Evanston aldermen tonight will be asked to approve creation of a nine-member committee to recommend next steps toward the possible creation of a downtown performing arts center.

If you think you’ve heard this tune before, it’s because creating a performing arts space downtown has been the subject of a number of previous studies over the past decade.

None so far have come close to providing an economically viable strategy for achieving the goal.

After two years of work, the Evanston Community Foundation released a study, “Advancing the Arts in Evanston” that called for creating an advisory committee for arts in the community among other recommendations.

In 2011 a Downtown Evanston study looked at the possbility of turning the former Varsity Theatre building on Sherman Avenue into a performing arts center.

In 2012 a study funded by the National Endowment for the Arts suggested the need for as many as four performing arts venues downtown — but left questions of how to fund them unresolved.

And earllier this year a preliminary report from the evanstARTs study, funded by the city and the community foundation, produced an array of recommendations, and portrayed the arts as a potential major contributor to economic development.

Meanwhile the city has struggled to come up with an economically viable plan for two existing arts venues it owns — the Noyes Cultural Arts Center and the Harley Clark mansion.

Top: A conceptual rendering of a theater that might be built downtown, from the 2012 study.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Arts Center — Have they heard of Northwestern?

    Ninety-nine percent of the cities in the U.S. would be thrilled out of their minds to have the venues of Northwestern University.

    But in Evanston each group wants to have its own center and unfortunately the city government seems only to happy to go along with them — sometimes delaying but we all know the council will wind up financing any group that wants space and even tax breaks, special grants and just plain gifts.

    I know the council and many in Evanston either don't know about NU or hate it so much that they won't even consider it. Who knows NU might even provide facilities for local performers. Of course NU understands economics [unlike the Council and so many residences who think money grows on trees and that government funding from any level is free money and does not effect any other projects or people] and would charge but certainly it would have to be less than the way the city handles expenses.

  2. Heres a thought

    Convert the Morton Civic Center to the Morton Performing Arts Center. Parking is available at the Civic Center.

    Convert the Old Recycling Center to the New Civic Center (City Hall). Charge all those interested in using the new Performing Arts Center market rent plus percent of income for usage.

    Eliminate all the current free rent and give backs we offering to get people to open bars.

    1. New Performing Arts

      "…new Performing Arts Center market rent plus percent of income for usage."


      But we want to at least have it pay its expenses and some margin for the city coffers.

      "Percent of income" would not provide much money to cover those costs given what the revenue would be.

      After all how many performances do the Council and "high class" proponents actually attend — I know they talk about it but they probably also talk about their leather bound works of Shakespeare and the 'Great Books" which only gather dust.

  3. Another idea

    One possibility:  link the proposed performing arts center with a hotel.  Since there are no new hotels on the drawing board, maybe joining up with an existing hotel.  How about the Orrington?  The previous owners controlled the parking garage on Sherman.  How about re-developing that property into a mixed use:  retail/performing arts/parking with a bridge connection to the Orrington.

    Need help figuring out how to pull this off? 

  4. Arts … or crime?

    Perhaps the aldermen should vote down forming this committee. Create a Committee to focus on crime in Evanston. Crime on all levels.

    Reading the police blotter it appears this is a greater need to work on than a performing arts center that city can't afford.

    They need to start listening to the needs of 100 percent of the city and not likes and dislikes of the 5 percent that decide to put a sign in front of their homes.

  5. “Economically Viable Strategy”

    A critically important point the article makes is that, " None so far have come close to providing an economically viable strategy for achieving the goal." A brand new, state of the art, performing arts center in downtown Evanston is "wanted" by many people. The big question we have to ask, is it "needed" ? We have to ask the difficult questions and differentiate between "Wants" and "Needs." Can this facility be financially self sufficient and sustainable? Who is going to pay for this and how? It seems like there are numerous performing arts facilities and venues in our community (how about opening up the ETHS auditorium for outside groups during the summer?), including NU, and the surrounding area. Do we really "need" to build another building or do we "want" one to satisfy our ego?

  6. Appointees to consider

    If the city council is really serious, they'll appoint Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland to the committee. It always works out in the end when those kids and their pals set their minds to putting on a show.

  7. Open your wallet if you want an arts center

    What we are really talking about here is to form a fund raising advisory committee. The members should have deep enough pockets to make the initial large contributions. Their job will be primarly fund raising. We must stop looking for an outside source to magically pay for our arts center. Everyone needs to donate some money, that is the only way it will get done.

    1. Art facilites by subscription

      If groups want an arts center, have a Subscription by residents that will at least pay its expenses.

      If resident, esp. the artsy rich, really want it, they can fund it by subscription.  Odds are 1. they don't attend events, 2. they got rich my knowing the value of money and would not want to spend their money on this.

      Probably most who push for the arts center and others are those wanting the public/government to fund their job training and income since they want to 'do what they want' and feel the public owes them the right to do what they want — including financial well being.

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