By Ruthie Kott, AM'07
Photo by Robert Kozloff

Since the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts first opened its doors in March 2012, the center has come to life through a range of arts events, some scheduled and some unexpected.

The first concerts, conferences, and gallery shows have shown the center’s potential as a hub for the campus and the city. But the venue itself already is prompting original and spontaneous artistic responses, including dance and music pieces performed in the building’s many nooks and crannies, and arts events that have attracted families from all over Chicago. The building even inspired an original composition by Prof. Shulamit Ran, entitled “Logan Promenades.”

“I think that this building will inspire many special and interesting and diverse works in all the art forms,” says Ran, the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor in Music. “I think there will be, of course, composers but also playwrights, painters, and sculptors and dancers and people working in all sorts of collaborative media who will find the place inspiring.”

Creating new avenues for expression is a key mission of the Logan Center, which will host a public celebration, the Logan Launch Festival, on Oct. 12-14. Nearly all of the events are free and open to the public. The festival will make use of the 11-story facility’s innovative spaces and all that students, faculty staff, and community partners have learned about the building in the last six months.

“It has been great to see the many unexpected ways that our students, faculty, and visiting artists have started to make the Logan Center their own,” says Bill Michel, the Logan Center’s executive director. “The Logan Launch Festival brings faculty, students, professional artists, alumni and our neighbors together in ways that have not been possible before – a symbol of what we hope the Logan Center will be for years to come.”

A wide range of artistic disciplines will be represented in the Logan Launch Festival: Visitors can hear a University of Chicago Presents–sponsored concert by the Grammy-winning Turtle Island Quartet; attend a Theater and Performance Studies production of alumnus David Auburn’s, AB’91, play, Proof, and the first public reading of Chicago director Sean Graney’s All Our Tragic, which adapts 32 Greek tragedies into a 12-hour event; and participate in an animation workshop with LEGO animator David M. Pickett, AB’07, presented by the Logan Center for the Arts Family Programming. “Wall Text,” a building-wide exhibition, will feature the work of DOVA alumni and past and present faculty.

Rooms for reflection

The Logan Center weaves together artistic practices within the 184,000-square-foot building. Many spaces—from the performance hall to the outdoor courtyard to the hallways—are multifunctional, having already been used for exhibitions, screenings, and a variety of performances. A “mixing bowl,” as architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have called the building, Logan is a hotbed for artistic collaboration, where visual artists, musicians, sculptors, dancers, actors, and filmmakers can all interact.

During the Logan Launch Festival, the building itself will inspire art making and self-reflection, with opening weekend programs such as Sonic Environments: The Work of Richard Lerman: Sound Installation Piece, presented by the Film Studies Center. Filmmaker and sound artist Lerman—the Film Studies Center’s first artist-in-residence at the Logan Center—created a site-specific installation that relays acoustic vibrations to listening stations in the North Tower stairwell. He will also hold a screening of his films and a performance of his well-known Travelon Gamelon.

Poem Present will launch the inaugural Reva Logan Poetry Series with a reading of original poems inspired by the Logan Center. On Oct. 13, poet Adam Zagajewski, the Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished Service Professor in UChicago’s John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, will read his poem, “We Know What Art Is.” The poets were given a broad assignment, says creative-writing coordinator Kate Soto. Zagajewski’s poem, says Soto, is “a reflection on art.”

Preview performances

During the preview period, as construction continued, Logan faculty and staff members smoothed out some of the kinks and experimented with some large-scale programming.

With large events such as the "Comics: Philosophy & Practice" conference in May, sponsored by the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, or the eight performances from the 2012 Hyde Park Jazz Festival that took place in the Logan Center on Sept. 29–30, there was a chance to take advantage of new technology and creative programming throughout the Logan Center. “Most events will use more than one space,” says David Wolf, associate director for arts technology and digital media at the Logan Center. “For instance, there’ll be discussion or a screening in one room and then a performance in another.”

In that spirit of experimentation, Monika Szewczyk, Visual Arts program coordinator, curated Televisionism, which transformed the Logan Center Gallery into a TV studio—one that hosted conversations with “Chicago’s cultural protagonists,” says Szewczyk, about the present and future of the Logan Center.

