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Theaster Gates' Projects Get $10M To Grow In Grand Crossing, Garfield Park

By Sam Cholke | September 8, 2016 11:13am | Updated on September 8, 2016 3:21pm
 The former St. Laurence Catholic school will become a maker space and hub for arts apprenticeships under the proposal.
The former St. Laurence Catholic school will become a maker space and hub for arts apprenticeships under the proposal.
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Courtesy of Chicago Arts + Industry Commons

GRAND CROSSING — Projects led by artist Theaster Gates are getting a $10.25 million boost to expand and link to form one of the largest arts institutions on the South Side and convert a former power station into an art gallery on the West Side, four major foundations announced Thursday.

"Reimagining the Civic Commons," is an initiative launched by the JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation to improve neighborhoods through art and design.

The civic commons collaboration of the four foundations, Gates' groups, the University of Chicago and city agencies is one of five projects nationally to get a $5 million grant.

Local sources are expected to contribute another $5.25 million.

Lori Berko, chief operating officer for the U. of C.'s Place Lab, said Thursday she could not yet say who the local funders would be, but it was all from philanthropic sources and so far there is no funding expected from the city or university.

The Stony Island Arts Bank, opened last year by Gates’ Rebuild Foundation, will be the centerpiece of a plan that calls for new public gardens in Grand Crossing and the transformation of a former Catholic school into an art and design studio. A former power station next to the Garfield Park Conservatory will be turned into an industrial arts center.

"'Reimagining the Civic Commons' seeks to counter the trends of economic and social fragmentation in cities, where people are segregated by income and less likely to interact with people whose experiences are different from their own,” the announcement said.

“By revitalizing and connecting public spaces, the initiative intends to be the first comprehensive demonstration of how a connected set of civic assets — a civic commons — can yield increased and more equitably shared prosperity for cities and neighborhoods,” the announcement said.

Construction will start on the three new projects this summer, with programming expected to start late next year or early in 2018.

Berko said she's optimistic they can meet the timeline to open because design work, particularly on the former Catholic school, had already started before the funding was secured.

"It was going to get developed regardless, we're going to do it," Berko said.

In May, there were signs that the St. Laurence Catholic elementary school, 1353 E. 72nd St., purchased by Gates in 2014 for $451,500, would be added to Gates’ expanding roster of reuse projects for vacant buildings on the South Side.

The proposal gives new clues about what the school will become, listing plans for a design accelerator, apprenticeships in art and design and workshops for local artists and designers.

The Rebuild Foundation is hosting a community meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave., to talk about plans for the 40,000-square-foot building.

A proposal released Thursday calls for converting 13 vacant lots into gardens.

Thirteen vacant city lots are expected to open next year as a series of art and sculpture gardens on Kenwood Avenue between 68th and 70th streets.

The proposal calls for a small amphitheater, listening garden, café and plaza around a former ComEd substation.

The proposal brings in the West Side with plans to convert a former power station and stables on the northern edge of Garfield Park into art galleries and studio spaces for artists and designers.

The location is expected to focus more on industrial arts and fabrication, according to the proposal.

A former power station will become artist studios and workshops for design and fabrication under the proposal.

The projects are expected to take three years to complete.

Berko said the project only includes projects somehow already connected to the public sphere.

"It's buildings that were former public spaces or used publicly," Berko said.

The project's scope does not include other projects Gates is involved in, including a new art center planned by the University of Chicago or the existing arts incubator in Washington Park. Gates studio and the Black Cinema House at 7200 S. Kimbark Ave. and Gates' original three Dorchester Projects houses on the 6900 block of South Dorchester Avenue are also not formally included in the project.

Berko said an announcement would be made in the coming days about the local foundations providing the $5.25 million from local sources.

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