University provides updates, seeks community input on plans for Arts Block

UChicago representatives presented updated plans for the Arts Block in Washington Park at an April 19 meeting and asked community residents for input on arts programming and the next phase of proposed development.

The community meeting was hosted by 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell at Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church, 5141 S. State St.

In June 2016, the University announced plans to develop a major arts and culture corridor along East Garfield Boulevard from South Prairie Avenue to South Martin Luther King Drive, building upon the success of the University’s community-focused Arts Incubator and Place Lab, and additional enterprises along the block, including the Currency Exchange Café and BING Reading Room. The announcement included plans, dependent on philanthropic support, for a new arts center and public green space with a pavilion.

In the update, UChicago officials said the next step in development will be building the Green Line Arts Center in a phased approach, beginning with the renovation of 6,600 square feet of vacant storefronts located at 323-329 E. Garfield Blvd., east of the CTA Green Line. The Green Line Arts Center will include a black box theater, rehearsal space, green room, dressing room and lobby for gathering and exhibition. The first phase of construction is expected to begin in late summer 2017.

The University also plans to transform a vacant lot west of South Martin Luther King Drive into the Arts Block Lawn, a public green space and pavilion that will be a venue for community residents to convene and enjoy free performances, workshops and other activities. The University is seeking to purchase the vacant lot, consisting of four parcels of land, from the city of Chicago.

“The new cultural amenities on the Arts Block will magnify the artistic, cultural and economic impact of the Washington Park neighborhood and greater South Side,” said Theaster Gates, professor of visual arts and the director of Arts + Public Life. “I believe in the power of art. The Art Block Lawn and Green Line Arts Center will attract local artists and cultural organizations, neighborhood residents, and arts patrons from across the city—creating an enhanced Arts Block and drivers of increased cultural and economic activity in the Washington Park neighborhood.”

UChicago also has responded to a request for proposal to lease the Chicago Transit Authority’s vacant historic station on Garfield Boulevard, which could be the site for a new welcome center and incubation space. The CTA has not yet awarded the lease.

Sonya Malunda, senior associate vice president for community engagement, said the University proposes to invest resources to build out the interior of the station. “Our goal is to provide a platform for individual artists, emerging entrepreneurs and other community organizations, as well as celebrate the rich history of Washington Park and the historic CTA station,” she said.

The Arts Block Lawn and Green Line Arts Center represent the next phase of a redevelopment of Garfield Boulevard that began with the Arts Incubator in 2013. The University has periodically provided community updates on efforts on the block. Dowell invited the University to her ward meeting to seek input on the proposed plans for the Arts Block Lawn and other phases of development.

“Over the past three years, members of the Washington Park community have provided input to help create an arts and culture corridor and realize the great potential of East Garfield Boulevard,” said Dowell. “The resulting new cultural and retail activity benefits both the neighborhood and the University of Chicago.