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Theaster Gates Plans Art Center Across From Possible Obama Library Site

By Sam Cholke | June 3, 2016 10:57am
 The University of Chicago is planning an $8 million new art center on Garfield Boulevard.
Green Line Art Center
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WASHINGTON PARK — The University of Chicago is dramatically expanding arts programming in Washington Park with plans announced Friday for a new art center across the street from one of the potential sites for Barack Obama’s presidential library.

The Green Line Arts Center will add space for music, theater, film and dance in a building at 317 E. Garfield Blvd. next to several of the university’s other projects lead by artist Theaster Gates, now collectively being dubbed the Arts Block.

The site is across Garfield Boulevard from a gas station, vacant lots and section of Washington Park the university has put up as a possible site for the Obama library, with a second option available in Jackson Park.

Green Line Art Center Video
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UChicago Arts

The university has been ruminating on the idea of building a larger art center for some time. During last years Chicago Architectural Biennial asked seven architects to imagine what a new art center could look like and then displayed those concepts at the Washington Park Arts Incubator, a gallery space opened in 2013 by Gates, who is also the director of arts and public life at the university.

“To transform a neighborhood, we have to help people believe that beautiful things can happen there. Arts and culture are some of the ways we can do that,” Gates said in the announcement. “Investing in people’s abilities and developing space for creativity to thrive are ways wed can demonstrate that belief.”

Los Angeles-based Johnston Marklee’s design was chosen by an eight-member jury partially because it maintained much of the façade of the existing 1920s-era terra cotta building, according to the university.

The university is now staring a fundraising effort to pay for the donor-funded project and has secured a grant from Southwest Airlines’ Heart of the Community for an undisclosed amount.

A spokeswoman for the university declined to comment on how much the project would cost, saying it was still in the planning phases, but Gates told the Chicago Tribune he expected it to cost $8 million for the art center and an additional $2 million for adjoining public pavilion.

The new three-story art center will have spaces for a cinema, a live performance theater, a dance studio and studios for resident artists and is expected to include free public programming, according to the university.

With the art center, the block would include at least four projects by Gates, including the arts incubator, Bing bookstore and Currency Exchange Café.

The university is repositioning all the projects as the Arts Block in Washington Park, which certainly hasn’t escaped the notice of the Obama Foundation planning the president’s library and has noted these plans on maps in its Hyde Park offices for some time.

It’s unclear how the plans could be impacted by the presidential library and the university owns more property along the block that doesn’t have public plans yet, including a former muffler shop at 359 E. Garfield Blvd.

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