Hobson and Lucas honor Gordon Parks with $25 million grant for Arts Hall

Laboratory Schools facility to support programs in theater, music

The George Lucas Family Foundation has committed $25 million to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in support of the schools’ new arts hall.

At the request of filmmaker George Lucas and his wife, financial executive Mellody Hobson, the new building will be named in honor of iconic American photographer, writer, film director, musician and social justice advocate Gordon Parks.

The Gordon Parks Arts Hall, set to open in 2015 on the schools’ historic Hyde Park campus, will support programs in theater, music and the visual arts with three new performance halls, studios, rehearsal and practice rooms, a digital media lab, and more.

“This generous grant will amplify the role of the arts within the core of the distinctive education offered by the Laboratory Schools, and create new opportunities for imagining the role of the arts within the curriculum,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “Naming the arts hall for Gordon Parks, who had roots in Chicago, resonates deeply with the mission of the schools. We are very grateful to Mellody and George for this extraordinary support, which will have an impact for generations to come.”

Gordon Parks first came to Chicago at age 17, in 1929, where his first-hand experience of urban life for African Americans during the Depression helped shape his worldview. A later stint in Chicago helped launch his photography career in earnest, and some of his most recognizable images were captured here.

“We believe in the power of art to transform lives and communities,” said Lucas. “Gordon Parks’ work did just that. Keeping his example at the heart of one of the nation’s outstanding urban schools will serve to inspire future generations for many years to come.”

“It was important to us that the University of Chicago campus have a building named for an African American, given the diverse community in which it sits, and the outstanding contributions to our society by people of color,” said Hobson.

The George Lucas Family Foundation grant marks the successful conclusion of the Lab+ Campaign, which raised $80 million in support of the Laboratory Schools, far surpassing the original $40 million goal.

“The generosity of Mellody Hobson and George Lucas is a perfect example of the deep commitment made by so many supporters of the Laboratory Schools during this landmark campaign,” said John W. Rogers Jr., chairman, CEO and CIO of Ariel Investments; chairman of the Laboratory Schools Board of Trustees; and a 1976 graduate of the schools. “We are grateful to Mellody, George and all those who have contributed at every level.”

David Magill, director of the schools, said that the campaign, launched in 2007, will enhance every aspect of the Lab experience—ensuring that the schools continue to attract extraordinarily talented students and faculty, and support their best work.

“The Gordon Parks Arts Hall reflects how much our community cares about providing opportunity and inspiration for students, now and long into the future,” Magill said.

Magill credited the comprehensive Lab+ Campaign with making possible the building of Earl Shapiro Hall, a key addition to Lab’s outstanding early childhood education program; the renovation of buildings on Lab’s historic campus, including the expansion of library space and other core educational needs; and enhanced professional development for faculty and financial aid for families.

The Gordon Parks Arts Hall will be one of the most impressive legacies of the campaign. A three-story, 86,000 square-foot building, the Gordon Parks Arts Hall will offer a combination lobby and art gallery, a 700-seat assembly and musical performance auditorium, a 250-seat theater, a 150-seat drama studio, four art studios, a digital media and photographer lab, large musical rehearsal spaces, practice rooms, a theater scenery shop, a costume shop and affiliated administrative space.

In 2011 the Laboratory Schools announced that the 250-seat space would be named the Sherry Lansing Theater, in honor of the pioneering film executive and 1962 graduate of the Laboratory Schools, who donated $5 million to the campaign. The entry and gallery will be named the John Rogers and Victoria Rogers Lobby, in honor of John W. Rogers Jr., who was also one of the Lab+ Campaign co-chairs, and his daughter, a Laboratory Schools graduate.

John Dewey, the University of Chicago professor and seminal educational theorist whose ideas still shape the experience-centered Laboratory Schools education, called art the most effective mode of communication that exists. He believed every person is an artist at some level, and put art at the center of his educational program—as both a vehicle for moral purpose and path to the highest human qualities.

George Lucas, president of the George Lucas Family Foundation, is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of our time. Best known as the creator of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, along with other iconic films such as American Graffiti, Lucas is a writer, producer, director, businessman and philanthropist. In addition to the family foundation, he also created the George Lucas Educational Foundation, and is a participant with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in “The Giving Pledge,” encouraging high-level philanthropy.

Mellody Hobson is president of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based investment firm serving individual and institutional investors. Ariel was the first minority-owned money management firm in the nation and currently has $9 billion in assets under management.

Hobson also serves as chairman of the board of trustees for Ariel Investment Trust and chairman of the board of directors for DreamWorks Animation SKG. Beyond her work at Ariel, Hobson sits on a number of corporate boards, and has become a nationally recognized voice on financial literacy and investor education. As a philanthropist, she serves on the boards of many leading educational and civic organizations. She married Lucas in 2013.