Washington Park Arts Incubator

The University of Chicago

Funding Received: 2012
Chicago, IL
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
January 8, 2014

Design Apprenticeship Program (DAP) student leads guests through the interactive Black Power exhibition

The Arts+Public Life Initiative creates an intersection between communities on the South Side and the University of Chicago. We look for engaging opportunities to explore these connections through arts and culture. December offered a number of rich moments that highlight the complex history and present reality of our neighborhood.

We hosted the exhibition "Black Power! In Tribute to Fred Hampton" curated by the Center for the Study of Race Politics and Culture and featuring the work of Jean Michel Bruyere and the artist collective LFK’s-Marseille. This allowed us to engage an even broader audience with our work. The events included:

-- An opening reception for the four site “Revenir a Chicago/Return to Chicago Tribute to Fred Hampton vitaNONova #5” drew more than 100 people from the community and the University, including several founding members of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther party.

-- A multimedia installation that continues through January 2014 engaged visitors through photography, video projection, and audio.

-- A six-hour live performance in the window of the vacant storefront two doors down from the Incubator drew a number of passersby into discussion with us.

-- Busses transported visitors from the opening reception at our site to the University and other community sites.

-- Given the tension that some members of the community feel surrounding very real issues of race and class, this was a wonderful opportunity to expand our audience and to consider some aspects of Chicago’s history through a contemporary lens.


University of Chicago students braved the cold to take a study break at the Arts Incubator during finals week. Study at the Arts Incubator was a program created in partnership with the University of Chicago Arts Pass program, the Smart Museum of Art, and the Oriental Institute

Recent Wins
-- Urban Gateways (a Chicago-based arts education organization) approached us about partnering on their project, “Imagine Main Street,” a program designed to support young people working in collaboration with artists to activate vacant storefront space. We were able to engage the students and staff who are part of our Design Apprenticeship Program (DAP) with a local artist to create an exhibition in the vacant Harold’s Chicken Shack space two doors down. We connected this to the larger Black Power exhibition. DAP students built the stage for one component of the project and created their own exhibition activating not only the window but also the entire space.

-- On December 9th, Theaster Gates (Director of the Arts and Public Life initiative) received the Connecting Communities Through the Arts Award from the South East Chicago Commission for the Arts Incubator in Washington Park. During our first six months of operations, we have received two important awards recognizing our programmatic efforts.

-- We continue to look for ways to draw in new audiences. On the evening of December 4th we had our first study night for University students. We were pleased to welcome 50 students—many of whom were visiting for the first time. They studied, practiced yoga, and visited the exhibition during study breaks. This was part of a study series at cultural institutions across the campus so it was meaningful not only as a way of engaging students but also as a means of building our connections with the other institutions.


University of Chicago students enjoy a yoga break with Romonda from Chaturanga Holistic Fitness, a Hyde Park yoga studio that offers free community classes to Washington Park residents at the Arts Incubator

We are learning more and more about the ways in which we can leverage the resources of the University and the community to increase our capacity and expand our audience. The intersection of 55th Street and Prairie Avenue is becoming an important place for exchange simply by the fact that we are drawing in community members, local artists, scholars, and University staff. We are cultivating a fruitful environment for cultural exchange.