Art Center tenants frustrated over Piven expansion proposal


Ciara McCarthy/The Daily Northwestern

Gary Geiger, director of the Evanston Children’s Choir, said he would be evicted from the Noyes Cultural Arts Center if the Piven Theatre Workshop expansion proposal is fulfilled. Other tenants in the arts center expressed concern with Piven’s plan at the Evanston Arts Council meeting Tuesday night.

Ciara McCarthy, Assistant City Editor

The ongoing conflict between the Piven Theatre Workshop and other tenants at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center escalated Monday when Piven released a preliminary proposal for its expansion and new lease.

Piven began discussing plans for expanding its space within the arts center, 927 Noyes St., about two years ago. Other renters in the building formed the Noyes Tenants Association in response.

About 25 people, including members of the association, gathered Tuesday night at a routine Evanston Arts Council meeting and voiced their concerns over the proposal.

In the current proposal, the city will loan Piven $2.2 million to renovate and expand its space as long as Piven raises $355,500 in cash by the end of the year. Piven’s square footage within the arts center will roughly double after the expansion.

Piven will begin repaying the loan, with 2 percent interest, two years after construction is completed. If Piven raises the money required by the agreement, its new lease would be $1 a year.

Anne Berkeley, the council’s co-chair, began the meeting with public comment, which almost immediately sprang into an hour-long discussion of the Piven proposal.

If Piven’s existing plan is fulfilled without modification, at least two tenants will not have space in the art center. Gary Geiger, director of the Evanston Children’s Choir, said he would be evicted next year if the plan goes through.

“We’re flabbergasted by this,” he said. “It’s an incredible lack of vision to exclude us from this building.”

Geiger recommended expanding the Noyes Cultural Arts Center itself instead of expanding only Piven within the building, insisting a new plan for the building is necessary.

Maggie Weiss, a textile artist and teacher, also wouldn’t  be accommodated under Piven’s proposal. She said four artists have already left the center to find new spaces, and at least 10 artists who work in the basement of the center said their work would be impeded by the expansion construction.

Weiss said the plan is not just one of questionable financial logic. Other tenants in the arts center had been excluded while Piven and the city created the plan, she said.

“They gave us the illusion of inclusion in the process,” Weiss said. “But we haven’t been at all engaged.”

A particular point of contention during the meeting was the revelation by Arts Council director Jeff Cory that Piven has stopped paying rent to the center, which is owned by the city, and will not do so until a final plan has been agreed upon.

“I think we should all stop paying rent until Piven pays rent,” tenant and artist Sarah Kaiser told The Daily.

Berkeley said she and the other Arts Council members would aggregate the questions and concerns raised from Tuesday’s conversation and submit them to the Human Services Committee before it reviews the plan May 6.