A new state capital bill that was signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on June 28 contains revenues for a newly opened performing arts center in Austin. The Kehrein Center for the Arts, 5628 W. Washington Blvd., will receive $627,000 for funding the center’s remaining renovations. While the auditorium and much of the interior has been completed, the basement still needs work. 

The center — which annexes, and is operated by, Catalyst Circle Rock charter school — had its grand opening on May 22, but it still needed around $1.1 million for remaining renovation work and to pay off the construction debt. Catalyst officials also need to raise another $385,000 for programming and other operating costs.

The renovation costs were originally pegged at $2.5 million, but Catalyst currently puts that at $4.9 million. In 2018, the project received $1 million grant from the City of Chicago Neighborhood Opportunity Fund. 

In October 2017, Ford pledged to secure $627,000 to help cover the construction costs, describing the project as “an enormous boost and anchor in our Austin neighborhood.”

Ed Siderewicz, Catalyst’s co-founder and director of mission and external relations, explained that they plan to build “flexible multi-function rooms that could be used as one large room, or two or three rooms partitioned off.” 

In an email statement, Austin elected officials said they were glad that the project was one step closer to the completed. Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (4th), who supported Ford’s request on the Senate side, personally donated to the project. 

“This unique music and fine arts space presents a critical area to engage our children in the field of the arts, as well as continue to emphasize your values of reverence and respect,” Lightford said. 

State Rep. Camille Lily (78th), who has been following the project closely and is credited with playing a key role in choosing the auditorium seats, said that the completed art center “will be a huge benefit to Chicago’s West Side.” 

“It will provide positive options for students, families, and the entire community in after and before school programming,” Lilly said. “[The art center] will enable Austin residents and community organizations to partner in new and creative ways.”

 Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), whose ward includes the art center, said that the center “will bring great value to the children and families of Austin.” And Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), said she was impressed with what has been accomplished so far.

“”As I walked through the auditorium, I could clearly envision the beacon of hope that this auditorium would bring to our community,” Mitts stated. “Knowing that this restored architectural gem will also provide other schools and community organizations opportunities is a priceless gift to our community.” 

Siderewicz said that $385,000 will be used to expand programming and hire two staffers — an executive director and a professional theater consultant — to figure out the art center’s programming and operations for the next three to five years. 

As part of the process, Catalyst is reaching out to the community, Siderewicz said.

“We have begun to assemble an advisory board for the KCA, driven by leaders of the Austin community, which will study the issue of whether the KCA needs to become its own legal entity,” he said. “Anyone interested should contact Sharon Morgan at smorgan@catalystschools.org.”

Correction: An original version of this story contained historical information that may not have been accurate. We’ve since omitted that information until more accurate information comes in. AWN regrets the error. 

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com  

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...

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