Arts high school taking over Malcolm X College

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By BEN MEYERSON

A South Side high school dedicated to the performing arts will make a West Side higher education institution its new home by 2015.

The Chicago High School for the Arts located in Bronzeville will relocate to the campus of Malcolm X College, which will be receiving a new facility constructed in the parking lot of the current building at 1900 W. Van Buren. The arts school offers dance, music, theater and visual arts, along with its core curriculum.

Known as ChiArts, the high school has been looking for a permanent home since its founding in 2009. It currently shares space with Doolittle Elementary School in Bronzeville. ChiArts' 450 students have been cramped and split across Doolittle's two campuses. Doolittle parents, meanwhile, were upset to have to share their elementary school's space and resources with a high school.

MXC, built in 1971, will move into a new building across the street at its Jackson Boulevard parking lot. The new facility will coincide with a shift exclusively toward the health care sciences, though the college for years has offered such courses as mortuary science, nursing and radiology.

The building has plenty of life left in it, as well as big practice rooms and auditoriums for the South Side high school. But they won't take up the whole building. They'll also share space with other arts organizations from around the city who'll get office and studio space, as well as access to the major facilities.

"As a district, it is our goal to find the best possible facilities to meet the ever-changing needs of our students and promote academic growth and success," Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in an emailed statement. "ChiArt's move presents a tremendous opportunity for our students to benefit not only from the enhanced facilities, but from exposure to the resident companies and Chicago's diverse arts community."

ChiArts' executive and artistic director, Jose Ochoa, said the school has made do with smaller space but is looking forward to their own space.

"We have lots of specialty needs. We need dance studios with special floors and mirrors and barres; we have lots of different kinds of visual arts programs with different media; sculpture rooms with different kinds of clay," Ochoa said.

At least one of the groups looking to move into the rest of the building is excited for the opportunity.

Chicago Arts Partnerships and Education, a 20-year-old organization, works with schools around the city to improve arts education. Amy Rasmussen, the group's executive director, said they spend a lot of time right now looking for space to run their programs in.

"Right now, we have kind a patchwork and haphazard approach to doing professional development. We probably do about 100 to 125 workshops every year, and we struggle with finding space," she said.

She's been a part of planning for the project and, for her group, the repurposed MXC building would be more than just a place to operate out of.

"It'll be a more powerful hub, because it'll be a group of more arts education-focused organizations in one place," she said.

Ben Meyerson is editor of Chicago Journal.

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