L1 is a newly renovated retail space and creative business accelerator opening on the Arts Block this Spring inside the historic first “L” station built in 1892.

The facility, operated and managed by Arts + Public Life, will house three South Side entrepreneurs committed to scaling their creative businesses over the next two years. This commerce focused addition to the Arts Block, along the 300 E Block of Garfield Boulevard is an extension of the arts and culture redevelopment efforts of Arts + Public Life, an initiative of UChicago Arts at the University of Chicago. The creative business accelerator joins the Arts Incubator, opened in 2013 and the Green Line Performing Arts Center, opened in 2018.

Scheduled to open in Spring 2020, the new L1 creative business accelerator is a shared storefront retail space and collaborative learning opportunity for creative entrepreneurs. Through an open call application process, highly motivated creative business owners are encouraged to apply for the inaugural two-year cohort. Interested applicants should already have legally established businesses. Ideal applicants are those looking to expand their early stage, to long-term in-home, online, or consignment businesses to operate out of a bricks and mortar location in the Washington Park neighborhood. 

Arts + Public Life is partnering with The Silver Room Foundation’s urban planning and social impact arm, Proximity, to facilitate the accelerator program, “L1: Creative Business Elevated.” In the spirit of one of Chicago’s earliest ‘L’ station facilities, L1 is designed to support an elevation-focused transformative process for participants. By providing over 700 square feet of flexible storefront space and 20-month curriculum-based, cohort model of services, L1 will provide creative entrepreneurs the unique opportunity to learn, launch, and build their networks in a structured and supportive manner. Participating entrepreneurs will receive subsidized retail space, mentorship, extensive training and educational resources from seasoned experts in the areas of business strategy, management, leadership, sales, marketing, brand positioning, accounting, corporate responsibility, and business law. Through additional partnerships, including The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago, L1 will work to eliminate some of the traditional barriers of entry to business ownership for creative entrepreneurs, while successfully diversifying the small business and employment options available for Washington Park and residents of Chicago’s South Side. 

Entrepreneurs with creative retail, service, and other arts-based businesses that serve a predominantly South Side customer base were encouraged to complete the online application during the application window of December 4, 2019 through January 13, 2020 (11:59 CST).

The L1 Creative Business Accelerator is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, Bank of America, and Raymond J. Iwanowski (UChicago alum). More details about additional accelerator partnerships and program specifics will be shared in 2020. Please stay tuned.



Arts + Public Life (APL), an initiative of UChicago Arts, provides platforms for artists and access to arts programming through artist residencies, arts education, creative entrepreneurship, and artist-led programs and exhibitions. Arts + Public Life advances and promotes a robust, collaborative, and evolving relationship between the University of Chicago and the South Side’s vibrant civic, cultural, and artistic communities.

The Silver Room Foundation mission is to create intentional experiences, spaces, events, and programming to connect communities of color on Chicago’s south side to the arts. The Foundation’s urban planning and social impact arm, Proximity, creates and implements replicable creative entrepreneurship accelerator models by which community organizations can help to encourage various arts and creative entrepreneurship districts to emerge and thrive on Chicago’s South & West Sides. Eric Williams, L1’s lead program manager, is the founder of The Silver Room Foundation and founder and creative director of The Silver Room, a community events hub, art gallery, and retail space established in 1997. As a social entrepreneur, Williams has successfully addressed the historic disenfranchisement in communities of color by providing space, support and programming that responds to his core constituents’ needs. Williams holds a degree in finance from the University of Illinois at Chicago and was a 2017-2018 Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.