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Marr-sighted: Artist pursues his dream
by Ross Forman
2009-10-14

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After 30 years, including the last 10 as the director of catering for the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago, Gary Marr has left corporate America—by his choosing, not as a casualty of today's economy, as others have faced.

Instead, Marr is pursuing a dream, housed on the third floor of the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee, located in the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood. He's done his time at Hyatt, and the Marriott Hotel for 20 years before that. Now he's working with artists such as Eulalio Fabie de Silva, Ezra Siegel, Jacqueline Patrice, Joe Boudreau and Mark Lace.

Marr now runs Sapere Art, a gallery that covers the emerging to the emerged, including Marr's art. He acknowledges that he prefers to "go with the flow, use varied mediums, change genres from day to day and not follow instructors' suggestions."

Marr offers the work of 16 artists, from rookies to some with 40 years of experience; the youngest is 21. The styles at Sapere Art are wide-ranging. "There is something here for everyone, for every taste," Marr said. His artists don't compete, meaning, he does not have multiple artists who work in the same genre and style. "I keep them as uniquely different as I can."

The most popular are de Silva and Atom Basham, 36, an Andersonville resident being shown publicly for the first time.

Of the 16 artists on display at Sapere Art, two are openly gay, said Marr, whose partner of 20 years is Mark Allen.

"They have to be a person who I like as a person," for me to carry their art, Marr said.

Sapere Art pieces range from $100 to $5,000. A percentage of all sales are donated to non-profit organizations in the areas of HIV/AIDS and substance abuse as well as charities that promote sustainable agriculture and "Farm to Table" concepts to provide healthier foods for all Americans, Marr said.

"Being able to leave Corporate America with a little bit of a [ financial ] nest egg, I decided to do something with art while I decided what to do," with the rest of my life," said Marr, 51, who lives in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. "I didn't want to be the old man catering guy, stuck behind a desk selling. So, I took the chance to step out, take a break. I originally meant this to be a studio with maybe one or two other artists on display. But I'm having a lot of fun being a [ gallery owner ] , representing artists.

"I never envisioned this, or even [ envisioned ] being an artist, though I've always been one. I've always been a sales and marketing guy. But, being the director of catering, I've always been responsible for the visual and organizational side of events, so hanging a gallery is pretty easy to me.

"I started this because it was fun. Now I'm actually getting serious about it."

Sapere Art held an art contest in September for, literally, starving artists—and the top prize was $1,000 cash. The showing runs through Oct. 18.

"I want to take the gallery to another step sometime in the future. I probably will end up in a storefront, somewhere with heavier foot-traffic. But I want to keep it as alive of a place where you enjoy going [ to ] ," said Marr, who was on Board of Directors for Center on Halsted and was on Hyatt's Corporate Diversity Council. "Many of the galleries in town are beautiful and have great art, with great owners, but they don't have a good vibe; you feel like you're in a very quiet museum."

Sapere Art is now located inside a former furniture factory, built in 1918, and since overtaken by artists. Marr's store is in the old warehouse portion, where furniture was made.

"I guess I am an escapee from corporate America," Marr said. "I miss knowing that I have a paycheck coming in every other week and knowing that my benefits cost me half of what I'm now paying. I kind of miss the regularity of it. I also do not miss the irregularity of it.

"But I really love the freedom I now have. I am completely responsible for everything now; I'm a one-man band. I never thought I'd be a Retail Queen. But I am, and I really like it. I like ringing up the sale, and I even really enjoy wrapping" art for transporting or shipping.


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