The National Endowment for the Arts announced last week that 631 organizations will be splitting $30 million in Recovery Act money. Twenty-one Chicago-area organizations made the roster, including stalwarts like the Field Museum and Steppenwolf. But one name looked like it was on the wrong list: Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, which describes itself as a "revitalization organization working to strengthen low-to-moderate income neighborhoods," was down for a $50,000 grant.
What's up with that?
Charles Leeks, NHS's neighborhood director for North Lawndale, says the money will be used for the organization's Historic Chicago Greystone Initiative. Leeks says he was at a meeting several years ago at which the city's housing commissioner was touting the Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative. "Years ago, I would fly into Midway and look at all those little buildings out there and think, 'This is a desert.' What the bungalow initiative did was get people thinking about bungalows in a different way. They became an icon for Chicago. So I'm listening to this, and I said, 'This is great, but I live in North Lawndale and we don't have a lot of bungalows. What we've got is greystones.'"
Even with 40 percent of them lost in the last couple of decades, there are nearly 2,000 greystones left in North Lawndale, according to NHS figures based on UIC research and survey data—more, Leeks says, than any other neighborhood in the city. It's "this incredible historic asset in a neighborhood nobody's paying attention to, including the residents," he adds. NHS has already partnered on a 2006 Chicago Architecture Foundation exhibit and two books about greystones published by the UIC's City Design Center, and has distributed grants from TIF funds and other public and private sources to help greystone owners with restoration. This is wonderful, worthy work. But is it art?
For more on the NEA grant recipients, visit our blog Chicagoland.