Monday, April 30, 2012

How do you create an arts hub?

Posted By on 04.30.12 at 07:04 AM

Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts
  • Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts
The University of Chicago’s new Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts has been unofficially open for a month. On March 26, the Logan Center began a six-month preview period, allowing students and faculty to use the space before construction is complete. As I wandered through the building this past week, there were a number of classrooms, rehearsal spaces, and studios already in use. The space didn’t feel totally activated, but there were certainly signs of life.

As a University of Chicago graduate, my first feeling was jealousy. Why wasn’t the Logan Center there a few years ago when I could’ve taken advantage? And how can I sneak into one of the digital editing suites? Considering the center’s final price totaled $114 million, there’s a lot to envy.

The 184,000-square-foot building is 11 stories tall and boasts everything from 20 rehearsal rooms to a 474-seat performance hall. Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien designed each floor with a mix of rehearsal spaces with the intention of facilitating conversations between different types of performers and artists.

Alumni envy isn’t the only conversation ignited by this trial period. The university has also used this time to begin several conversations around its role in the larger Chicago arts scene.

In the last few years, U. of C. has hugely expanded its focus on art. First, they announced a new department, Arts and Public Life, headed by Theaster Gates. Arts and Public life focuses on building relationships with south-side communities. One of the department’s first projects is an artist-in-residence program that gives three Chicago-based artists the opportunity to think creatively about how to activate the Logan Center.

Second, they introduced the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. The Gray Center, named after art collector Richard Gray, who donated $5 million to the center, connects scholarship and artistic practice. The Gray Center has also established its own artist residencies, and among the current residents is writer, cartoonist, and Guggenheim fellow Alison Bechdel. Bechdel is organizing an enormous conference, Comics: Philosophy & Practice, from May 18-20 at the Logan Center.

Beyond departmental and programmatic expansions, the university also seems to be using this trial period as an opportunity to reach out to neighbors.

Last week, the Logan Center partnered with Alderman Willie Cochran in hosting a community open house. The daylong event included free tours, conversations with staff, and free performances by south-side church choirs, U. of C. music students, and jazz pianists Willie and Bethany Pickens (Bethany is Willie’s daughter).

Over the next six months, the university will start to identify various cultural needs on the south side. It's already partnered with a few groups including the Jazz Festival, Muntu Dance Theatre, and Little Black Pearl. Perhaps the Logan Center will ultimately serve as a liaison between the south side and the larger Chicago arts community.

As things progress, I will continue to check in on the center. Like Expo Chicago, there's a lot of enthusiasm and money being poured into the Logan Center. And as I said in my post about Expo Chicago, the inauguration of the Logan Center is also an opportunity for south-side communities to voice their needs and determine the future of the center.

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