When Edra Soto isn’t teaching art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, or SAIC, she is exhibiting artwork on her patio and reliving her cultural roots.
In 2012, Soto, 42, and her husband Dan Sullivan created an outdoor gallery space called The Franklin in their backyard. Located at 3522 W. Franklin Blvd. in East Garfield Park, the gallery was created to build bridges with other artists. All of the work on display is donated by or exchanged with local artists. Having the space helped her create credibility in the art community and made her feel stronger as a professor.
“A majority of what’s in the space is cultural drawings and sculptures with traditional materials,” Soto said.
Of the 370 unranked part-time faculty members, Soto said the SAIC does not have many Latina professors. she said she only knows two or three at most.
Soto moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico in 1998. She met local artistRafael E. Vera in the Contemporary Practices department of the SAIC, where they were both earning their Master’s Degree. Vera was the first artist to donate a piece of art to the gallery.
“Edra liked how the sculpture looked being dug into the dirt and I donated it,” Vera said.
When Vera’s cement sculpture was moved to the gallery, its large size caused it to make “BOOM!” sound when it was set down in the dirt. Despite the crash, it still didn’t break. The sculpture also had a unique texture and was very different from work by other artists.
Vera, a 36-year-old native of Venezuela, thinks that Soto’s space is unique and a great option for an artist and gallery curator to gain experience.
“I think it’s a project where she wins and we win,” Vera said of The Franklin.
It was Vera’s enthusiasm that motivated Soto to continue working with the outdoor space. She said she considers him a professional artist and a person focused on his career.
Because of her teaching background, Soto does everything with an generous and educational purpose. She paints and makes various shapes and figures just to teach her students. She said the art industry has only given her experience and knowledge.
What sets Soto apart from other gallery owners and curators is her famouspineapple upside-down cake, which she lets everyone who visits The Franklin taste.
“I was inspired to make the cake for the first time since I had made it on my wedding day,” Soto said. “When people visited my home they saw a picture of the cake and asked me to make it. From there on I wanted to share it with everyone.”
Josie Cayun, a former student of Soto at Noble Street Charter School in Chicago, would always tell Soto that she was a good role model to her.
“I liked to have an Hispanic teacher because I was sure she knew the effort I putted in my paints,” Cayun said.
Cayun, 21, enjoys painting pictures of her Mexican culture. She said she liked Soto’s persistence and passion as a teacher.
“The Franklin to me means various aspects of my artistic career” Soto said. “Many of my projects have been installations to engage the audience and connect with the artist community.”