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The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

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Starry-eyed: Tala gallery uses light, darkness, sound to provide immersive trip following journey of shooting star

Peyton Palmer
‘Tala’ gallery is an immersive art exhibit opened in West Town’s gallery district on April 12.

In Philippine mythology, Tala is the revered deity of the morning and evening stars. At dawn, she embarks on a celestial journey, guiding the sun across the vast sky as it commences its daily voyage. In the evening, Tala reappears, gracefully leading the sun away as it sets beyond the horizon. She is, in a less-than-metaphorical sense, a shooting star. 

Tala — which not only refers to the goddess but also means “bright star” in Tagalog — is the namesake of Francine Almeda’s new gallery, which opened in West Town’s gallery district on April 12.

“There are some metaphors to be drawn from the goddess,” Ms. Almeda, a 2015 U-High graduate, said. “Something I like to think about is this question of how exploration and guidance and movement between spaces can provide a lot of experimentation that art spaces maybe don’t have already.”

When you first step into the gallery, you stand in a small foyer-like area with cushioned benches, plants and tall wooden shelves displaying objects for sale by a wide variety of artists. The stock ranges from gothic leather purses to woodsy-scented candles, reminiscent of an eclectic marketplace — and the area is splashed with soft yellow and green hues that reflect the outside sun and welcome you into the space. 

“This room was intentionally made really yellow, really welcoming,” Ms. Almeda said. “It’s kind of like the reception area, and what we’re doing here that’s different is there are objects for sale. So unlike typical galleries where you can’t touch anything on the wall, here artists are able to actually present work, and visitors can support them.”

Further into the gallery, the colors and lights begin to smooth out into more gray and blue, yet each piece has its own individual medium, composition and energy. Adjacent to the echoey chamber of paintings and sculptures is a midnight blue office with an audio setup from which smooth ambient music flows throughout the space, adding to the feeling of coasting through a starry sky. Antonio Robles Levine, Ms. Almeda’s business partner and the gallery’s sound designer, can be found there spinning discs under the rich blue ceiling. 

“When Francine and I met, we were very much entwined in curating and organizing events together,” Mr. Robles Levine, a 2010 U-High graduate, said. “I DJ full-time, so that’s sort of my realm of understanding. And when Francine was looking at this space, she thought a lot about how part of sitting and taking time to relax in a space like this is, you know, music. So that’s where I came in.”

The final part of the gallery is a dimly lit purple room with fabric-lined benches on one side and a lush, old-timey bar set on the other. Books and zines are scattered across the cushioned seats, and the music pours from speakers set on either side of the wall — music that somehow sounds different in this room than it does in the others, almost as if the rich darkness smooths sound as well as sight. When you get to this room, you’ve successfully completed your own trip across the night sky — from sunlight to darkness and back, the path of a shooting star. 

“This is the heartbeat of the space,” Ms. Almeda said, referencing the purple lounge. “There’s bench seating, soft cushions, lovely music, and it’s not often you can just sit in a gallery and study or read.”

Ms. Almeda’s goal with Tala was, above all else, to create something different — something that would redefine artistic space, and show all the ways it can be used to provide a meaningful experience. 

“Tala, to me, means everything,” Ms. Almeda said with a smile. “It’s a really personal project, as I believe many artistic endeavors can be. I really just want to allow people to reconceptualize how to interact with art, and creating Tala made me realize that the most important thing about art is people gathering together and talking about new ideas. So, doing something like this has expanded my perception of what’s even possible in the field of art.”

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About the Contributors
Light Dohrn
Light Dohrn, Assistant Editor
Light Dohrn is a member of the Class of 2026 and a Midway assistant editor. As a ninth grader, she joined the journalism team during the 2022-23 school year. Her favorite piece she has written for the Midway is “Through authenticity and humor, biology teacher inspires passion among students.” Outside of journalism, she enjoys Middle-Earth fantasy books and Tarantino films. Awards: 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, Boston convention: Excellent, review writing 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, San Francisco convention: Honorable mention, press law and ethics
Peyton Palmer
Peyton Palmer, Photographer
Peyton Palmer is a beginning photojournalist and is a member of the Class of 2026. Her favorite parts of photojournalism are learning how to shoot significant photos and taking pictures for others to enjoy. Outside of photojournalism, Peyton enjoys music and hanging out with family and/or friends. She also participates in U-High tennis. Awards: 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, Boston convention: Honorable mention, first-year photo

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