Gordon Parks Arts Hall opens at Lab School with new art exhibits

The George Lucas Family Foundation pledged $25 million to the Laboratory Schools to finance the creation of the Arts Hall.

By Peyton Alie

Students at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools have new opportunities to learn about the arts at the Gordon Parks Arts Hall, which opened this fall on East 58th Street and South Kimbark Avenue.

Last year, the George Lucas Family Foundation pledged $25 million to the Laboratory Schools to finance the creation of the Arts Hall. The grant was the culmination of the Lab+ Campaign, which raised more than double its original $40 million goal in support of the Laboratory Schools.

A three-story, 86,000 square foot building, the Arts Hall provides new performance halls, studios, and rehearsal spaces for student artists, allowing the Laboratory Schools to offer wider opportunities in art education.

George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises and president of the George Lucas Family Foundation, and Mellody Hobson, president of Chicago-based investment firm Ariel Investments and Lucas’ wife, requested that the building be named in honor of Gordon Parks, the first black staff writer and photographer for Life magazine. Parks is known for his photography of the Civil Rights Movement and daily life under racial segregation.

To commemorate the opening of the Arts Hall, Hobson and Lucas organized a panel of artists, including director Francis Ford Coppola, artist Theaster Gates, artist Jeff Koons, singer Janelle Monáe, and actor Samuel L. Jackson, on October 2.  The panelists discussed the obstacles they overcame in their careers and the ability of art to promote understanding and inclusion.

The next day, the celebration continued with an open house featuring representatives from the Gordon Parks Arts Foundation and members of Parks’ family. At the open house, Laboratory Schools director Robin Appleby praised Parks’ dedication to overcoming obstacles and commitment to social justice and encouraged students to draw inspiration from him.

The Laboratory Schools have also planned curricula related to Parks’ work. Faculty members read Parks’ memoir, A Hungry Heart, over the summer. Lower school students are sketching Life magazine cover images inspired by Parks’s photography, while middle school students are designing political posters and high school students are creating mixed-media art projects about race in America. Students also visited an exhibition of Parks’ work at the Arts Hall.