The Evanston Art Center sees its new home as a place where creativity and community can converge.      Courtesy of Evanston Art Center

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When the Evanston Art Center moves from its home on the lakefront to up-and-coming Central Street East, the change will be more than one of location, said executive director Norah Diedrich. The new location, 1717 Central St., she said, will be “where creativity meets community.”

The proximity of public transportation, a nearby park for recreation for the children’s camps, a parking lot that should accommodate students and artists, light-filled open spaces and moveable walls are some of the perks of 1717 Central St. The Art Center completed the purchase of the building earlier this month.

“The building is good – the location is great,” Ms. Diedrich said. “We are thrilled to be on Central Street as it is beginning to grow. … The businesses on east Central Street are really excited. We know many of them already.”

The building was constructed in the 1950s as an IBM building, said Paula Danoff, director of development for the Art Center. The “fins” on the front were designed to resemble computer punch cards, she added.

Layout/Out Reach

With 12 studios, nine exhibition spaces, moveable walls, clustering of similar, complementary or compatible media, and space for screening films and for holding culinary events, the layout of the 20,000-square-foot,  two-story, half-basement building will reflect the programming and the mission.

“In the new building, we will have everything that is now in this building and the Noyes Cultural Arts Center – print-making, jewelry-making, figure sculpture – everything but metalworking. … We’re [also] going to do a lot with digital media,” Ms. Diedrich said.

William Floyd, vice president of the Art Center board of trustees, said, “This is part of our due diligence – to see if our programming will hold up. …These spaces are for 21st-century creating and learning.”

Juxtapositions of complementary or similar media – of the printmaking and photographic studios, for example – can act as a catalyst for creativity, said Mr. Floyd. A corner of that floor is termed the “collision corner,” where creativity can occur by happenstance or in conversation.

The openness of the design contrasts with the smaller, discrete galleries and  studios in the mansion. “We put people in boxes sometimes – now we are taking them out of boxes,” said Mr. Floyd.

The Art Bar, a coffee shop open to the community, will attract foot traffic as well as accommodate parents waiting to pick up their children. And the Art Center’s mobile art van, Art VanGo, will continue to bring arts activities out into the community.

But change is of the essence, said Ms. Diedrich. “There comes a period in one’s history when the status quo doesn’t work. [The Art Center] has to go from a cultural organization to a civic-minded cultural organization,” Ms. Diedrich said.  “None of us wants this [new] building to be what people think of when they think of [the mansion]. We want movement, music, film, digital …,” she added.

The Art Center plans to continue its partnership with local schools, businesses, universities and not-for-profits. “In partnership with Youth Organizations Umbrella, we do after-school programs at Nichols and Dawes, and this weekend (Nov. 14) we are doing a clay project with Senior Connections,” said Ms. Diedrich. Other partners are Evanston Township High School, Loyola Academy, New Trier High School, Harper School, Family Focus, Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, Have Dreams, Genesis Art Supply, Goods of Evanston, Insight Arts, Northwestern University, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Rotary International, Rush Behavioral Health, Science Po (Paris, France) and Whole Foods. 

“We are working with Northwestern’s FUSE [hands-on learning and design] and STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics] programs,” Ms. Diedrich said. Some of the Northwestern students who interned at the Art Center have gone on to successful careers and graduate programs.

Smaller-scale “cottage” artists would also be welcome in the new Evanston Art Center.

Alderman Jane Grover, whose Seventh Ward holds both the present and future locations of the Evanston Art Center, spoke of the “subculture” of artists and craftspeople working in their homes. “And we want to be part of that,” said Ms. Diedrich.

The Art Center plans to hold “co-creative” sessions in each ward. “We want user-generated programming,” said Ms. Diedrich. “As long as the lights are on and the HVAC is running, we want people in there.

A Capital Campaign

The goal for the Art Center’s capital campaign, “See the Bigger Picture,” is $2.5 million. The process began three years ago, Ms. Danoff said, with the hiring of a consultant who came up with that number, even before it became apparent that the Art Center would have to relocate. With donations from board members, students, businesses and with the annual spring benefit, she said, “we’ve raised close to $1.7 million, and some more is promised. “

“Do you get the sense that there was a pent-up desire to give?” asked Ald. Grover, alluding to the sense of uncertainty over the past two years about the future of the mansion and of the Art Center.

“About a year ago, we had people who were willing to give us gifts, which reaffirmed for us that people were excited about the Art Center and would be sad to see it go away,” said Ms. Danoff.

With its 85 years of history of donors on the North Shore, the Art Center has received some very significant gifts. Jennifer Pritzker donated $500,000, “and another $500,000 came from an anonymous source,” said Ms. Danoff. If the capital campaign is successful, she said, “we hope to be debt-free by our 90th anniversary. It takes a whole village to make this happen.”