Evanston Art Center decides it wants to stay in Harley Clarke Mansion

Evanston Art Center officials said Monday night they wish to stay at the Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Rd. They spoke at a packed meeting of the citys Human Services Committee.

Daily File Photo by Hillary Back

Evanston Art Center officials said Monday night they wish to stay at the Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Rd. They spoke at a packed meeting of the city’s Human Services Committee.

Patrick Svitek, City Editor

Evanston Art Center officials said for the first time Monday night they want to remain in the Harley Clarke Mansion, the lakefront property whose future has hinged on their long-awaited decision.

“We need a home, and we think we’re in it,” EAC board president Tess Lickerman told the city’s Human Services Committee.

At a packed meeting, the panel voted to recommend city staff pursue the art center’s wish, though it remains unclear when and how the city will follow up. Lickerman and EAC executive director Norah Diedrich had asked the committee for 60 days to work out the “parameters” of its tenancy.

The city rents the mansion to the art center for $1 a year, an arrangement that has come under scrutiny as officials begin tallying the repairs it needs.

The art center’s decision comes as the city weighs the fate of the mansion, which aldermen declined to sell to Evanston billionaire Jennifer Pritzker over the summer in the face of vocal opposition. Since then, city officials have said it is difficult to assess how much money needs to be spent on the dilapidated property — and who foots the bill — until the art center makes up its mind.

At its Sept. 16 meeting, the committee tasked city manager Wally Bobkiewicz with meeting with art center officials to decide whether they plan to stay in the mansion or find a new location.

“The simple answer is that we would like to remain at 2603 Sheridan Road,” Lickerman said Monday night. “We believe that staying at the mansion is best for both the art center and Evanston.”

Lickerman told the panel an “extensive property search” turned up few options that would accommodate the art center’s current and future programs the way the mansion does. Plus, the costs of moving within Evanston would dwarf the art center’s ability to raise money, Lickerman said.

Aldermen were generally supportive of the art center’s proposal, though some of them signaled it would have to dig deep and step up its fundraising efforts as the city considers its part of the deal.

“It may feel as if we’re pushing the reset button … but I can’t say this is a bad idea at all,” said Ald. Jane Grover (7th), whose ward includes the property.

Representing the community group that formed against Pritzker’s bid, Evanston resident Mary Rosinski welcomed the art center’s conclusion it wants to remain in the mansion.

“We would like to see the mansion preserved and look forward to an open, collaborative process,” she told the committee.

More than a dozen former and current students urged the city to figure out how to support the art center if it stays in the mansion. Many of them said the art center’s instruction changed their lives and lured them or their families to Evanston in the first place.

Evanston resident Harold Bauer said the mansion has become synonymous with the city’s cultural community.

“2603 Sheridan is the Evanston Art Center — an 85-year-old venerable and vibrant part of this city’s life and soul, enriching the lives of all races and economic backgrounds,” he said. “And we hope to work with you in developing a sustainable plan for remaining where we are.”

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Twitter: @PatrickSvitek