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Spertus Transforms Gift Shop to Arts Lab

Spertus Transforms Gift Shop to Arts Lab

Spertus Israeli Cohort

From Commerce to Culture

Spertus Institute to transform its gift shop into space for
Jewish arts and culture

Spertus Shop final day June 30 —
Ground Level Arts lab to open September 25

Changes are coming to the lobby of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. The space where the Spertus Shop has been located since the building’s 2007 opening will be transformed into a lab for Jewish art, artists, and the community, scheduled to open September 25, 2016.

To be called the Ground Level Arts Lab, the new 1,600-square-foot programmatic space will feature a semi-permanent display of art, artifacts, and archival materials from Spertus Institute’s impressive collections, focused on important aspects of Judaism and Jewish life. Exploration of the pieces on view will be enhanced by digital audio and video clips, interactive maps, and additional online resources for those interested in learning more. Approximately 50 works will be on display, ranging from a rare seventeenth-century jeweled Torah Shield to the cornerstone of the Chicago Hebrew Institute, the forerunner of today’s JCCs. While works will be shown that reflect the Jewish experience worldwide, a special section will focus on the history of Jewish life in Chicago, an area in which the Spertus collection is particularly rich.

The Ground Level Arts Lab will also house flexible space for small changing exhibits. Continuing the Chicago theme, the first exhibit will feature new works from twelve local Jewish artists. The works were created in conjunction with a year-long initiative called the Midwest Jewish Artists Lab, in which Spertus brought the artists together for conversation, critiques, and community-building. The artists were provided opportunities to study art from the Spertus collections, as well as learn from historians, art scholars, and experts in a range of related fields.

The reasons for the change are several fold. According to Dr. Dean Bell, Spertus Provost and Vice President, members of the community have been requesting a more convenient and consistent way to see highlights from Spertus Institute’s splendid collections. Pieces from the collections have been shown in small changing exhibits throughout the Spertus building — as well as in exhibits in other local, national, and international venues. Some featured works can also be explored online through a website portal at Nonetheless,there is something quite special about viewing the actual items in person, something that scholars, artists, and members of the public will now be able to do on a regular basis.

“Several factors came together at the same time,” said Dr. Bell. “While Spertus Institute has housed a shop selling books and ceremonial items for decades, the nature of retail has changed. It was once difficult to find books of Jewish scholarship or unique ceremonial items. But today, through outlets from Amazon to Etsy, much of what we carry is available online.”

As demand for the Spertus Shop declined, other needs emerged. “Both visitors and staff began eyeing the gem-like first-floor space as a potential exhibit or program space,” Dr. Bell continued. “At around the same time, we experienced growing interest in Jewish arts — both in educational settings and for personal growth and discovery. At Spertus, we view Jewish arts and cultural expression as key components of Jewish learning, identity, and spirituality. This change allows us to showcase Jewish visual arts and provide related resources in a prominent physical space.”

The “lab” in the Ground Level Arts Lab means that the space will be used in conjunction with Spertus programs and arts-related initiatives, such as the Midwest Jewish Artists Lab and Spertus offerings in Jewish Arts Education.

The core exhibit is being curated by Ilana Segal, Spertus Institute Curator of Collections. Ms. Segal said, “I look forward to sharing some of the precious and unique objects from our collections, as well as recent research about them. I also see the Ground Level Arts Lab as the next step in our work to foster a flourishing community of Jewish artists in Chicago."

Preserving the material culture of the Jewish people is essential to the mission of Spertus Institute. The Spertus collection comprises roughly 15,000 objects. It includes a diverse range of Jewish religious objects from around the world, as well as fine art, rare books, maps, and historical artifacts that have shaped and given expression to the Jewish experience. Items from the collection have long been incorporated into exhibits — large and small, in Chicago and around the world — and have been studied by historians, students, and artists. This will be the first time in several years that works will be on regular view for both researchers and members of the public. “We are very proud and excited about the Ground Floor Arts Lab,” said Dr. Hal M. Lewis, Spertus President and CEO. “Anytime we can respond to changing needs in the Jewish world, we are doing our job.”

The Spertus Shop will close Thursday, June 30. Beginning May 22, all merchandise will be 75% off. The Spertus Shop is open Thursdays 10 am - 6 pm, Fridays 10 am - 3 pm, and Sundays 10 am - 5 pm. The sale is onsite only (not online). All sales are final. 

Spertus members, for whom a Spertus Shop discount was among their benefits, will continue to receive discounts to programming and additional special offers throughout year.

Please contact Spertus Institute Vice President of External Relations Ellen Hattenbach at or 312.322.1262 with any questions.


Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership offers dynamic learning opportunities, rooted in Jewish wisdom and culture and open to all. Graduate programs and workshops train future leaders and engage individuals in exploration of Jewish life. Public programs — including films, speakers, seminars, exhibits, and concerts — take place at the Institute's Michigan Avenue facility, in the Chicago suburbs, and online.

Spertus Institute is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.

Exhibits at Spertus Institute are supported in part by the Harry and Sadie Lasky Foundation. | The Midwest Jewish Artists Lab is generously supported by a grant from the Covenant Foundation. | Online access to Spertus Institute’s collection is made possible with generous support from the Spitz Foundation.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Pictured left: The gem-like first-floor space in the Spertus Institute lobby that will be transformed from a gift shop to a location for Jewish arts and culture. Photo by Dave Burk.

Adler Seder Plate1914 seder plate by Friedrich Adler that will be among the pieces on display.


Yiddish TypewriterYiddish typewriter used by journalist Morris Indritz that will be among the pieces of Chicago Jewish history on display. MORE ABOUT THIS PIECE>


Logan Stained GlassThis stained glass window that once graced the sanctuary of Shaare Zedek, a synagogue in Logan Square, will be among the pieces of Chicago Jewish history on display. MORE ABOUT THIS PIECE>