The Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts is scheduled to visit Evanston Thursday morning to participate in a roundtable discussion about creating a performing arts district downtown.

The NEA has provided $50,000 in funding to develop an architectural study and financial plan for the development.

The grant description for the project says it will propose scenarios for the rehabilitation, development and programming of the Second Baptist Church at 1717 Benson Ave. and the former Varsity Theater at 1706-1710 Sherman Ave.

A goal of the project is to retain in Evanston local theater, dance and music companies that have outgrown their original venues.

Among the people scheduled to participate in the roundtable discussion with Rocco Landesman of the NEA are Carolyn Dellutri of Downtown Evanston, Carol Coletta of ArtPlace,Terry Scrogum of the Illinois Arts Council and Greg Cameron of Arts Alliance Illinois.

The session is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at the Downtown Evanston offices, 820 Davis St.

Top: The Varsity Theater building.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. This would be great for Evanston

    I hope everyone understands the significance of this proposal. This would be the greatest thing to happen to downtown Evanston in many years.

  2. The Economic Engine of the Arts

    Rocco Landesman's vision of arts as an economic engine has the potential to become very real in Evanston.

    The Old Town School—which I write about here

    shows it's possible.

    And Bookman's Alley

    offers a place to start.

    Please let me know if I can help.

    Roger Wright

    "Chicago Guy" on open salon dot com

  3. Arts are the Heart of Evanston

    I had a retail business in Downtown Evanston (currently trying to bring it back) and what drove my retail business was being on the same block as the Mindscape Art Gallery, Gimcracks, Eve Alefille Gallery, and being amongst unique businesses such as Ganache Bakery, The Peking Book Store, and Rosies Toy Store. Without question, the Art Galleries at Sherman and Grove greatly added to my retail business. I would not have survived as long without them.

    Arts are the Heart of Evanston, they bring people to downtown Evanston, and a theatre would bring tremendous 'trickle down economics' to other businesses.

    I wouldn't have believed this if I hadn't experienced this reality for myself.

    I hope we can convince the NEA that Evanston is town where the funding will be well spent. 

  4. If there is to be a theater—-

    It should be 100% paid by private doners and revenue from ticket sales.

    Residents should not have to pay in taxes for something only a few will ever visit—same with Noyes Center.

    We should not be fooled by any state or federal funding—-it is not free and should not be accepted.  Why should poor communities in Illinois pay anything for state funding of arts in Evanston.  Why should the poor of Mississippi pay taxes for arts in Evanston.

    We should not use 'pork spending' just because others do.  The high education level the Council brags about should mean residents would recognize that money is not 'free.'  The chain must be broken.

    Some how the supporters of this proposed project and the Noyes Center have never heard of the performing arts at NU.  Are they supporting them at NU ? Or do these people just want "their own" and take more jabs at NU ?

    1. your concern for the poor of Mississippi

      " Why should the poor of Mississippi pay taxes for arts in Evanston."


      It's nice to see that you are concerned about tax fairness and the poor people of Mississippi, but the fact is that the poor of Mississippi are not paying for arts in Evanston.

      Most of the very poor – especially in a low income state like Mississippi – pay $0 in federal income taxes.  This is something that right-wingers are usually eager to point out, as justification for taxing poor people more.  They do pay state sales tax, which stays in Mississippi – and they do pay Federal payroll taxes, which are not used for arts centers in Evanston.  

      And Mississippi – like most of the red states – is a net recipient from the Federal government.  It takes in a lot more money from Washington than it contributes….think of support for the catfish industry or hurricane relief.

      If you are concerned about the poor in Mississippi, the solution is not to spend less in Evanston, but to spend more in Mississippi – which for over 100 years has had the most primitive system of education, the most primitive infrastructure, and the worst public health system in the country.

    2. Theatre finances

      While I agree money is never "free" there is a difference between money "spent" with no return and money "invested" that generates returns.  As example, some would say subsidizing the new Gordons center on Oakton is wasted taxpayer money, but those people haven't done the simple math showing the longer term outsized gains the city will realize from that small initial "investment." 

      It's also easy to see how across the nation this type of public/private parnership has generated major long term gains for the taxpayer. It can drive development, fill empty storefronts and create jobs within those  storefronts.  It can create a destination draw that brings "outsiders" into Evanston spending disposable income that drops directly into our city coffers,  Thats money for Evanstonians brought to us by those from Wilmette, Chicago or Northbrook. 

      It creates improved lifestyle that attracts residents which supports property values, both the empty nesters who want active lifestyles to fit their condo living and the educated "braintrust" workforce that Evanston needs to attract for effective economic development. 

      Yes, care must be taken, PAC's can be a drain and not a benefit if they are not structured correctly and that is also obvious all across the nation, just look at Skokie's PAC.  But done properly arts can be a viable economic benefit to taxpayers.  The trick IMO is not to let the artist and not for profit art groups define the financial groundwork, they have an inherent financial conflict with the city and taxpayers best interest.  Handled as an investment and not an open ended subsidized program, it can generate real returns to the taxpayer.      

  5. Have an Art Tax

    In order to satisfy both sides of this issue there should be a downtown Evanston art tax to repay any tax dollars used for this project. I don't know how or how much tax to collect but it should be enough to reimburse the taxpayer money. Maybe they can tax the art being sold or the art stores, The tax can be removed when repayment is complete.

    The art lovers will get what they want and the taxpayers will have the money used.

    The art patrons who what this to happen need to take the responsiblity of make it to happen and pay for it to happen. They can not always depend on other people's money.


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