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Meet Michelle Graves of Agitator Gallery

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Graves.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Michelle. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I have been involved with art my entire life. One of my first memories was seeing a drawing of mine turned into a dinner plate. I was deeply influenced by my parents and their creative jobs, who were and still are very encouraging of my creative endeavors. My mother hand-drew graphs for college chemistry professors and my father was a printer with a darkroom in his office. Also, my uncle is a painter who took me to drawing classes outside of school and gave me a plethora of art supplies. It was this exposure, encouragement, and learned skill-set that guided me to where and who I am now.

I give huge credit to my influential instructors throughout my education that guided me to where I am in my career today. My high school photography/art teacher and painter Louie Laskowski encouraged me to sign up for Photo II and took us traveling to NYC and Mexico. My Indiana University BFA Photography professor, James Nakagawa, taught us how to “push” our work and is whom I assisted in Okinawa for work which won him a Guggenheim fellowship. Also, professor/photographer Jeff Wolin who now lives in Chicago and continues to graciously gather and encourage network with his former students.

To name a few instructors from my Columbia College Chicago MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Media program, I’d like to mention the late Jeanine Mellinger who gave us the space to wildly explore ideas and trust in me to teach her installation class when she was sick. Bryan Saner, who exploded my brain by breaking lines between instruction and performance, and Mat Rappaport, David Jude Greene, Jenny Magnus, Sherry Antonini, Mel Potter, and Paul Catanese who all gave incredibly influential critiques.

I have grown with tenacity and hard work ethics combined with my personal passion for art that has led me to occupations and leadership positions I am very proud of.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has definitely NOT been a smooth road. Financial struggle is an obvious challenge when starting out a career as a creative and fine arts person.

Being a female adds to common unfortunate challenges as well in terms of being seen as a serious artist and smart technological person. However, these brick walls among other life situations never truly stopped me from pushing through.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Agitator Gallery story. Tell us more about the business.
I have a wide variety of involvement in the Chicago community in general. As far as business goes, I have two recent fun and productive endeavors in the art community which are Agitator Co-operative Gallery and State of the Art.

Agitator Co-operative Gallery ( is a storefront gallery located in Chicago’s West Town/Wicker Park neighborhood, which I am a co-founder and current Chair. Our members share a common goal to curate artwork that agitates or campaigns to provoke dialog and generate diversity while respecting each artist’s vision and self-definition. We have monthly exhibits curated by members paired with artist talks. We also host Figure Drawing Tuesdays, bi-monthly critiques, silent movie/audio performance nights, and other workshops.

I have also recently partnered with Keith Skogstrom of State of the Art ( where we take artists’ submissions and put their work on display at our clients’ establishments. This exposes our clients and their employees to amazing local artists while giving the local artists a venue to display their work with the potential to sell.

Personally, I have two sides that I specialize in. In my fine art practice, I am currently known for my text-based paintings/drawings and make other similar bodies of conceptual work pairing science with existentialism. ( My other specialty is I am an Adobe Certified Expert and teach Adobe programs throughout a few Chicago locations.

Last but not least, I most definitely have to mention the Chicago Outfit Roller Derby team (, which I am a co-founder, original marketing manager, former skater and current bench coach. We were founded in 2007 and are currently internationally ranked and going strong. I give credit to my first taste of business to the Chicago Outfit. <3

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I do see a trend of the creative NFPs, co-operatives, and collectives becoming bigger and more organized. There is a deep need for these types of communities in all age groups because they offer a productive means to be involved and encourage communication about current issues.

In corporate creative business, a big trend is for office spaces to be decorated with art and murals, which is a perfect opportunity for artists to get their work out in the world besides in a literal gallery space.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 1112 N. Ashland. Chicago, IL 60622
  • Website:,,
  • Email:,,
  • Instagram: @agitatorgallery, @sotachicago, @gravesmichelle

Image Credit:
Brenda Hernandez, Dennis Sevilla, Jeff Wolin and Gretchen Hasse

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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