By Andrew Bauld | Main photo by Jean Lachat
In 2001, a report entitled “The Future of the Arts at the University of Chicago” documented the increased engagement of students, faculty, staff and the community with the arts on campus, and highlighted the need for new facilities to accommodate the growing demand.
“The creative and performing arts should play an important role in the intellectual and cultural aspirations of the University,” wrote members of UChicago’s Arts Study Group. It recommended a site at 60th Street and Drexel Avenue for a new creative and performing arts center for the University.
In October 2012, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, an 11-story, 184,000-square-foot, multi-use building, opened, housing undergraduate and graduate arts programs; providing resources for students, faculty, community arts partners, public events, performances and exhibitions, educational programming for youth and adults; and space for artists and arts organizations to grow.
Over the next five years the Logan Center would become a locus of activity, changing the face of the arts at the University of Chicago and on the South Side. It hosted blockbuster events, including a historic comics conference and a residency for acclaimed composer and alumnus Philip Glass; festivals celebrating the blues and poet Gwendolyn Brooks and Chinese opera; numerous exhibitions and artists collectives such as AfriCOBRA; numerous exhibitions and artists collectives such as AfriCOBRA; monthly community programs like Logan Family Saturdays; and weekly events like the Third Tuesday Jazz series.
“What’s been stunning is how you can have a festival foregrounding the philosophy of comics and graphic novels, and you can have a night at the Peking opera, and you can have visual artist William Pope.L. install a piece on the windows when the Logan opened,” said Bill Brown, senior advisor to the Provost for Arts. “You immediately got the sense that the artists in the building were asserting their possession of the building.”
A beacon on the South Side
Brown was a member of that initial Arts Study Group. While the arts were thriving on campus, there was a severe lack of space. There was no doubt that an arts center was needed, but there was a question of where it should be located.
“I can remember we had a blue dot that we moved around on a giant map of the campus when we were trying to figure out where the Logan would be,” Brown said. “Then there was a monumental decision to go south.”
That decision would prove prophetic. While the Logan was certainly planned as a space for the incredible artistic talent among students and faculty, it would also become something greater for the community beyond campus.
“The Logan Center really has been a catalyst, and it has inspired work—it doesn’t just receive ideas, it generates ideas,” Brown said. “It has become this remarkable resource and cultural magnet for the South Side. It really is a kind of beacon on the South Side of the Midway.”
Attracting the community
In the beginning, not everyone was a believer.
“I went to a pre-construction meeting at the Smart Museum, and they were saying how it would be functioning for the University and for the community and I thought, I don’t believe this,” said Patric McCoy, AB’69.
A former environmental scientist, McCoy is an active collector of contemporary African-American art and the founder of Diasporal Rhythms, a South Side arts collaborative that collects and preserves art from the African Diaspora.
That first year, McCoy’s organization hosted a major exhibition in the Logan, attracting hundreds from the community to honor the work and the artists the group had catalogued and collected over the years.
McCoy said he realized then that the Logan really could do all it promised, and since that first exhibit, he’s witnessed first-hand how the building has opened its doors to community organizations.
“I’ve seen more and more wonderful activities and performances that have come from the community,” McCoy said. “It’s really been a good addition to the South Side cultural scene.”
A space for making
Bill Michel sees the Logan’s impact on a daily basis. The executive director of UChicago Arts and the Logan Center since 2010, he has not only seen the building become a reality, he’s helped usher in a new era of the arts at UChicago.
“I’ve been excited to see over the last five years the Logan Center become a dynamic place that connects the University to great artists and organizations from the South Side, and create a community where people are learning from each other,” Michel said.
The Logan Center has become a home for collaborations and partnerships with arts organizations throughout the University and the city of Chicago. Working with faculty in the College and Division of the Humanities, it also has helped to strengthen academic arts programs through new offerings, including a major in creative writing to a joint PhD program in Theater and Performance Studies to supporting interdisciplinary collaborations through the Arts, Science + Culture Initiative.
“It’s a center for teaching, and every day there are students and faculty who are here creating, working in our shops and theater and media center, who really are having opportunities with enhanced resources and spaces to develop their artistic practice,” Michel said.
Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, assistant professor of practice in the arts on the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies, agrees that along with the enormous and exciting events that have been held in the space, what she appreciates most is the fact that the Logan Center is designed for creation.
“I remember from the get-go the Logan Center wasn’t treated with preciousness,” Danzig said. “It was treated as working centers for art-making. Even the building itself is intended to show art practice and the kind of research artists are doing.”
That openness hasn’t just attracted professional artists. Fourth-year and economics major Sharif Jamaldin found an “oasis” from his usual world of analytical thinking working in the Logan Center Shop, the production center on the first floor of the Logan.
Jamaldin, who enjoyed wood shop in high school, found his way to the Logan as a first-year student. He was looking to make repairs on a guitar and while there, asked if there were any job openings. A week later he was hired.
“Even though I’m not in the arts community, I still have access to it,” Jamaldin said. “I really like being in a creative space where people are doing cool things and being surrounded by creativity.”
That creative space has grown in unexpected and exciting ways in only five years, and Brown is confident that the Logan Center will continue to drive new collaborations between artists, scholars and enthusiasts over the next half-decade and beyond.
“The Logan Center is not just a building,” Brown said. “It’s a project for the arts and about the arts, but also about the University, its communities and the surrounding neighborhoods—it’s a crucial part of the arts scene in Chicago.”
Originally published on October 17, 2017.