Evanston has been awarded a $50,000 federal grant to plan for development of a performing arts center in the city.

The Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is one of 51 awarded nationwide and the only in Illinois.

The NEA describes the Our Town program as its latest investment in “creative placemaking,” in which public and private sector groups come together to strategically shape the social, physical, and economic character of an area around arts and cultural activities.

In a statement, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said the project is designed to build capacity for existing arts organizations and “continue the transformation of downtown Evanston into a vibrant, 24-7 urban environment.”

She said the performing arts center would offer flexible spaces that would let multiple arts groups thrive in the heart of the city.

The mayor said Evanston has long been home to cultural arts organizations that have put down roots in our community, train artists and are a vital part of the local economy.

But as some groups have grown, they’ve outgrown their performance speces, forcing them to relocate outside of Evanston.

The new grant is designed to build on a recent city-funded study of the possibility of transforming the former Varsity Theater downtown into a performing arts center.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston said the grant brings the vision of a performance arts complex in the heart of Evanston a step closer to reality.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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