As the National Trust for Historic Preservation continues a push to oppose the elimination of the federal Historic Tax Credit program, the organization focused its attention on Chicago’s Bronzeville community today to officially designate the South Side Community Arts Center as a National Treasure.
Situated at 3831 S. Michigan Avenue, the historic Georgian-Revival style building was originally built as a residence for grain merchant George A. Seaverns, Jr in 1892. Following the Great Migration of the early 20th Century and the area’s rise as a cultural hub for Chicago’s African-American population, the structure served as a rooming house.
In 1941, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt re-dedicated the building as an arts center. Of the roughly 100 or so similar centers established under the Depression-era Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art program, the Bronzeville example is the only WPA facility to continuously operate in its original building.
The South Side Community Arts Center helped foster the careers of notable African American artists including William Carter, Charles White, Archibald Motley Jr., Margaret Burroughs, Gordon Parks, and poet Gwendolyn Brooks—the first African American woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
“For 75 years, people who walk through the doors of the South Side Community Art Center have been able to experience something they can’t find anywhere else,” said Masequa Myers, Executive Director of the Southside Community Art Center via official statement.
“Not only do people who come here see fantastic art from brilliant artists, they also get a chance to step back in time and experience the history of this building that has inspired generations of artists over the years.”
In addition to bringing well-deserved attention to the landmarked Bronzeville cultural institution, the National Trust will also provide expertise and technical assistance in the building’s ongoing restoration. Work is underway to bring accessibility improvements to the 125 year old building as well as update its HVAC system to be more friendly to both patrons and artwork.