Grace Lai’s interest in construction began right where the bus would drop her off hours before class at Chicago’s American Academy of Art. Starting out as a sidewalk sketcher, Lai was soon invited inside the project gate to become a celebrated “on-site” artist, earning commissions from contractors and building developers, as well as tradespeople’s nods of approval. As an artist, Lai was a late bloomer, going to art school and taking up painting in her late 50s after her husband, Harry, died in 1985. Previously, she was an assistant in his art studio. Lai’s art was her personal therapy, but
The market is generally healthy and steadily growing, and margins are up for large specialty contractors. Further, advances in design tools and owner demand for collaboration are giving subcontractors a seat at the table early on in projects.