Skip to main content

U of C Arts & Public Life Incubator: CCT Community Strategy of the Year Award

For creating a vibrant new hub for artistic production, community engagement and creative placemaking on Chicago’s South Side, the University of Chicago’s Arts & Public Life Initiative, Arts Incubator is the 2014 winner of the Chicago Community Trust Outstanding Community Strategy of the Year Award.

A community with the city’s second highest poverty rate and a commercial vacancy rate of 26 percent may not strike many as the ideal place for an arts center. But to the University of Chicago and Theaster Gates, Washington Park presented the perfect location for its Arts Incubator, the home base and nucleus of the University’s Arts & Public Life Initiative.

The Incubator—the result of a $1.85 million renovation of an abandoned historic two-story terra cotta structure at Garfield Boulevard and Prairie Avenue completed in 2013—is a space for artist residencies, arts education, community-based art projects and events. Large windows, 10,000-square-feet of studio space, a wood shop and rooms for programming, make the Incubator an ideal space for performance, creation and connectivity. In the first six months after its opening, the Incubator hosted more than 40 events, including jazz and blues concerts, community meetings and public lectures.

Looking beyond the neighborhood’s challenges, Gates and the University saw Washington Park—with its museums, parks, access to transportation and strong civic pride—as the ideal place to use the arts as an essential element of placemaking, community cohesion and community revitalization. The university’s proposal aligns with the community’s already-established 2009 quality-of-life plan.

The University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life Initiative creates new opportunities for residents of Washington Park and nearby Woodlawn through three key program areas: Design Apprenticeship for youth; Artists in Residence for outstanding local artists; and ongoing exhibitions and public programs. The University is also creating off-site arts education and workforce training opportunities for local residents.

The Chicago Community Trust Outstanding Community Strategy of the Year Award is given to a non-profit development organization and/or collaboration of organizations in recognition of the development and successful implementation of a strategy that promotes and is integral to comprehensive community development.