Evanston Art Center looks for a new home


The Evanston Art Center is looking for new quarters after learning it may lose its rent-free home in a city-owned lakefront mansion.

The non-profit center, which according to its latest financial report to the federal government had income of over $1.2 million last year, mostly from fees for classes it offers, has been based at the mansion for at least two decades.

Norah Diedrich, the center's executive director, says the decision last month by the City Council to considering selling the mansion came as a surprise.

Top: Children in an art center class take a break for some playtime on the center's front lawn. Above: The classroom the kids left behind.

"It was difficult news," Diedrich says. "When it got to the public, we started getting very worried calls from students wondering if they'd be able to take fall classes, from faculty members wondering whether they'd be teaching, and from a donor wondering where her promised gift might be going."

She said the center's board is now looking at several options for its facility needs — ranging from a new agreement with the city to stay in the mansion, to looking for a new space in downtown Evanston or possibly some other community.

Adult students work on projects in the metalworking studio in what once was the mansion's conservatory.

"We're on a very tight timetable, Diedrich said, "We have promised Mayor Tisdahl to present her with a proposal no later than Oct. 1." And, she said, the proposal needs to include an implementation timetable.

While the center's lease with the city runs through 2021, it contains provisions that would let either the center or the city terminate the agreement, "I believe with 240 days notice," Dietrich said.

Christophe Roberts' lion made from Nike shoe boxes is among the works on display in the center's galleries.

The Tudor-style mansion, built in 1926 and described as the last lakefront mansion built in Evanston before the stock market crash in 1929, provides 15,000 to 17,000 square feet of space on four levels, including the basement.

The building includes gallery space on the main floor and classroom and studio space on its other levels.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says the city, facing revenue shortfalls, lacks the funds to make capital improvements needed on the building, which has suffered from decades of deferred maintenance.

A gallery exhibit of paper collages and an animated video all by Jang Soon Im.

Bobkiewicz also suggested that the city consider new uses, including a possible sale, of the Chandler-Newberger Recreation Center and the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.

Aldermen rejected the idea of closing the rec center, but agreed to explore new funding arrangements for the Noyes Center.

Artists at Noyes currently pay rent to the city for their studio space, but the rent — typically $12 to $15 per square foot per year — hasn't been sufficient to cover capital improvements to the building.

Figured at rates equivalent to what art groups are charged at Noyes, the free rent for the art center amounts to a city subsidy of roughly $200,000 a year.


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