After years of considering herself an “enthusiastic viewer” of the works displayed at the Riverside Arts Center, Oak Park resident and artist Claudine Ise was ecstatic when she got the news that she would be named the gallery’s newest director of the Freeark Contemporary Art Gallery this spring. 

From the first time she visited the center a few years ago, Ise hoped to get involved in some capacity with the organization after being amazed at the quality of artwork she observed. 

“Because I work in the arts, I’m familiar with a number of the artists that the Riverside Arts Center has exhibited over the past few years and have attended the openings of their shows here,” Ise said. “I’ve always been struck by the exceptionally high quality of the art in the gallery shows and the variety of different forms that art takes.”

What impressed Ise the most was that while the gallery itself is small, the center has successfully incorporated various works of art in their displays, including abstract paintings, free-standing sculpture, large architectural installations, photographs and videos. 

“The Chicago artist Phyllis Bramson recently described the center as ‘small yet mighty,’ and I couldn’t agree more with her characterization,” she said. 

Ise applied for the center’s position after being approached by Anne Harris, a board member and exhibition committee chair at the Riverside Arts Center. 

In managing the Freeark Gallery, Ise will collaborate with the center’s exhibition committee to plan and implement exhibitions of contemporary art.

“It is truly a dream job for me, because the Riverside Arts Center is made up of a community of people who are absolutely dedicated to the place and its history [and] work incredibly hard but also know how to have fun,” she said. 

Ise brings with her an impressive resume. A native of the Los Angeles area, Ise has a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Pomona College in Claremont, California, and a Ph.D. in film, literature and culture from the University of Southern California. 

Professionally, she has worked in a variety of contemporary art positions, including as assistant curator at UCLA’s Hammer Museum and associate curator of exhibitions at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts. 

After moving to Illinois for her husband’s job in 2008, Ise switched gears to focusing on arts writing and editing, something that allowed her to spend more time with her 2-year-old daughter. 

Since then, she has worked as the blog editor for the PBS television series Art 21 and as a freelance arts writer for the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Magazine. Additionally, Ise is a visiting clinical assistant professor with the University of Illinois at Chicago and School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

In her new role, Ise’s top priority is to spread the word to the Riverside community that the center is a great local resource for learning about contemporary art.

“One thing that surprised me upon starting my job was realizing that many folks in Riverside don’t know that the Riverside Arts Center has a gallery,” Ise said. “Each of our exhibitions is different from the last, but all have something interesting and hopefully thought-provoking to offer.”

To further spread the word, this fall Ise will launch a free and monthly gallery talk series for people in the area to drop by during their lunch breaks and hear talks about the artworks on display and ask questions for meaningful art conversation. 

Riverside Arts Center board member and artist Kim Piotrowski said she looks forward to Ise bringing her talents to Riverside.

“She comes to Riverside Arts Center with an amazing background in contemporary art as a curator, writer and critic,” Piotrowski said. “I know Claudine will bring her expertise, style and ideas to the exhibition program and that she will be nothing short of amazing. 

“Her energy and enthusiasm is contagious and we really look forward to see how she will mold the exhibition program and promote the Riverside Arts Center in the coming years.”

The Freeark Contemporary Art Gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Riverside Arts Center, 32 E. Quincy St.