MORGAN PARK — Heather Ireland Robinson, 44, first fell in love with theater as one of the Pitt Players.
Robinson was an elementary school student at Morgan Park Academy and member of the children's theater company back then. She returns to the neighborhood where it all began to serve as the new executive director for the Beverly Arts Center.
"It feels in a lot of ways like I am coming home," Robinson said.
Robinson will begin her new job on Feb. 24. She enters the position amid a massive fundraising push — the BAC Challenge.
Launched in September, Mayor Rahm Emanuel began the effort to bail out the financially plagued arts center with his pledge of $250,000. State Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th) also secured a $100,000 state grant for the arts center, which carried a crushing mortgage debt of $4.7 million.
The neighborhood has welcomed the challenge. Local businesses have pledged portions of their sales to support the arts center at 2407 W. 111th St. Catholic schools the area have raised money by allowing students to dress out of uniform for a modest donation to the BAC Challenge. And envelopes containing pledges of $5 and $10 arrive daily from individuals willing to share what they can afford.
As a result, the Beverly Arts Center is on pace to surpass its initial goal of $500,000 and chip away at the $1.75 million mortgage that will remain.
Robinson hopes to build on this momentum. She's served as the executive director of the South Side Community Art Center in Bronzeville for the last two years. She previously worked as an interim regional director and operations manager for the After School Matters program, as well as program director for the Gallery 37 incubator for youth in the arts.
She plans to build on the existing programs offered at the 40,000-square-foot arts center, as well as forge new partnerships with artists, dance companies, musicians, theater guilds and other groups from the South Side and southern suburbs.
"My career has always been about giving artists structure," said Robinson, who lives in Chatham with her husband, Claude Robinson, and their two sons, Dorian, 13, and Damani, 3.
Her acting career is on hold, but Robinson said she'll continue to use her maiden name — Ireland. It seems fitting as she takes the helm of Beverly Arts Center, which stands proudly along the route of the South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade.