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Alderman: Art Center needs to pay to stay

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An alderman Monday suggested the Evanston Art Center will have to pay more money to stay in the Harley Clarke mansion.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said EAC should pay rent at a rate similar to what the city charges artists at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.

For the roughly 16,000 square foot mansion, that would work out to about $200,000 a year.

EAC for decades has had a $1 a year lease on the mansion with the city.

At a Human Service Committee meeting where they were joined by dozens of arts center supporters, the non-profit's executive director, Norah Diedrich, and board president, Tess Lickerman, said that when the center went looking for a new home recently, they determined it would cost $4 million to $8 million to buy and equip a suitable new property.

Top: The Harley Clarke mansion. Above: Tess Lickerman and Norah Diedrich at the Human Services Committee meeting.

But a fundraising feasibility study indicated the group could only raise between $2 million and $2.5 million.

The city has concluded the mansion needs $170,000 in immediate life-safety improvements plus another $100,000 for a study to determine the full scope of repairs needed.

Diedrich and Lickerman said EAC wants to fully renovate the building, and that they are confident they can raise more than $2.5 million to do it.

After more than an hour of public comment, the committee voted to recommend that City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz work with EAC to negotiate a new lease agreement.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said of EAC's request for at least 60 days to discuss a new lease, "I think it is a fair request and well within the realm of reasonable."

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said he agreed with Grover, but added that he hoped EAC in the future would also be "more inclusive" of larger swath of city residents.

Five of the committee's six members were present for the session. Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, didn't attend the session.

About two dozen people spoke at the meeting in support of the art center.

Resident and retiree James McHolland, the father of Chute Middle School principal Jim McHolland, said taking art classes at the center had changed his life.

"My teacher has been transforming of my life, he has bled out of me an artist I didn't even know existed," he said.

And Evanston Township High School visual arts teacher Pam Sloane said EAC programs provide affordable supplements to the classes offered at ETHS, especially for students who can't take certain art classes due to schedule conflicts.

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