On many an evening in North Lawndale, music and laughter can be heard from the Love Blooms Here Plaza, located on the corner of Douglas Boulevard and Central Park Avenue. The plaza is decorated with flowers, pear trees, art installations, and small shipping containers that house one of the neighborhood’s preeminent cultural institutions: the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot.
The Pop-Up Spot was founded by Jonathan Kelley and Chelsea Ridley when the two were graduate students in museum studies at UIC. Inspired by community museums that they had experienced in other communities, Kelley and Ridley wanted to create a space in North Lawndale “for neighborhood residents to research and curate the history, art, issue, and science exhibitions and associated programming.” Initially, the community museum was housed in a brick and mortar building on 16th Street. However, due to an accident, the building was demolished in 2018 and the duo had to pivot.
“We decided we would try something different, something experimental, that would be a little more cost-effective and nimble,” Kelley explained. The idea they came up with was unique and ambitious: to create the first-known community museum in shipping containers. Thus, the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot was born.
In 2021, the Pop-Up Spot “popped” over from its former location at the Spaulding Memorial Garden to its current site at the Love Blooms Here Plaza. The plaza provided new opportunities for programming by providing close access to the Stone Temple Baptist Church (which owns the plot on which the plaza was built) and Douglas Boulevard, a main thoroughfare in the neighborhood. Two of the Pop-Up Spot’s recurring events, “Fridays on the Plaza” and “Sundays on the Boulevard,” reference its iconic location.
“Sundays on the Boulevard” is a particularly beloved tradition, in part because it embodies one of the Pop-Up Spot’s chief successes: its wide-spanning collaborations with the community. The event, which takes place every other Sunday during the summer, regularly features dozens of collaborators who bring community members together “to do arts and crafts, do live music, to eat, dance, learn, and have fun.” A recent Sunday on the Boulevard on August 21 was themed as a “Back to School Lit Fest.” It featured free books from Open Books, backpack and school material handouts, live music by two different bands, ice cream, mosaic making, free seeds and plants, arts activities, and much more.
“Now, during our Afrofuturism Summer, we’re collaborating with a bunch of different organizations to do art exhibits, a book club with the library…all sorts of things,” Kelley explained. “So to me, it’s really been about how we can use this static box as a vehicle for community connection and participation.”
The Pop-Up Spot has a variety of exciting events coming up this fall, including the first ever Chicago Sukkah Design Festival, a collaboration with architecture firms, designers, community organizations, and community residents to build three unique and reusable sukkahs (small booths built for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot) for community-based organizations and to build connections through programs such as an interfaith dinner, movie night, community clean-up, youth learning event, and much more. The final day of the Sukkah Festival—Sunday, October 16—will also coincide with the Open Boulevards Festival, Open House Chicago, and a new exhibit at the Pop-Up Spot in collaboration with the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society.
Lawndale Pop-Up Spot, corner of Douglas and Central Park Blvds. Fridays 4–7pm, Saturdays 2–5pm, Sundays 2–5pm, in addition to regularly scheduled events and programs. lawndalepopupspot.org.