Evanston Art Center discusses relocation progress

Ben Schaefer, Reporter

From the gallery floor of the Harley Clarke Mansion, Evanston Art Center staff announced the finalized purchase of art center’s new home on 1717 Central St. and spoke about their plans moving forward.

“This is the announcement the Evanston Art Center has been waiting three years to make,” executive director Norah Diedrich said Tuesday morning.

The center closed on the $2 million purchase Nov. 3.

Diedrich said the center expects to receive a permit for demolition of the current building’s interior by the end of next week. With the help of architectural design firm The Dobbins Group, the center will begin clearing and then renovating the new location.

Renovation is expected to finish by May. In the meantime, the center will continue programming and classes in its current location at the Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road. Diedrich said she hopes to stay in the mansion until May so as not to disrupt their spring class schedule, citing the fact that tuition revenues make up 70 percent of the center’s budget.

The fundraising campaign for the relocation, called See the Bigger Picture, has brought in almost $1.9 million so far.

“We had a lot of people willing to donate when we didn’t have a building,” said director of development and communications Paula Danoff. “That really reaffirmed that people wanted this in the community.”

Donations of more than $500,000 have come from two sources, one anonymous and one from Jennifer Pritzker, an Evanston billionaire who wanted to purchase the Harley Clarke Mansion to open a bed-and-breakfast

Organizers of the campaign have drawn on various networks, including board members, previous donors and current students, who were encouraged to raise $250.

The center will provide opportunities in its future location for culinary arts, metalworking, digital fabrication and other new media. In addition to these new resources, Diedrich said she hopes the location will become more of a community resource.

“The Evanston Art Center needs to reinvent itself and move from a cultural center to a civic center,” she said. “If we’re going to be open and the lights are going to be on, we want people in there. We want user-driven programming.”

Increased open space and movable walls in the main gallery will open the center for more public gatherings such as film showings and dance shows.

The location will also include an Art Bar cafe to provide a space for meetings and for patrons to spend time.

“If we can have people linger and want to spend more time on Central Street, that would be very good for the community,” Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said.

With increased capabilities and programming, the center hopes it can play a greater role in professional development for its students, Diedrich said.

“Engineering jobs are being outsourced, but what Americans bring is creativity,” Bill Floyd, trustee and chair of relocation, said. “We can help our students learn in ways that can still help them in the 21st century.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the date when the Evanston Art Center’s purchase was finalized due to an editing error. The purchase was finalized Nov. 3. The Daily regrets the error.

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