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Southside Hub of Production Arts Space Gets Lease Extension to Year's End

By Sam Cholke | October 12, 2012 12:37pm

HYDE PARK — The Southside Hub of Production (SHOP), the informal Hyde Park arts and culture center, will live on past Halloween.

The building at 5638 S. Woodlawn Ave. where SHOP is located is owned by the First Unitarian Church of Chicago, which is trying to sell it. On Oct. 5, the church extended SHOP's lease from Oct. 31 to Dec. 31.

Laura Schaeffer, founder of SHOP, said the extension allowed the arts center to continue its galleries, woodworking workshops and other events through the end of the year. During an Oct. 8 interview, she said she still hoped the current location, Fenn House, could become a permanent home, lifting a cloud of uncertainty that had hung over SHOP since its 12-month lease expired in August.

"A lot of people were not cut out for the uncertainty and they've moved on," Schaeffer said of repeated announcements of a forthcoming closure. "Some people probably would have invested more if they had that certainty."

The church congregation voted in January to put the building up for sale, citing a loss of rental income since the Blue Gargoyle day care and literacy center closed in 2009. The property went on the market in August, listing for $1.19 million for the 6,000-square-foot, six-bedroom former residence.

SHOP continues to pay rent to the church through the gifts of a donor, according to Schaeffer, but the loose collective of artisans, storytellers and craftsmen does not match the Blue Gargoyle's $2.9 million annual budget.

"We were hoping the church could see this as continuing some of the social impact of the church," said Ken Dunn, founder of the Resource Center, who works with SHOP and was using the library, with its eclectic artist-made furniture, as an informal meeting room on Oct. 8. "There needs to be an institution that's building on 'What is this Chicago around us?' and what is that context?"

Schaeffer and other volunteers are now pinning their hopes on a donor stepping in to buy the building with the intention of continuing SHOP.

"A community member is very seriously interested in buying the house and they're in negotiations now," Schaeffer said. "He's very confident he's going to be buying it and he wants us to stay. He believes in our mission and he believes in what we're doing."

Ken Schug, a former Illinois Institute of Technology chemistry professor and a member of the First Unitarian congregation, told members of SHOP in July that he was pursuing the purchase of the property, according to the Chicago Maroon. He did not respond to calls for comment.

The church does not seem to be on the cusp of selling the property to anyone at the moment.

"We have interested parties from time to time," said congregation president John Saphir. He declined to say whether any offers were made on the building, but said the church planned to keep it on the market. "Maybe not for two years, but for two months. It's always under review, but we're hopeful."

Sale or not, Schaeffer is pushing ahead with arts and culture programming while toning down the end-time predictions for the space.

“People in Hyde Park heard we’re leaving two or three times and I think it stuck,” Schaeffer said. “They’re just constantly thinking it’s almost over.”

North Siders and others outside of the doomsday grapevine continue to trek down, and SHOP will welcome its first international artist-in-residence in November. Sami Maalas, a Helsinki-based performance artist and sculptor, will begin producing work at the space in November.

And Schaeffer is not going anywhere until the ink is dry on a Fenn House sale.

"On a personal level, it takes quite a bit of stamina to have the trust and faith to continue with such a risk," Schaeffer said. "There is not a point where if all of this disappears where I can say I regret anything. This is all leading somewhere."