The University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life (APL) initiative’s call for proposals regarding the design and production of an assemblage of outdoor furniture for their new public space will soon be coming to a close on January 18, 2015. Particular that this will be not so much a park as a more open ended, multi-use site for the neighborhood, the new public space will be in the Washington Park neighborhood located at 265 East Garfield Boulevard. The structure, previously known as the Summer Pavilion located in Millennium Park, was secured by the University of Chicago’s (U of C) Office of Civic Engagement in 2014 by donation and according to the press release, is said to be a main feature of the new public space that is to make its debut in May 2015. The pavilion created by MAS Studio was initially envisioned to be used for installation work and was an outpost for the exhibition “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good.”
The property on Garfield Boulevard is a city owned parcel, says Lee Bey, associate director for external affairs and special projects at APL. Under a city ordinance passed by city council, Theaster Gates Group LLC leases the property from the city, and under an agreement the University of Chicago will do programming on the lot with the input of the Washington Park community. Theaster Gates is APL’s director and a professor in U of C’s department of visual arts. Of this financial partnership with the school, he remarks, “The university and I have partnered in creative ways in order to support the city’s cultural plan and develop new models for high impact temporary projects on Garfield Blvd.”
In accordance with a discussion that took place at the Arts Incubator between actor and professor Anna Deavere Smith and Theaster Gates in January of 2014, APL is dedicated to the importance for cultural institutions to actively reach wide audiences. With that said, this project will provide an opportunity for the community of Washington Park, as well as proposal submitters, to significantly shape the vision for this new public space: the scope of the project’s budget, the specific designs of the furniture and how these pieces will relate to the preexisting pavilion and how many artists will be employed are just a few factors yet to be determined. The feedback from prospective builders (who can apply as individuals or in groups) will shape the potential outcomes of the overall public space project.
Bey iterates the importance of this new public space, which will be open to everyone including children and seniors saying, “It will feature an array of events and public programming aimed at strengthening and supporting the arts and culture in the community.” Echoing APL’s commitment to cultivate and support artists, amateur craftspeople from their Design Apprenticeship Program—which includes youths and young adults from the community—will also aid in the construction of the space’s design and furnishings. The initiative requires that proposed furniture pieces be made primarily out of wood, are able to facilitate outdoor use throughout the year, are able to be moved about within the site, and they should also be able to support heavy outdoor use by people attending various events, programs and workshops.
“U of C and Southwest Airlines are together funding the entire project of installing the pavilion and making site improvements including the furniture,” says Bey. “The South East Chicago Commission is funding a rain garden that’ll be located on the north edge of the lot.” A jury that will be composed of members of Project for Public Spaces, Southwest Airlines, U of C, and the Washington Park community will collectively select the winner(s) of the proposal. Associate director Emily Hooper Lansana along with her programming team, are to be in charge of lining up future programs and events at the new public space. (Mahjabeen Syed)