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Theaster Gates' New Theater To Start Construction This Summer

By Sam Cholke | June 12, 2017 2:05pm | Updated on June 16, 2017 11:19am
 The University of Chicago will start work this summer on a new theater building for its arts block being developed with artist Theaster Gates.
The University of Chicago will start work this summer on a new theater building for its arts block being developed with artist Theaster Gates.
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Univeristy of Chicago/Jean Lachat

WASHINGTON PARK — The next in a series of new arts buildings planned for Washington Park by artist Theaster Gates and the University of Chicago will begin construction this summer.

The university on Monday announced it would start construction of a black box theater at 323 E. Garfield Blvd.

Gates introduced the 70-seat theater project in April as part of a package of projects for Garfield Boulevard that also includes a new art center, a landscaped park and a renovation of the historic Garfield Boulevard Green Line station.

The announcement Monday came with word that the Efroymson Family Fund would provide a $2 million matching grant to get the theater project started. The university will search for matching donors to provide the other $2 million.

Nora Semel, a university spokeswoman, said the building projects at 323 E. Garfield Blvd. and 317 E. Garfield Blvd. are considered part of the Green Line Art Center project and the university would not disclose costs for individual components.

The theater is expected to include a black box theater, rehearsal area, green room, dressing room and lobby.

Gates said in the announcement that the idea came out of need for more space for artists working on the South Side.

“Artists interested in cinema, dance, music and theater will have a space where they can workshop and incubate their ambitious projects,” Gates said. “Space for artistic experimentation is critical to nurturing creativity and the development of thriving, culturally engaged communities.”

The theater space will be named for the Efroymson family, whose wealth was built from the hosiery business, in recognition of their gift.

“We commend the University of Chicago for leading this project and its work to positively impact the city and the South Side of Chicago,” said Elissa Hamid Efroymson, vice chair of the fund. “We are excited to be involved in a project that will bring diverse groups of people together and create new opportunities for the arts, artists and creative entrepreneurs.”

Once complete the theater would join other Gates projects on the block, including the University of Chicago’s Arts Incubator, the Currency Exchange Café and Bing bar.

Gates and the university also are planning a pavilion, arts center and park space for Garfield Boulevard.

Gates said in April that the park project is expected to cost $1.5 million, and he previously said the main art center would cost $8 million and the pavilion would cost $2 million. The university has not announced funding for the individual projects.

The art center is expected to open in 2020, but fundraising goals to get the project started have been in flux since it was announced a year ago. Updated renderings Gates presented in April showed the art center was being scaled back and possibly losing plans for a third floor, though the exact changes remain unclear.