University donates building to Hyde Park Art Center

By Caitlin Parton

The Hyde Park Art Center, currently located at 5307 South Hyde Park Boulevard, will move to University Theater’s (UT) shop at 5020 South Cornell in January 2006 following the University’s decision to donate the building.

The move comes as the Center begins a $5 million fundraising campaign to support the necessary renovations of the current property, targeting various foundations, corporations, and individual contributors.

The new building, complete with subsequent renovation, will allow the Center to expand its gallery space and will provide better access to technological tools. Students will also enjoy several improvements, including a bigger darkroom and new kilns for ceramics.

“We had been searching for a more permanent home for the Center,” said Annie Morse, Exhibitions Coordinator at the Center. “The University is interested in attracting and maintaining a relationship with arts organizations in the Hyde Park area and wanted to contribute to the community as a resource [for the arts].”

Founded in 1939, the center is one of the oldest community arts centers, and the longest-surviving alternative art gallery, in Chicago. It holds seven shows a year that focus on 5 to 12 new or avant-garde artists from Chicago and the Midwest. Over 1,500 artists have been included in these shows over the years, including Aldo Piacenza, Ed Paschke, Jim Nutt, Karl Wirsum, Paul Sierra, Jacob Hashimoto, Gelsy Verna, and Juan Angel Chavez.

The center has long been a focal point in the Hyde Park arts community. “In Chicago, the only institution that, over the long haul, has displayed faith in the city’s artists is the Hyde Park Art Center,” said art critic Franz Schulz.

Arts instruction at the Center began in 1940, and today it offers a wide range of classes, including sculpture, drawing, ceramics, painting, photography, and stained glass. Classes are offered for all ages, from preschoolers to adults, with over 1,000 students enrolled annually.

“When I was doing my master’s a few years ago, I went to a few classes that were offered at the Hyde Park Art Center on Saturday,” said Miranda Swanson, program coordinator of the Masters of Arts and of the humanities program in M.A.-Ph.D. “It was really wonderful. It’s nice to have working artists teaching.”

Swanson was a member of the Art Club at the University, which occasionally works with the center.

The center’s enrollment is diverse not only ethnically but also geographically, with half of the center’s students coming from surrounding South-Side neighborhoods.

An important part of the center is its outreach program. After requests from teachers at a local elementary school, the center created individualized arts programs for the many parks, schools, community centers, museums, and retirement homes throughout Chicago. The center aims to reach 4,000 students who would otherwise be without access to hands-on training in the arts. The President’s Committee on Art and Humanities has recognized the Hyde Park Art Center as one of 16 nonprofit organizations that work with at-risk youth.

Its Partners in Art: Artists Mentoring Teens program, which focuses mainly on schools in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Chicago, has been one of its most successful, actually raising the schoolwork and test scores of its participants.

The move will allow the art center to greatly improve its programs. “You can tell space is limited,” Swanson said. “They need new facilities. There isn’t enough space for storage.”