Tricia Van Eck in front of her idea board at 6018 North. The notes—a work of art in themselves—are by Adelheid Mers with Gibran Villalobos.

After curating more than 70 shows and then stepping down from the Museum of Contemporary Art this past June, Tricia Van Eck expected to work less. Instead, she bought a large, ramshackle house in Edgewater and began overhauling it. When asked about the slightly masochistic decision to leave a major institution and launch her own nonprofit gallery for sound, performance, and installation art—in a structure once destined to be torn down—Van Eck, a native South Sider, laughs. “At the MCA, I was often down in the show welcoming people like a hostess. Since I treated the MCA like a home, it’s kind of a natural progression for me to have a home as an art space.”

Hospitality might be the last word that comes to mind when you think about contemporary art. Yet that concept drives Van Eck’s projects, from exhibits like 2010’s acclaimed Without You I’m Nothing: Art and Its Audience at the MCA, which invited museumgoers to touch, climb, and interact with the displays, to her new space’s DIY, community-based ethos. Designed by the German American architect Arthur F. Woltersdorf and built in 1910, the house at 6018 North Kenmore Avenue is rough-hewn and raw. On a tour, Van Eck points out the large basement that will hold live performances, a seemingly endless number of bedrooms intended for installations and video art screenings, and a backyard ideal for a community garden. The downstairs still has only supporting beams and no walls, but it houses two huge tables Van Eck is already using for monthly art dinners.

And while the work on 6018 North continues, Van Eck has decided, like any great hostess would, to extend her hospitality beyond its doors. In November, she oversees The Happiness Project, a citywide installation by two dozen artists illustrating their view of a more blissful Chicago. The exhibition represents an ambitious public analogue to the dinners Van Eck has been hosting for the art community, in which she asks big questions about the future of art in Chicago. Where does this desire to stimulate conversation come from? Van Eck has a ready answer: “I get bored doing things by myself.”

GO The Happiness Project kicks off Nov. 4 with the surround-sound installation Laughter and Tears at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion. For info and additional venues, visit

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Photograph: Chris Strong; Photo Assistant: Paul Cowan; Hair and Makeup: Rachel Reiman