Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry to open lab space in Midway Studios

Since its founding in 2011, the Richard & Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry has provided a forum for fearless collaborative experiments that bring together artists and scholars at the University of Chicago.

Now, those daring collaborations will have a new home. On Tuesday, Sept. 24, the Gray Center will open the Gray Center Lab, a 1,100-square-foot space located in Midway Studios that can be configured to serve as a classroom, studio, collaborative workspace or exhibition and performance space. It features professional sound and lighting systems in order to accommodate the diverse forms of work taking place at the Gray Center. 

“We wanted to leave the space as open to redefinition as possible, without prescribing the forms of that possibility. I hope that when our fellows walk into the space, they can reimagine it in ways that line up with their aspirations for their projects,” said David Levin, director of the Gray Center.

The Gray Center’s inaugural exhibition in the Lab, “Unfurling: Five Explorations in Art, Activism, and Archiving,” will feature new works from five artists with an interest in local and socially engaged research and practice in the arts.

 “Never the Same,” a collaborative project that the Gray Center supports, is presenting “Unfurling.” “Never the Same” seeks to preserve archival material related to Chicago’s rich history of politically and socially engaged art from the 1960s to the present. Each of the works in “Unfurling” was inspired by items from the “Never the Same” archive.

The collection reveals the “interrelatedness of social movements with artist movements. When you look at individual artists as part of a larger web of collaborative art-making or a community of people in solidarity, you start to see these threads that are really rich, and help us to better understand the city,” said Daniel Tucker, who co-curated “Unfurling” with Rebecca Zorach, professor in Art History and the College.

“Unfurling” will feature letterpress posters for imaginary future events designed by Dan S. Wang; an exploration of African hair-braiding by Liliana Angulo Cortés; a three-dimensional map of Chicago’s South Side created by Jayne Hileman; an autobiographical examination of materials from the South Side Community Arts Center by Faheem Majeed; and several performance-based pieces commissioned by the research group Extinct Entities that focus on the legacy of the Affro-Arts Theater, a 1960s independent cultural center on the South Side.

Through “Never the Same,” “We explore challenging intellectual issues related to archiving practice, at the same time creating a living archive that will continue to generate artistic activity,” Zorach said.

“Never the Same” is one of the many innovative projects sponsored by the Gray Center through its signature initiative, the Mellon Residential Fellowships for Arts Practice and Scholarship

Other Mellon-supported collaborative projects supported by the Gray Center include “Alternate Reality,” a year-long trans-media gaming project; “Lines of Transmission: Comics and Autobiography,” which resulted in a conference that brought together legendary cartoonists; and “Tell Me the Truth,” an upcoming collaboration between filmmaker Chase Joynt and sociologist Kristen Schilt, which will explore public narratives about transgender identity.

The Gray Center seeks out challenging projects with the potential to have a lasting impact upon participants, according to Levin, the Addie Clark Harding Professor in Germanic Studies, Cinema and Media Studies, Theater and Performance Studies and the College.

Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, program curator at the Gray Center, said, “We want our collaborative fellowship program to transform the research practices of the scholars who come to work at the Gray Center—and their colleagues—just as we want the fellowships to transform the artistic practice of the artists who come to work with us. And beyond that, we hope to impact the local culture of the University through projects, symposia and classes that model collaboration in ways that are unusual and exciting for students.”

“If we’re successful,” Levin noted, “what happens at the Gray Center today is not the same as what happened the day before or what will happen the next day.”

“Unfurling” is open from Sept. 24 to Oct. 20 in the Gray Center Lab (929 E. 60th St.). An artist’s reception will take place at 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27. The exhibition space is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, from noon to 3 p.m. and Saturdays from 4 to 6 p.m., or by appointment. To schedule an appointment, please contact program coordinator Mike Schuh at