Gold Coast and Hyde Park residents aren’t the only city folks with a penchant for providing big bucks for the arts. Far South Side residents living in Beverly and Morgan Park donated more than one million to keep their local art center open for business,a move that telegraphs the community’s desire for and commitment to hyperlocal performance and visual arts.
The donations were just the beginning of a complex deal inked last week by local Beverly Bank and Trust and the Beverly Arts Center, the end result being the modification and restructuring of the facility’s $4.7-million mortgage loan into a more manageable $1-million note. It’s a major coup for the Beverly Arts Center, which has struggled in the past with leadership issues and had difficulties paying back the mortgage on itstwo-story brickhome, at W. 111th Street and S. Western Avenue, a spacethat includes a state of the art theater, gallery space, a pottery studio and arts interaction spaces.
“We’re spendinga million on a buildingthat will enrich the lives of so many more people, [by creating]a doctor or banker or business owner who is that much more well-rounded or smarter or by creating more Picassos. That’s the investment,” says Heather Robinson, the newly minted executive director of the BAC and the brains behind this fall’s new, low commitment, “Pop Up Class” series. “I travel up northall the time to see plays, but if we can keep those things not just in this neighborhoodbut on the South Side,it just makes it that much more accessible tomany more people.”
Some 1,800 residentsapparentlyagree. Collectively, those residents decided that being able to walk to a Friday night live jazz session, drive less than two miles to watch affordable theater or have their kids take a simple Saturday painting class was important. The executives behind the deal agreed as well. The reasons why might be simpler than it sounds. Yes, the numbers “make sense.” But, the parties involved all pretty much live in Beverly, whose tony mansions and 200-year old burr oaks lining historic Longwood Drive make for one of Chicago’smore picturesque bike rides.
For bank vice chairman Dennis O’Malley, it’s about quality of life as well. He attended the same elementary school as Tim Enright, a local businessman who also sits on the board of the BAC. The two were students at St. Barnabus Catholic School, which sits on the before-mentioned Longwood Drive. They grew up in Beverly, and want the neighborhood to continue to attract young families.
Then there’s the perseverance factor. Enright, and the board, asked seven banks for help, but for more than a year the answer was no.Enright continued to press the BAC’s case with O’Malley’s institution.
“Ikept badgering him for over a year and a half and listened to him tell me ‘no,’ all the time,” says Enright. That is, until August 31, when a new deal was signedjust before an important deadline with previous mortgage holder Fifth Third.Under this arrangement, Fifth Third forgavesome$2 million ofthe center’s debt by agreeing to match community donations 4-to-1 and then charge off the loan.The end result is somewhat unprecedented, as it also saved the BACmore than $200,000 in fees and associated costs by securinganother, a 20-year, $1-million mortgageby the September 1 deadline. Says Enright: “[Finally] Dennis and the bank took that extra leap of faith.”
But it wasn’t easy. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel kicked in $250,000 in NATO funds after Alderman Matt O’Shea received the word, in June 2012, that the BAC could permanently shutter unless something drastic happened. O’Shea, then just a year into his city service,was one of many that jumped in to save the institution, which first opened in 1968.
“I got a phone call from Fifth ThirdBank, [making] it clear that this was just a courtesy call that because of a failure to live up to the agreement of the loan, [the bank] was going to be moving into foreclosure on the BAC,” says O’Shea. “As you canimagine, serving as alderman of a community with an art center is important. It nearly knocked me off my chair.I said just give me two days. I didn’t know what I was going to do in those two days, but I knew I was going totry something.”
The Mayor’s office kicked inthe NATO funds. State representative Fran Hurley found $100,000 more. Separately, the BAC board came up with the Beverly Art Center Challenge, asking residents to give as little as $1 to help out. Major names in the community – including local businessman Ed McGunn and grocery store owners the Baffes family- each added significant sums up to $250,000 each to the pot as well.
It’s not just a coup for the southwest side. There are about a dozencommunity arts centers sprinkled about the city of Chicago. Hyde Park Art Center is one of the biggies, as is Bronzeville’s South Side Community Art Center , the brand new Ed Pashke Arts Center in Jefferson Park and the well knownOld Town School of Folk Music. It’s well-documented that a local arts scene improves a neighborhood.
The University of Chicago earlier this yearreleased a study about the local economy of art, stating that Chicago overindexes when it comes tocreativesin the workforce. The study said many things, among them that art, if harnessed properly, could add to the nation’s gross domestic product. With Chicago-based artists such as Kanye West representing themusically, Kerry James Marshall showing pieces in the Smithsonian while theaters such as the Goodwin are known worldwide, it’s clear that the city’s local culture is a hot commodity.
So why not generate the next generation of creatives?
“Three things really resonated for the bank andmyself,” says O’Malley. “The community stepped up. That tells us the community is really behindthe Beverly Arts Center. Two, the numbers made sense. Three, the management team was in place.”
But perhapspoint one bears repeating: “The community stepped up.”