We are thrilled to announce the launch of “Our First Home” campaign and purchase of a 17,965 square foot property in Chicago’s Lincoln Avenue North Arts District (LANA). This will establish the first permanent home in our history!
“This historic move to a permanent home is over 35 years in the making. After decades of leasing, including the beloved space on Byron Avenue, American Blues Theater will control its own artistic and financial destiny for the first time. Our exceptional Ensemble has dreamed of a dedicated home to expand our programming, education initiatives, and community partnerships,” said American Blues Theater Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “We understand all too well the limitations of being an itinerant company, and – with very few true subsidized venues in Chicago – we’re also excited to create an affordable rental space for other theater companies on their respective journeys.”
American Blues Theater’s productions explore the lives of everyday people who inhabit the working neighborhoods of America. Its new venue, designed by John Morris of Morris Architects Planners with theater systems supported by Schuler Shook, fully embraces this ethos. Formerly the site of a Mobil gas station, Walgreens, and Dollar General, the building will be repurposed to establish a cultural institution that is accessible to all.
The new theater venue will include two theaters (148-seat proscenium and 40-seat flexible studio); an inviting lobby with box office, bar, and concessions; gendered and gender-neutral restrooms; dressing rooms and greenroom; administrative offices; production spaces for scenery, props, and costumes; a small on-site parking lot with ample street parking. The facility is accessible from Interstate 90 and 94 and via the CTA Brown line and buses.
Alderperson Andre Vasquez comments, “It is an absolute honor and dream to welcome such a landmark institution to the 40th Ward. I had a clear vision of creating a Lincoln Avenue North Arts District, but I could never have imagined that we’d be blessed by having American Blues Theater as a crown jewel. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of such a beautiful entertainment experience to the business district for the whole city, here in the 40th Ward!”
It will serve a community comprised of many cultural backgrounds and complement the area’s local restaurants, schools, and the Budlong Woods Library. “To create a center for all, we went directly to architect John Morris – a Chicago theater legend with representative work across all generations and neighborhoods,” said Whiteside. “For over three decades, we’ve been working towards this dream. Through community support and the dedication of all our artists and staff over the years, we are able to make this dream a reality now.”
The $6.5 million “Our First Home” campaign will provide the company with $6 million in funds for the building purchase, adaptive reuse within the building’s existing footprint, construction, as well as a $500,000 building reserve fund. With $2.9 million from individual donors raised to-date, the company anticipates a groundbreaking in summer 2022 and completion in November 2023 with a grand opening celebration highlighted by the inaugural production of the beloved holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!
“I’ve been involved in many of Chicago’s cultural institutions as a trustee, patron, and donor, but I have always had a soft spot for American Blues. It has been touchstone in my life. By supporting them now in achieving this momentous milestone, I am making a significant difference in the lives of these incredible artists and communities they serve,” said Board Vice-President Kimberlee Herold. “Blues has proven again and again it deserves its own home, and I invite Chicago’s individual donors, foundations, and corporations to join in this crucial effort.”
Please consider a special gift to “Our First Home” campaign. Every level of gift makes a difference and is needed! Major Donors who commit $25,000 or more will be recognized on a permanent campaign donor wall in the new theater center. There are naming opportunities available in the facility, as well. In order for you to consider the most aspirational gift possible, any pledge can be fulfilled over a three- to five-year period. If you are interested in supporting the campaign, please contact Home@AmericanBluesTheater.com or call Director of Development Sarajane Johnson at (773) 654-3103.
American Blues Theater continues its Season 36 with August Wilson’s Fences, directed by Monty Cole (July 1 – Aug 6) at the rental venue Theater Wit (1229 N Belmont).