The University’s decision to lease the University Theater (UT) shop at 5020 South Cornell Avenue to the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC) is one that under normal circumstances should receive nothing but accolades and good will, but the University has taken a number of serious missteps along the way. Helping a community arts organization obtain more space is a wonderful thing, but taking an important space from a University arts organization in the process is a bit tactless.
UT is one of the largest student organizations at the U of C and in any given year puts on dozens of shows large and small that in some way affect almost a quarter of the University’s population. This is a remarkable achievement especially considering it’s in the unusual position of being run both by professionals and students. UT’s two theaters, design lab, and shop are constantly in use for rehearsals, shows, classes, and information sessions, not to mention being used by many other campus organizations such as Fire Escape (which filmed much of it’s 2002 feature Haunting Pierrot’s Ghost in the Cornell space). UT needs a place where it can build, store, and fix its copious sets, props, and costumes. Without a space for this, UT essentially cannot function.
There is no evidence that the University will leave UT out in the cold, and it seems safe to assume that the University News Office’s claim that the space was “unused” was an honest mistake, but a mistake nonetheless and one that should be rectified. The administration needs to support not only arts in Hyde Park but also the arts on campus. The University has been promising a Center for the Creative and Performing Arts as a show of its support for the arts. Before we go about building new dorms and giving away buildings, the University has to fulfill this promise.