (from left), Denise S. Ruiz and Dorian A. Ortega inside their new creative co-working space, the Honeycomb Network. They hope to open in June or July.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“We hoped for a space in Humboldt Park as it has been a huge part of our culture growing up,” said Cristina Gutierrez, Honeycomb’s associate director.

“Us being there is a testament that it’s possible to start a business in our neighborhood and be a space of resistance as we face down gentrification,” she added. “Gentrification is seemingly inevitable but our space standing between the [Puerto Rican] flags is affirmation for what we are doing.”

Programming will focus on people of color, but anyone is welcome to join, Ruiz said.

“Humboldt Park is not only a Puerto Rican community, it’s a black community and a Mexican community too,” Ruiz said. “There are many similarities in all of our cultures but living in a highly segregated city like Chicago has masked those similarities.”

Ruiz said bringing those people of color together at Honeycomb will “cross-pollinate” ideas, leading to more rewarding art.

But their efforts in the art community have been stalled as the city is still battling the threat of COVID-19.

Ruiz planned to open in mid-April, but extended stay-at-home orders and people choosing to work from home drove the business go be online-only, for now.

Honeycomb has brought award-winning poets and wellness practitioners from Puerto Rico to host workshops online and dubbed it the “Virtual Hive.”

“Everything we are offering on the Virtual Hive we planned on offering in our brick-and-mortar store,” Gutierrez said. “Additionally, this is helping us connect and bring folks in from all over the country and expanding the networks of our members.”

Still, the Honeycomb Network isn’t immune to the financial woes common to start-ups, and especially to small businesses during a pandemic.

“This is a real ‘for the community, by the community’ business and we’ve been fortunate to bring in income from our Virtual Hive but it’s not sustainable,” Ruiz said.

So they turned to IFundWomen, a crowdfunding platform for women entrepreneurs. Ruiz hopes to raise $20,000 by June 8.

Donors will receive single-day passes, one-year memberships and other rewards.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.