May 8, 2013

By Susie Marshall

The University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life initiative on March 8 opened its new Arts Incubator in the Washington Park neighborhood—providing a dedicated space for artists to grow professionally and build creative connections with the surrounding community.

The newly renovated Arts Incubator, envisioned by internationally recognized artist and place strategist Theaster Gates, includes 10,000 square feet of studio space for artists-in-residence, a woodshop for design apprenticeship programming, and additional program space for exhibitions and events. The Arts Incubator, located at 301 E. Garfield Blvd., is housed in a two-story, terra cotta building dating to the 1920s.

“The University’s commitment to expanding our work in the arts takes many forms, and our new Arts Incubator is the most recent addition to this arts fabric,” said University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer. “It will provide a venue for artists, particularly those from the South Side communities, their work and experimentation, and their interaction with the University of Chicago faculty, students and staff. We believe this will be an important addition to both the University and the South Side.”

The Arts Incubator’s programs include an innovative artist residency program, which unites professional development opportunities for artists with the University’s efforts to greatly enhance the cultural amenities of the Washington Park community. The program, presented in partnership with the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at UChicago, garnered more than 150 applications this year, and is a much-needed opportunity for Chicago-based artists, according to Gates.

“Artists need space and resources to deepen their practices, share their wares, perform their chops, and communities like Washington Park benefit from new sources of creative energy. That’s why artists are such an essential element of a successful social space,” said Gates, director of the Arts and Public Life initiative. “I’m excited the University of Chicago has embraced this innovative model for community engagement and shown such willingness to think about new ways we can be good neighbors and collaborators on the South Side.”

The incubator is an outgrowth of Gates’ ongoing work with the Rebuild Foundation and Dorchester Projects, creative redevelopment projects designed to revitalize abandoned properties in Chicago’s Grand Crossing neighborhood and throughout the Midwest. The Arts Incubator building, which was originally a Walgreens drugstore, sat unused for nearly 20 years. The University purchased the property in 2008 and invested $1.85 million in renovations. The incubator also received a $400,000 grant from ArtPlace, an organization that supports creative place-making efforts across the United States.

“The University of Chicago is committed not only to supporting healthy, vibrant communities on the South Side, but also to pioneering new kinds of engagement with our neighbors,” said Derek Douglas, the University’s vice president for Civic Engagement. “Projects like the Arts Incubator, which melds culture and community in novel ways, are integral to that mission.”

“The Arts Incubator is a great new addition to Garfield Boulevard and all of Washington Park, bringing new vitality to the area around the Green Line Garfield “L” station,” said 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell. “The renovation of this beautiful terra cotta building and the activity that will happen there will serve as both an example and a catalyst for what is possible on this historic boulevard.”

“We congratulate Theaster Gates and the University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life initiative on the opening of this exciting new arts space,” said Michelle T. Boone, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. “The Arts Incubator will elevate and expand the cultural assets of the Washington Park neighborhood, foster cultural innovation, and help the City attract and retain artists and creative professionals in Chicago—all of which are priorities of the Chicago Cultural Plan.”

The Arts Incubator is the signature project of the Arts and Public Life initiative. Arts and Public Life was created in 2011 and aims to foster collaboration and conversation between the University and the civic, cultural and artistic communities of the South Side.

“Through Arts and Public Life and the Arts Incubator, the University of Chicago can help build on the South Side’s rich history of artistic excellence,” said Larry Norman, deputy provost for the arts. “We are exceptionally fortunate to have someone with Theaster’s talent, thoughtfulness and profound commitment to community leading this effort.”

In addition to the artist residency program, the Arts Incubator’s projects and activities include:

  • Exhibitions, performances and other public programming
  • Arts education, including a design apprenticeship program for teens and adults in neighboring communities, providing resources and skills training for redevelopment and beautification projects along Garfield Boulevard
  • Ongoing partnerships and engagement with South Side arts and civic organizations including the Washington Park Consortium, South East Chicago Commission, KLEO (Keep Loving Each Other) Community Family Life Center, Urban Gateways Center for Arts Education and the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce
  • Open hours for the public on Mondays from noon-3 p.m. and Wednesdays from 3-6 p.m. and during public programs and events

The five Chicago-based artists-in-residence at the Arts Incubator for 2012-2013 are musician LeRoy Bach, photographer Cecil McDonald Jr., musician Tomeka Reid, filmmaker Cauleen Smith and writer avery r. young. Each received an honorarium of $10,000 and will have access to UChicago’s academic and research resources during their residency.

The Arts Incubator’s first exhibition, Feedback, engages with the concepts of collaboration, dialogue and exchange. Comprised of artwork, various programs and a public dinner, it begins within the confines of the first-floor exhibition space and reverberates into the Washington Park community through acts of publicly displayed works and performances. Smith’s Park Interiors: 17 Possible Directions, silkscreened wallpaper adhering to the exterior of buildings from 118-132 E. Garfield Blvd., is currently on view. Feedback runs from March 8-April 27 and features the work of Terry Adkins, Blanche Bruce, Alexandria Eregbu, Nyeema Morgan, Abbéy Odunlami and Kamau Patton, as well as artists-in-residence McDonald and Smith.

For a full schedule of public events at the Arts Incubator and more information on how to participate, visit