By Bob Uphues
While its future as a place of worship remains up in the air, the art gallery known as The Compassion Factory opened its doors at 9210 Broadway Ave. in Brookfield on Jan. 5 for a reception to open the gallery's inaugural exhibition.
The exhibition is something of a coup for an unknown suburban gallery, featuring paintings by Chicago artist Oscar Luis Martinez, an accomplished painter and muralist who has served on the Illinois Arts Council and as president of the Latino Institute of Chicago.
His 1974 murals at the La Casa Cultural Latina at the University of Illinois in Champaign were a campus landmark until 2016, when they were taken down.
The Brookfield gallery's founder, the Rev. Karl Sokol, pastor of the Methodist seed congregation Compassion United Methodist Church, said he hopes the gallery might be the business that serves as a "tipping point" for creating a Brookfield arts district in the Eight Corners area.
"It starts with the belief that everyone can do with more art in their life," Sokol said. "We want to bring art to the immediate community."
He also said that while the gallery "lives out" the mission of his church, he sees the two sides of The Compassion Gallery as complementary, not necessarily intertwined. The gallery is managed by Jessica Tamburello, a Brookfield resident who is not a member of Sokol's congregation but is a friend of Sokol and his wife, Ann.
They have children that are the same age; Karl Sokol is their Cub Scout pack leader at Brook Park School.
"I work on the church," said Sokol. "Jessica works on managing the art gallery. We're working it out as we go along."
Both Karl and Ann Sokol have arts backgrounds, Karl as a painter and Ann as an arts educator. Karl Sokol earned degrees in fine arts and philosophy from Canterbury Christ Church University in England.
In addition to artist exhibitions, The Compassion Factory will offer programs for adults and children. Some upcoming events include adult open studio time starting Jan. 17, a middle school art club starting in February, a free sketch board drop-in workshop and a "play with clay" drop-in class on Jan. 11 and Jan. 13.
The gallery has tapped Brookfield artists Shannon Gosciejew, who specializes in ceramics, and Brittany Hanks, whose work was featured last year at the Brookfield Public Library, to teach classes at the gallery. Tamburello is also working to get printmaker Peter Rengel to teach a class and display his work at the gallery.
Martinez's exhibition will be on display at the gallery through February. The first weekend in March will see the opening reception for the gallery's second exhibition, featuring the art work of local children.
For now walk-in hours at the gallery are Thursdays from 4 to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the first Friday of the month from 7 to 10 p.m.
"We'll constantly be featuring different types of artists," Tamburello said.
In addition, because much of the art work will be hung on walls that are moveable, the gallery space will also be available on a rental basis for events like baby and bridal showers, Tamburello said. Sokol added that he could see the gallery space serving as a performance space for children's theater, as well.
When the weather gets better, Sokol also hopes to install an outdoor sculpture garden in the vacant lot immediately west of the gallery. Perhaps in the future, that area could house an outdoor café, Sokol said.
Between the purchase of the former dry-cleaning business and its complete gut renovation – which includes solar panels on the roof and incorporates other green design elements – Sokol indicated he's spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on The Compassion Factory.
"We didn't go past $1 million yet," he said.
Asked about the risk of hoping an art gallery catches on at Eight Corners, Sokol was philosophical.
"The worst case is it doesn't work in Brookfield and the village is left with a nice building instead of an eyesore," he said, referring to the dry cleaner that preceded the gallery.
The Compassion Gallery's website is still under construction. To reach Tamburello email firstname.lastname@example.org.