The Local Look: Jenny Beorkrem
In Chicago apartments, there is the map. Brightly colored with our zig-zagging neighborhoods, this poster is the ubiquitous den wall decorations. Yes, we’re talking about this one:
Designed by Jenny Beorkrem, the self-taught screenprinter founded Ork Posters in 2007 with that design as its foundational piece. In 2012, Beorkrem opened a retail shop called Neighborly to sell the posters and support other indie makers in the Midwest and beyond, all centered around home goods and artwork of a similar style to that first defined by the Ork design.
Why did you choose Chicago? Tell us about what it means to be a business in Chicago.
I first moved to Chicago because I love the vibrancy that a big city offers. I love its education, career and cultural opportunities. I can specifically speak to the screenprinting community, but artisan communities in general here in Chicago offer collaboration and support, rather than being competitive. I think that stems a lot from the Midwestern ethos for helping your neighbor. When compared with other large cities, Chicago offers fairly affordable studio space, which may sound trivial but can make a big difference when you are just starting a business. When it comes to my products in particular, I’ve tapped into the neighborhood and city pride that Chicagoans have. The more I travel, the more I think that even though it may not be what the tourists see, Chicago’s neighborhoods are what define it more than any other feature.
If you could go back in time before you became involved in running the business and share one piece of advice with yourself, what would you tell yourself?
Something I brushed under the rug back in the day that I wish I wouldn’t have was social media. I tend to be a bit old school in my ways and building a social media presence seemed like a lot of work that didn’t translate into anything. But now I see its benefit in being able to communicate with people that like your brand like, for example, when you want to share that you’ve opened a retail shop. Live and learn!
What are your next steps?
Short term, we’d like to create more products in-house to be able to offer at Neighborly (many of which will be Chicago-themed, of course). There’s potential for a second Neighborly location in the near future. I’ve also toyed with the idea of a maker and cross-disciplinary incubator complete with business guidance, a cooperative workshop and small studio rentals to make it easier for others who are like I was—who know they want to pursue a passion, but may not know where to start. Current incubators and resident programs seem to be set up for more traditional disciplines like the fine arts, technology or furniture and woodworking, but not as much for creative endeavors that may span several different creative genres. I’d also like to work on creating more useful tools to connect Chicago’s product designers to local manufacturers, whether it’s something as simple as an online database or more involved like an advocacy organization to promote making local. We’ll see where the world takes me next!
We want to be in the know! Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course.
I don’t know if you’d really consider it a secret, but I think Promontory Point is an often overlooked or under-hyped destination in the city. It is by far my favorite view of the city. It can’t be described; you simply must go there and see for yourself. Both the collective soul of Chicagoans and the city’s physical facade are beautiful, and I try to never take that for granted.
Q&As are edited for clarity and length.