City of Evanston and the National Endowment for the Arts Release Downtown Evanston Performing Arts Study

Posted on Tuesday Jan 08, 2013

The City of Evanston and the National Endowment for the Arts have released their study on the performing arts in downtown Evanston. The study was funded by an Our Town grant that the city was awarded from National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 2011, one of only 51 grants awarded nationwide. The City of Evanston received a $50,000 grant to develop a concise plan of action to help realize the vision of a performing arts center in the heart of Evanston while providing space for the community at large.

Read the full study here>>>

The Downtown Evanston Performing Arts Study (DEPAS) grew out of a previous study involving the reuse of the former Varsity Theatre as a performing arts venue. That 2011 study identified the need for a concise strategic plan of action in order to realize the vision of a performing arts district in downtown Evanston. The grant program allowed the city to conduct the DEPAS as the next major step in accomplishing that goal.

Evanston has long been home to cultural arts organizations that have put down roots in our community and grown. These groups train artists and are a vital part of our economy. Locally and nationally renowned arts groups such as the Piven Theatre, Next Theatre, Light Opera Works and The Actors Gymnasium have expanded from small storefront theater organizations and have outgrown their performance and organization space.

In the past, Evanston arts groups have relocated to Chicago or neighboring suburbs when they have outgrown their spaces. This is a rising concern in Evanston because  the city and its community partners recognize the cultural and economic contribution that these organizations provide. In an effort to stem further potential losses of arts organizations from Evanston, this study was commissioned.

The DEPAS Team, led by HBRA Architects with Schuler Shook Theatre Planners, Arts Consulting Group and Construction Cost Systems, conducted the study over a five-month period. Documents provided to the team at the beginning of the study included “The Varsity Theatre – An Evaluation of its Potential Use as a Performing Arts Center for Evanston,” “Downtown Evanston 2010 Goal Setting Report” and the Evanston Community Foundation’s 2006 study concerning the performing arts’ needs, concerns and priorities in the Evanston community.

The DEPAS was organized into five tasks: project coordination; site analysis and architectural study; financial plan; action plan; and the final document. The programming efforts identified the need for three major performing arts venues: one venue housing two flexible theatres (250 and 299 seats); one venue housing a fixed-form end-stage theatre for dance and music productions (400 seats); and one venue housing two theatres (400 and 100 seats) to be used as a resident theatre facility.

The concept of an arts district was refined through discussions with the city and stakeholders, leading to the selection and development of venues on sites organized along an arts “corridor” that ties existing performance venues, the downtown core, and the Northwestern University campus (with its multiple arts venues) into the fabric of the downtown retail, restaurant and transportation hubs in a manner that provides mutual benefit to these urban amenities while increasing the probability of success for the goals of the study.