UPTOWN — The Preston Bradley Center has been a religious place, a shelter and a hub of social services aiding people struggling with substance abuse and poverty, but now the center is undergoing some artsy alterations.
The Uptown Arts Center is the latest addition to the six-story building, which also includes the Peoples Church and a homeless shelter in the basement. It occupies the former space of a large social services agency that closed down in 2011 because of funding problems.
William Boulware, president of the Preston Bradley Center Board of Directors, said the 3,000-square-foot space soon "became underutilized." So officials solicited proposals for what to do with it.
"I think the focus of our search was looking at how the center itself could continue to be relevant," said Boulware, who lives in Uptown not far from the center.
Director and curator Colette Adams heard the news and wrote a proposal in January for an art center that would include rental artist studios and exhibit space. Boulware said the board loved it and thought their community outreach efforts could be aided by creating a space where people can "be engaged in their community," through art.
Boulware and Adams both acknowledged that some residents in the neighborhood see the building, at 941 W. Lawrence Ave., as an eyesore and are wary of the people who can be seen hanging outside. These are typically shelter residents or people seeking other social services.
Adams said that some of them are "a little rough," and "look like they have had hard lives," but that doesn't bother her or mean art should not have a home there.
"[The board] decided to go with the arts, not for the money, obviously, but for the energy, and to recreate themselves," said Adams, a real estate broker, artist and single mother of two teenage girls who lives in nearby Ravenswood.
The arts center opened in July, and, so far, has been "doing everything from scratch," Adams said. The space is free, and the utilities are as well, but nobody is being paid, and Adams is the center's only employee.
She said she is working on a "big grant" with a January deadline. But it's been tough to get things up and running with little support staff.
"I didn't really have time to work on a grant, but there's nobody else around to do it right now," she said, adding that she hopes to offer internships for college credit at the center in the near future.
About 12 artists regularly use the studios there, and the center has an ongoing exhibit called the Sacred Show that features many of them and offers a venue to display and sell their work.
Painter Robert Pockmire, of Wrigleyville said he discovered the center when he was looking for an inexpensive studio space close by.
"It is a great addition to the arts community on the North Side, and the center is off to a great start," he said.
The center also hosts drawing workshops and is planning more programming.
Adams said the center will have about five or six theme group exhibitions a year and a series of smaller exhibitions for a handful of artists.
Peoples Church pastor Rev. Jean Darling said she is looking forward to incorporating art programs and art groups that engage the community for the people living in the transitory shelter in the basement who are trying to beat homelessness.
"One of the wonderful things about art, and about artists, is that when people begin to explore their own creative energies, that can transform their personal lives," Darling said.