SITE Galleries: A Student-Run Gallery Exhibiting Student Work

Several people are walking around a room with big windows looking at the artwork installed. Art pieces are on the floor, the wall, and the ceiling.

SAIC community members take in Beesworks, an exhibition of student Olya Salimova's work. Photo: Verónica Rosas. Image courtesy of SITE Galleries

SAIC community members take in Beesworks, an exhibition of student Olya Salimova's work. Photo: Verónica Rosas. Image courtesy of SITE Galleries

by Peyton Sauer (BFA 2022)

Within the open, inviting space of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) SITE Galleries [15], a blend of paintings, video work, and fiber art hang on the white walls. On any given weekday, visitors can be seen exploring the space and taking in an exhibition—all of it made and staged by SAIC students.

For almost three decades, SITE Galleries has been a unique opportunity for students to get involved with producing exhibitions and showcasing their work.

The group was founded in 1994 by students Iain Muirhead (BFA 1996) and Amavong Panya (BFA 1996) under the advisorship of faculty member Michael Ryan. Prior to SITE Galleries’ founding, like at many colleges and universities, there were limited opportunities for students to exhibit their work on campus. Since its inception, SITE Galleries, once known as the Student Union Galleries (SUGs), has been an essential on-campus resource.

three minimalist art pieces are installed in a large room with white walls.

(in) and (out): Spacial Influences on Identity Creation, a solo exhibition of student Birdie Brachbill's work. Photo: Verónica Rosas. Image courtesy of SITE Galleries

(in) and (out): Spacial Influences on Identity Creation, a solo exhibition of student Birdie Brachbill's work. Photo: Verónica Rosas. Image courtesy of SITE Galleries

Today, SITE Galleries employs 20 students, including directors, gallery assistants, documenters, videographers, and archivists. The team is currently led by five student gallery directors and supported by faculty member and Assistant Director of Exhibitions Joseph Mora (BFA 2018), who worked at the galleries as a student. SITE currently has two locations on campus: the Sharp Gallery and the 280 Gallery.

A student-led and operated on-campus gallery space is still uncommon for many colleges, especially one as hands-on and established as SITE Galleries. “We are a teaching gallery since we’re all students, but we do try to mimic the professional gallery practices,” shared Director of Administration Chauncey Daniels II.

In their role, Daniels supervises the exhibition and event schedule, handles internal and external communication, and gives gallery walk-throughs when exhibitions are opening.

People walking around and looking at the colorful installed artwork.

SAIC community members view pieces from Beesworks, an exhibition of student Olya Salimova's work. Photo: Verónica Rosas. Image courtesy of SITE Galleries

SAIC community members view pieces from Beesworks, an exhibition of student Olya Salimova's work. Photo: Verónica Rosas. Image courtesy of SITE Galleries

“SITE is a really great place to get an introduction into a professional gallery space,” Install Gallery Assistant Matt Cortez explained. “I found my coworkers and peers to be some of the best resources at SITE.” Gallery assistants like Cortez welcome guests into shows and events, install work for exhibitions, and turn over the gallery spaces between shows.


“Artists that work with SITE definitely get the full experience. We do everything.”


Since its inception, SITE Galleries has hosted more than 300 events, including solo shows and group exhibitions. Each year, the SITE directors and gallery assistants curate shows, and students have the opportunity to propose their own solo and group exhibitions. To provide guidance, the organization offers proposal workshops and office hours each semester. For every exhibition, SITE team members take photos and videos as documentation for the artists as well as SITE’s own website [15].

An installation featuring a couch, framed art pieces, and a neon plant.

Fantasy / Reality / Decay, a group exhibition featuring students Eric Capper, Sarah Brophy, Sydney Gush, and Morgan Eldridge and curated by Sophie Buchmueller. Photo: Verónica Rosas. Image courtesy of SITE Galleries

Fantasy / Reality / Decay, a group exhibition featuring students Eric Capper, Sarah Brophy, Sydney Gush, and Morgan Eldridge and curated by Sophie Buchmueller. Photo: Verónica Rosas. Image courtesy of SITE Galleries

In the spring 2022 semester, SITE is introducing several exhibitions and events, including sunset museum [16], a solo show of tiago mena abrantes’s work, and Failure to Thrive [17], a solo exhibition of pieces by Ray Madrigal.

“SITE really is good with opening up people’s minds to things and letting them see different possibilities because of the wide range of shows that we have,” shared Cortez. “I think it’s to everybody’s benefit to really explore what’s out there.”

As one of the most established student organizations on campus, SITE Galleries has had the rare experience of providing skills and support to generations of student artists through both their exhibitions and leadership positions. Since 1994, they’ve had more than 100 students work on staff. “Artists that work with SITE definitely get the full experience,” shared Daniels. “We do everything.” ■


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