Open Invitation

October 2019 View more

Rebecca Winkler and Lisa Holzl, resident artists at Water Street Studios

Batavia’s not-so-hidden gem, Water Street Studios (, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The nonprofit art center has fueled the careers of thousands of artists—as well as entertained and educated hundreds of thousands of people throughout the Chicago area—for over a decade through its art classes, exhibitions, artist studios, special events, and outreach to the greater Fox Valley region.

Water Street Studios began as a partnership between the City of Batavia and a group of artists who wanted to create an art center in the heart of downtown. Together they transformed a historic 16,000-square-foot warehouse into a collaborative space featuring 25 art studios and two galleries where artists could create, exhibit, and sell their work.

Water Street isn’t just a place for professional artists, however—it’s also a place where novices can try new skills and the public can enjoy unique experiences. The studio serves over 2,000 students through its educational programs and attracts over 10,000 visitors annually.
Executive director Danielle Hollis emphasizes that Water Street exists for the entire community.

“We are dedicated to making the arts accessible so that everyone can experience them, maybe even for the first time,” she explains. During public hours, people are invited to explore the space and view the ever-changing galleries. “The arts can be incredibly intimidating but we strongly believe in inclusion. Our goal is to create a space where everyone feels welcome when they come in, even if they have no interest in art,” she continues. “We encourage visitors to experience the gallery for themselves, rather than telling them how to experience it. It’s a refreshing quality that attracts a lot of people to Water Street. And, we do that without ever sacrificing the quality of the work. We don’t bring the artwork down to match the knowledge of the people; we elevate the work so they can experience for the first time.”

Gallery curator and resident artist Steve Sherrell agrees. “Water Street Studios is a high-quality art center. We always present the best art we can possibly exhibit. Being involved has personally helped me find a community close to home that serves my artistic needs in almost every way possible, without sacrificing the quality I have come to expect from my years exhibiting in the Chicago area,” he states. Sherrell curates two new gallery exhibitions each month, making sure people’s interaction with the space changes each visit.

Meaningful Outreach

Students of all ages are able to participate in high-quality art classes taught by professionals onsite. Artists also work with local libraries and schools to reach underresourced families: Its after-school program for children living at Batavia Apartments is just one example.

At the forefront, Hollis believes the arts should be a tool for growth, not just a luxury or means to an end. “We view the arts as a tool for professional, personal, academic, and economic growth, and use our venue and artistic connections to elevate others,” she explains. The studio’s Activate the Alley project is a perfect example. In honor of the 10-year celebration, Hollis paired 10 nonprofits with 10 local artists to create murals illustrating their service to the community. Replications of the murals are displayed in the alley leading up to Water Street Studios. “We believe in using what we are good at to help others and increase awareness,” she states.

Hollis’ favorite part of her job is being able to turn ideas into reality. “I like finding something we can do that not only supports us, but the people and community around us. I love those ‘ah-ha moments’ where everything clicks and everybody benefits.”

Photograph by Olivia Kohler