At the Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce, we love to spotlight businesses and organizations doing good work in our community. We recently got to spend some time with Laura Kinter, the Executive Director at Awakenings. Located inside the historic Manz Building at 4001 N Ravenswood Avenue, Awakenings is a multi-media art gallery dedicated to making visible the artistic expression of survivors of sexual violence.

What makes your space different from other art galleries?
As far as we know, there is no art gallery (or space in general) doing what Awakenings does. We exist solely to showcase the art and stories of survivors of sexual violence. The art on our walls, the essays in our literary magazine, and the performances we’ve hosted have no other home. In many cases, art of this nature is turned away for its subject matter. We proudly provide a microphone, a stage, and an empty canvas for any individual who has experienced sexual trauma and wishes to heal.

Aside from operating a gallery, what other kinds of work does Awakenings Foundation do?
We host a wide variety of year-round programming. This includes a literary magazine called Awakened Voices (published twice a year), a monthly open art-making night for survivors called Making Matters, a twice yearly concert series called Songs of Survival, rotating new art exhibits, dance and theater performances, open mic nights and readings, plus a fundraiser every April in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

How long has Awakenings been operating?
Awakenings was founded in 2010 by Jean Cozier, but she has been granting money to survivors since 1998.

Has the gallery always been located in Ravenswood?
Yes! Jean fell in love with the space in 4001 N. Ravenswood as soon as she saw it.

What do you love the most about working in this neighborhood?
I love the Ravenswood community. It means so much to feel at home here (as an employee and a resident!). Not only is every business owner and neighbor friendly and supportive, but everyone here cares about art. The art community in this neighborhood is wonderful to us. We love sharing a building with artists of all kinds, and it’s so nice to be located in an environment that values art.

What are some of the biggest challenges that Awakenings faces?
One challenge we have, as an art gallery, is being on the second floor of a warehouse space. Being on street level with our own storefront would bring in foot traffic we could only dream about. Our way of tackling that challenge has been building a community of survivors and advocates through events and social media. And it’s been working!

However, Awakenings’ biggest challenge is our growth (which is a good problem to have). In the last few years we’ve practically tripled our programming, and our audience and constituency followed. We are a staff of 2.5 (the .5 being our Founder), and have essentially maxed out our time and resources. However, we are growing our board, forming a brand new associate board, and hearing from many interested volunteers in the Ravenswood community. So hopefully these kind helping hands will guide us through our next expansion!

What about your work are you most proud of?
What I am most proud of is also our biggest challenge: our growth. The more we grow, the more events we host, the more followers we have on social media – the more survivors we reach. And that’s our goal. One story I love to share is about an artist who found Awakenings on Facebook. She had been working on a series of 5 paintings about her sexual assault. She felt inspired to finally finish the series, and drove all the way from Canada to donate the paintings to Awakenings on the anniversary of her assault. It was one of the most moving experiences I’ve had since working here, and it’s such a testament to the power of an online community of support.

What projects or exhibitions are on the horizon?
We just finished a live painting series that will culminate in an upcoming exhibit! We awarded the two men who make up Childhood Fractured our grant this year, and together we produced a 6-part live painting series. During each event, painter Allen Vandever would paint and narrate his childhood sexual abuse, while writer Derek Hopkins would transcribe. It was such a powerful series, and now that the paintings are complete, we can plan for the exhibit opening! All 6 paintings will hang on our walls, video footage of the events will be streaming, and we will be selling printed copies of Hopkins’ anthology. We will announce the date shortly – follow us on Facebook to stay tuned!

How will you be participating in this year’s Ravenswood ArtWalk?
This year we will happily display Healing Embodied, a powerful exhibit presented in partnership with Rape Victim Advocates. Eight survivors of sexual assault/abuse collaborated with artist Victoria Herrera to illustrate the story of their healing using body paint. These strong, vulnerable paintings have been photographed by the artist and will include statements by each collaborating survivor. By sharing our stories, we hope to share the long journey to healing after a sexual assault.

And, to entice visitors into the gallery, we will have Cats Against Catcalling! Yes, we mean real cats and kittens 🙂 Grassroots Animal Rescue has been kind enough to bring some of their rescued cats to the gallery for the weekend.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a marine biologist. Seems like that’s going well, eh?

How did you start working for Awakenings?
I interviewed for a part time marketing position about 3 years ago. I had been bartending and dog walking at the time, and was so grateful to find Awakenings. I had been assigned the outrageously ambitious but vague task: “Build us an audience.” I started doing that, and quickly the entire organization began to change around me.

Where’s your favorite place to get a drink in the neighborhood?
Longroom <3 It doesn’t hurt that it’s 1 block away from my apartment.

And finally, what’s your go-to karaoke song?
Bitch by Meredith Brooks 😀

For more on Awakenings, visit, follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

4001 N Ravenswood Ave, Suite 204-C
Chicago, IL 60613
(773) 904-8217

Gene Wagendorf III

Associate Director, Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce | View Bio

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