Campus creativity ramps up for opening day

When the University of Chicago broke ground for the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts in May 2010, it pushed creative imaginations at UChicago to a new level of artistic ambition. Painters, sculptors, and filmmakers as well as musicians, thespians, and dancers, saw a future home in which collaboration would flourish, theory and practice would intermingle, and the tools and spaces for making art would be within reach and under one roof.

Cassandra Troyan, a second-year MFA student in the department of visual arts (DOVA), sees the Logan as a tremendous advantage for her creative work. A multimedia artist who works with video and text, she’s planning a feature-length video for her thesis and looks forward to having a true theatrical setting to screen it at Logan.

“It’s not just the opportunities with equipment,” she says, “but all the in-house possibilities for mastering sound myself and taking this project to a level of production that most people are not capable of doing during graduate school.” 

Fourth-year dancer and geophysical sciences major Persephone Ma thought about how practice limitations on her dance troupe would be a thing of the past. With a dedicated rehearsal space, she says, the Logan Center “will be a much more nurturing environment.”

Less than two years after the Logan Center groundbreaking, artists will see their visions realized as it opens its doors on March 26 with a six-month preview period. As students return from spring break, they’ll find the Logan Center abuzz with classes and other happenings, and putting out its welcome mat for the community. Upcoming preview events include a campus open house and the opening of “Catherine Sullivan and Company: Inaugurals,” a gallery exhibition by multimedia artist and DOVA faculty member Catherine Sullivan, both on March 30.

Housed along the Midway Plaisance on 60thStreet, between Ingleside and Drexel avenues, the Logan Center will celebrate its grand opening later this fall from Oct. 11 to 13.

Put to the test

“We wanted to begin to really use the building—and learn from that experience as we put on the final finishes,” says Bill Michel, the executive director of the Logan Center. Much like a Broadway show in previews, the Logan Center preview means putting countless hours of choreographed plans to the test.

“It’s all been in theory so far,” says David Wolf, associate director of arts technology and digital media for the Logan Center. “This is a chance for us to put into action the ideas we’ve been working on for so long.”

It’s also a chance for graduating thespians, musicians, and other UChicago artists to enjoy the fruits of their labor before leaving campus. Many have served on the Logan Center’s student advisory committee, which weighed in on everything from marketing strategies to café catering.

“We wanted to make sure they had the opportunity to use the building and be part of it,” Michel says.

Ready to play

Dancers such as fourth-year Ma are just one group of artists taking their next steps in the Logan Center. The music department has gained 20 practice rooms with world-class pianos and will hold core classes in the Performance Penthouse, a ninth-floor space that music chair Martha Feldman describes as “glorious.”

“Our wealth of talented students will now have a place where they can converge with other students in the arts, joining forces with others who want to write scores for musical theater, play in a musical group, work with a sculptor or video artist,” says Feldman. “They’ll have a space for that, a space that’s dense with arts activity.”

Meanwhile, University Theater and Theater and Performance Studies (UT/TAPS) will move nearly all of their operations into the Logan Center, where two new theaters, a dedicated set construction area, and costume shop await.

TAPS director Heidi Coleman runs through a list of upcoming events on the docket, including the April premiere of playwright Mickle Maher’s TAPS’ commissioned adaptation of Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares; a massive shadow puppet installation from the UChicago alumni theater company Manual Cinema; and the May 12 Arts Apocalypse.

A performing arts roundtable initiationof the Logan Center, Arts Apocalypse will unleash student’s creativity through a showcase of more than 50 site-specific performances, installations, and curiosities, which will be open to the public. Jointly curated by English and TAPS major Andrew Cutler in collaboration with Coleman, the extravaganza will feature every conceivable creative form. Think a cappella singers teaching passers-by barbershop chords, fight choreographers staging combat scenes on a bridge, and fire spinning in the courtyard.

“It’s really about taking over the building and exploding it,” says Coleman. “We want to roll up our sleeves and really play.”

In addition to music and theatre and performance studies, some courses in art history, cinema and media studies, creative writing, and the visual arts also are now meeting in the Logan Center.

Creative by design

The Logan Center invites playfulness, particularly between disciplines. Artist studios and critical-theory classrooms sit next to performance spaces, screening rooms, and digital media labs. Rather than having one wing for music and another for theater, says Michel, “the building has been designed to mix up spaces in a way that encourages collaboration.”

Multimedia artist Jessica Stockholder, chair of DOVA, looks forward to “bumping into people from different disciplines.” Being in Logan’s dynamic environment, Stockholder says, will give the department and its Midway Studios, now adjacent to the Logan Center, “a new energy.”

Whether producing within their discipline or beyond, “the Center enables both ways of working in one place,” says Wolf, who also sees Logan as an opportunity to make the arts more accessible to the wider campus community. In his work with DOVA, he often fielded questions from non-arts majors who had interesting project ideas, but didn’t know where to turn for resources.

Whether a student needs to rehearse a show, edit a video, or record a demo, says Wolf, the Logan Center “is really presenting itself as a solution for people with those kinds of questions.”

A wider reach

For music aficionados, the Logan promises a top-notch listening experience. Sound experts will spend the spring and summer readying the center’s 474-seat performance hall. “We’re really excited to introduce our audiences to it this fall,” says Rebecca Cafarelli, interim director of the University of Chicago Presents concert series.

Cinephiles can look forward to films and lectures in the center’s screening room on “gorgeous new equipment” this October, says Julia Gibbs, the Film Studies Center assistant director. Throughout the spring, Gibbs will be relocating reels to the Logan Center film vault, a preservation area four times the size of the Film Studies Center’s current storage space.

Of course, the Logan Center is more than a destination for audiences; it’s a place where art making of all types will thrive.

“The space is designed to encourage collaboration, and that extends into the community,” says Emily Lansana, who manages community partnerships for the University’s Arts and Public Life Initiative. Their team and several South Side cultural organizations are already brainstorming creative ways to use the Logan Center together, such as intergenerational family programming.

“We’re really working to have the Logan Center be a connecting point between our students, faculty, and neighbors,” adds Michel.         

Home sweet home

On March 26,, as the Logan Center welcomes students, faculty and staff members into the new building, there’s nervous excitement in the air. “We don’t truly know what’s going to happen when we open our doors,” says Wolf. Of course, that’s part of the excitement.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing how people begin to use the building in unexpected ways,” says Michel.

At the end of the day, it’s all about making the Logan Center home. “What’s really exciting,” says TAPS major Sarah Collonge “is discovering how we’re going to live in the space. That’s when we’ll know what the Logan really is: when we figure out where to nap.”