Part of that future, Emily Hooper Lansana hopes, is the growth of community relationships that were cultivated during the Logan Center’s preview period. As the community partnerships manager in Arts and Public Life, Lansana helped manage a youth art showcase this summer—an event in the performance hall that featured performances by South Side arts groups including M.A.D.D. Rhythms, the Kleo Community Family Life Center, and Red Clay Dance Youth Ensemble.

“The University of Chicago is situated right in the center of the South Side,” says Lansana. There is “a wonderful opportunity for students to deepen their learning experience by engaging with the community that they are a part of during the time they’re here. I think that community brings forth a rich, creative tradition that celebrates a variety of different experiences.”

Opportunities on campus

One thing the preview phase has shown: arts staff, faculty, and students are eager to try out the many new creative spaces the Logan Center provides.

“The Logan is a really great place for all the people who’ve already been doing this work at the University to be in the same place,” says Julia Gibbs, assistant director of the Film Studies Center.

Gibbs and the Film Studies Center just started to use the new screening room in the Logan Center. With 129 seats, it is “a very high-end screening room,” she says. “It’s been acoustically isolated; it has gorgeous projection—digital and film—and the sound is just phenomenal.”

For students who want to make their own films, whether they’re enrolled in an arts class or simply interested in filmmaking or photography, they’re able to check out video cameras and lighting and sound equipment from the Logan Media Center. Students always have had an interest in taking advantage of photography and videography resources, even when the equipment cage was in Midway Studios. “They’ve always been hungry for some avenue by which they can get access,” says Wolf. But with the Logan Media Center, with more space and staff, “we’re now at a point where we can be more responsive to those students.”

“Facilities are incredibly important to artists. Whether we are working with screen printing, ceramics, photography, or simply need a place to exhibit our paintings for review, the limits to our creativity are only really drawn by the spaces and tools available to us,” says Steve Ruiz, a second-year MFA student. “The Logan Center has some of the best spaces and tools I’ve ever seen – the recording studios, stages, and theaters in particular are extremely inspiring. And of course I love my studio.”

For students, the opportunities to make art in the Logan Center are ever expanding. During the preview period, for example, Leigh Fagin, the center’s assistant director of collaborative programming, worked with students to create the Logan Cabaret series in the intimate Performance Penthouse, in which students could sign up to perform dance, music, spoken word, or other art forms. Offering students the chance to perform in a biweekly program, with a student emcee and occasional guest performers, says Fagin, the series offers a chance for people “from all over campus to perform for each other and share their talents in an informal setting.”

An arts destination for the city

Faculty and staff also hope the arts that are happening at the Logan Center draw in new audiences from other parts of the city, making Hyde Park and the UChicago campus a destination for the arts.

Amy Iwano, executive director of University of Chicago Presents, anticipates the state-of-the-art performance hall bringing people to the South Side to hear concerts. The performance hall offers “good acoustics and a capacity and design where both audience members and performers can feel that all-important connection that contributes to a fulfilling performance experience,” she says. And “because of the Logan Center's amenities—accessible parking, box office services, nice restrooms, the café—more Chicago audiences than ever before will think about heading south of downtown for cultural experiences.”

Once visitors reach Hyde Park, they can see what the rest of the University and its neighboring communities have to offer. The Logan Center is not claiming to be the only place where art will happen on campus. “It functions as a portal to the disparate artistic endeavors on and off campus,” says Szewczyk. “A kind of search engine in physical form.”

But still, it’s the largest place on campus invested in inspiring and promoting interdisciplinary art making. “It will support students in their specific arts pursuits, and it also will provide unexpected positive experiences due to the multipurpose nature of the building,” says Iwano. “Perhaps a dancer is waiting around to get into the studio and hears another student at the piano in one of the practice rooms—and they end up creating a performance piece together.”

Soto agrees. “I think [the Logan Center] is going to grow our population and grow the number of people who want to do interdisciplinary work. It’s a good time to make art at the University.”

Originally published on October 1, 2012.