The history of Pilsen’s Cobalt Studio can be traced in the constellation of cracks and stains that cover its concrete floor. It bears the footprints of punk shows past and indelible splatters of blood, sweat, and beer. Its fractures and oil spots also recall the space’s original function as a used tire store. Paint smears joined this colorful medley in 2010, when artist Antonio Martinez and his former studio-mate Adriana Baltazar converted the space into an art gallery. Martinez, who works as both a full-time painter and a full-time plumber, named the space after cobalt-based blue pigments, an affectionate salute to his blue-collar roots.

The gallery takes a decidedly inclusive approach to its exhibitions. It has showcased the work of established artists from all over the world, up-and-coming artists based in Pilsen, and young artists from ElevArte Community Studio (formerly Pros Arts) and Benito Juarez High School. It is also a hub of community activism, hosting events for organizations like Projecto Latina, a group of Latina poets and authors, and the Chicago Community Darkroom, a business that aims to provide affordable access to film-photography equipment and facilities.

Cobalt Studio’s location often inspires its exhibits and events. It has celebrated Pilsen’s Mexican community with arts-and-crafts events during the Dia de los Muertos season in the fall, and has hosted a series of lectures and workshops about the medicinal properties of wild plants that grow in the neighborhood.

Remaining true to both the enterprising spirit and DIY ethos of the space’s forebears, Martinez personally finances the bulk of the gallery’s expenses, while community contributions and commissions on art sales cover the rest. “Cobalt is a place for artists, poets, musicians, craftsmen, misfits and creatives,” says Martinez. Cobalt Studio, 1950 W. 21st St.

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