Lane Alexander’s dream of a shared-space, communal arts building is finally coming true. The American Rhythm Center (ARC), located in Chicago’s Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Avenue – former space of the Boitsov Ballet – will launch its first stage in a few weeks. On the third floor of this cultural institution will be three new multi-use studios to be shared by nine local mid-sized arts organizations. Alexander’s Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) will be the first to use the space for the upcoming Rhythm World Festival 2012 later this month with a grand opening with the resident partners coming this fall in September.
The collaborative space will be shared by community partners Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Giordano Dance Chicago, Kalapriya, Luna Negra Dance Theater, Ping Pong Productions and River North Dance Chicago. “One of the things that’s appealing about ARC is that we’re helping to build cultural infrastructure,” said CHRP’s new Executive Director Frank Sonntag. “To have a healthy ecosystem, you can’t just pay attention to the top, you have to pay attention to the middle and create entry points for artists. That’s what we’re doing and I think it’s important.” Sonntag, 50, boasts a long career in arts administration with stints at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, Dance St. Louis, David Parsons Project, New York Foundation for the Arts, Broadway Cares, Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts as well as helping open the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis last fall. He’s only been in town a month and is already in love with the city and excited about this new venture. “It’s very much born out of the idea of collaboration,” Sonntag said. “What is going to make it work is that collectively the offerings we’ll have are much greater than any one of us are and that will give us market penetration that all of us will have.”
The plan for ARC came out of CHRP’s strategic planning process and with Alexander on board it was only a matter of time before it became a reality. Approximately $1 million has already been raised and a capital campaign is in the works to raise the estimated $2.5 million needed to complete the other two phases of the project which include administrative facilities, additional space for programming and a black box theater. Shared performances have gained ground in recent years with many smaller experimental companies presenting together at independent venues and with Audience Architects’ MetLife Fund New Stages for Dance Initiative pairing mid-sized companies at larger venues. This shared-space facility takes sharing to a whole new level. “It’s a new model based on the strength of collaboration,” said Sonntag. “Medium-sized dance companies in particular are under-capitalized, not just here, but all over the country. What happens when resources are tight is organizations cut programs, the cut marketing budgets, they cut educational outreach and the audiences dwindle. It’s a downward spiral that can be debilitating. What ARC will do is to enable these companies to expand their community outreach, be more financially stable through earned income sources and potentially grow their audience.”
As contractors race to make sure the three studios are ready for class by the end of the month, Sonntag feels they are in a good place and is ready for the challenges ahead. “We’re going to take baby steps. We’re going to share a copier,” he said. “The real goal is taking advantage of the synergy that you create when you put that many arts organizations in such close proximity. That will cut down on some of the barriers that exist. It’s the wave of the future.”