UChicago opens Green Line Performing Arts Center in Washington Park

Ambitious collaboration supports local artists and expands community partnerships

The University of Chicago announced on Nov. 2 the opening of the Green Line Performing Arts Center, providing a vital new theater venue and rehearsal space to support the arts in the Washington Park neighborhood and across Chicago’s South Side.

The center establishes a new professional theater space on the South Side, providing support to performing artists and theater ensembles, along with programming to train residents with interests in theater design and production. Building on the rich history of performing arts organizations on the South Side, the Center will be the first new theater to open in the Hyde Park / Washington Park / Woodlawn communities in more than a generation, providing a much-needed collaborative space for the performing arts. 

Designed by Morris Architects Planners in collaboration with Theaster Gates, a UChicago faculty member, artist, and founder and former director of Arts + Public Life, the center continues the growth of the Arts Block, a vibrant collection of cultural and commercial spaces on historic Garfield Boulevard across from the Green Line’s Garfield stop in Washington Park.

The center is part of UChicago’s ambitious Arts + Public Life initiative, which is creating a distinct approach for how colleges and universities can work with local artists and neighboring communities. Arts + Public Life has established and strengthened mutually beneficial connections between the cultural landscape of the South Side and UChicago’s network of resident and visiting artists and academics. The success and continued growth of the Arts Block demonstrates how educational institutions and individuals with creative vision can forge ongoing collaborations.

“The Green Line Performing Arts Center is an important University of Chicago initiative, done in partnership with the South Side community that will create a wide range of artistic opportunities on the South Side for small and community-based theater companies. It is an investment that reflects both the need for such arts-related opportunities and the important role that the arts can play in enhancing communities and their development. We are grateful to our philanthropic partners for joining the University in our strong commitment to supporting Chicago’s rich cultural community,” said President Robert J. Zimmer.

The Green Line Performing Arts Center will host a free, public opening c­elebration on Saturday, Nov. 10 from 2-6 p.m. The event will include performances by local artists, including Bomba con Buya, avery r. young and de deacon board, and Honey Pot Performance. Click here for a schedule of events and programs.

Reinvigorating a historic boulevard

Housed in four renovated storefront buildings, the center’s location at various points in history has been home to jazz and entertainment venues, including a restaurant with a live orchestra, a series of music clubs, and most famously Rhumboogie, a nightclub owned by boxing great Joe Louis. The 6,600-square-foot center includes the E&A Theatre, a black box venue with seating for more than 80 people; the Harris Studio, a separate rehearsal and performance space; and a lobby and outdoor courtyard for public programs and exhibitions including outdoor film screenings.

The center is supported by the Efroymson Family Fund, Irving Harris Foundation, and UChicago. In recognition of the Efroymson Family Fund and Irving Harris Foundation’s generous contributions to the renovation and adaptive reuse of the Green Line Performing Arts Center, the E&A Theatre and Harris Studio have been named in their honor.

“The Green Line Performing Arts Center is a welcome addition to Garfield Boulevard and all of Washington Park, bringing additional vitality to the areas around the Green Line ‘L’ station and demonstrating a reinvestment in the rich South Side performing arts tradition,” said 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell. “The renovation of these storefronts and the $25 million investment in the CTA’s Garfield Gateway Project prove there is a vibrant future for reawakening this historic boulevard.”

The Arts Block’s first project, the Arts Incubator envisioned by Gates, celebrated its fifth anniversary in March. Since launching, Arts + Public Life has welcomed to the Arts Block over 62,000 attendees and engaged more than 730 area teens from 74 schools, with the vast majority of students attending neighboring South Side public high schools.

“The Green Line Performing Arts Center expands our existing partnerships with South Side artists and arts organizations,” said Lori A. Berko, deputy director of Arts + Public Life. “This space allows us to build upon existing relationships, incubate new ones, and grow our artist residency programs to include theater companies, ensembles and collectives.”

The center will offer professional training and employment opportunities, providing pathways for residents of Washington Park and the greater South Side through stipend-based training in technical theater, including sound, lighting and scenic design, and front-of-house and back-of-house management.

“As a director and actor, I am thrilled to be able to partner with Arts + Public Life and the Green Line Performing Arts Center to develop education programs for youth and young adults that will focus on technical theater and design,” said Ron O.J. Parson, Court Theatre resident artist who is advising and developing programming for the Center. “These programs will advance efforts to diversify the design and technical theater fields in the professional theater community.”

In its inaugural season of programming, the Green Line Performing Arts Center will host the GreenLight Series, illuminating the varied performing arts disciplines and inviting audiences to experience a rotating sample of storytelling, music performances, comedy, theater, and dance works presented by artists. The first GreenLight series will showcase Grown Folks Stories on Nov. 15 from 7-9 p.m.