After two major meetings last month, the future of the Harley Clarke mansion is still not certain. It appears that City Council has heeded the pleas of many not to sell the mansion to Tawani Enterprises. That part being unwound, we still see a skein of issues, two of which are creating a public use for the mansion and finding a home – whether a new one or the same one on different terms – for the Evanston Art Center.
We think that if the mansion is to remain a public asset, it should have a more public use.
Even if the Art Center decides to remain at the mansion, provisions should be made for more public access.
We do understand that even now the Art Center has more functions than mansion space presently allows and that the mansion has several safety code violations. We heard the perhaps veiled warning by its executive director that the Evanston Art Center is a “regional” art center serving people in more than 80 zip codes.
We also understand that some would like the Art Center to relocate or pony up for some repair and rehab work. Still others have suggested demolishing the mansion entirely, leaving a larger public park area. While serious, we believe these issues can be worked out serially or spirally under a thoughtfully considered multi-lateral, multiyear plan.
There is a certain cachet to having an art center in Evanston and having its home in one of the most beautiful places in the City. However, if the Art Center is to remain in the mansion, new arrangements must be made to reserve part of the mansion for public use and access.
We remain firm in our belief that no public asset – mansion or parkland, at the lighthouse or elsewhere – should be sold. The primary issue, and one which we urge residents to keep foremost in their advocacy, is to keep the lakefront free of commercial use.
We urge Evanston residents concerned about the future of the Harley Clarke mansion to keep their eyes not just on the mansion itself but on the future of Evanston’s entire lakefront.