Austin school gets $1M toward planned arts center

Catalyst Circle Rock wins city funds to help build center for arts

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By Michael Romain

Editor

A West Side school looking to turn a vacant auditorium into a new performing arts center just received some significant support for that endeavor. 

Last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Catalyst Circle Rock, located at 5608 W. Washington Blvd. in Austin, will receive a $1 million grant to help the school transform the empty edifice into the Glen & Lonni Kehrein Center for the Arts, to be located at 5618 W. Washington Blvd.

In a statement released Sept. 8, Catalyst officials said that the school's leadership team were told the news during a private phone call with the mayor. 

"By supporting neighborhood anchors like the Glen & Lonni Kehrein Center for the Arts, the city is helping to build community pride in the heart of the West Side," the mayor said in the statement. 

The grant money is the most recent round of funding distributed by the city's Neighborhood Opportunity Fund — a program that "generates revenue from downtown developments to finance commercial and cultural projects in our neighborhoods lacking private investment," according to the fund's website. 

The projects that the Opportunity Fund finances include storefront build-outs, roofing and facade repairs, and plumbing work, among many others. 

Back in April, the school broke ground on what will be a 900-seat auditorium featuring a proscenium, main floor, mezzanine and balcony. 

The center will be home to Catalyst's System Ravinia orchestra — what school officials said at the time is the country's largest African American elementary school orchestra — and a community gathering place. 

"In addition, the performing arts center will serve as a performance arts center and venue for other artistic organizations and community groups in Austin and other Chicago West Side neighborhoods," according to the school's statement. 

The total cost of the renovated auditorium, which is due to open in early 2019, is projected to be $4.3 million. Before receiving the $1 million grant, school officials had already raised more than $2 million. 

"I am very excited about the opportunities now presented to the South Austin neighborhood through the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund gran awarded to the Kehrein Center for the Arts," said 29th Ward Ald. Chris Taliaferro. "Having a performing arts center in the heart of Austin will be a blessing to our children, families and organizations throughout the 29th Ward and West Side." 

School officials said that the new auditorium has been "a more than 25-year dream of Austin partners Catalyst Circle Rock, Circle Urban Ministries and Rock Church." 

Catalyst Schools CEO Gordon Hannon said that "everyone — regardless of income level, race, or area they live in Chicago — deserves to have music in their lives," before thanking the mayor, Ald. Taliaferro and the city "for helping bring this dream to life."

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com   

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