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News Tue Mar 13 2012

Wicker Park Art Center Losing Its Home?

"Who are you?"

It was the question Wicker Park community members had asked over and over again throughout the hour-and-a-half-long March 12 public meeting to discuss the sale of St. Paul's Community Church (2215 W. North Avenue) to the Love Holy Trinity Blessed Mission. As the new owners, the Midwest-based organization--which represents itself as part of the Roman Catholic Church without Vatican approval--will displace the Near Northwest Arts Council and some 29 other local arts organizations, including the Nelson Algren Committee, the NeuroKitchen Arts Collective, and CIMMFest.

"You keep mentioning your ministry. What is your ministry?" Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno (1st) asked the mission's treasurer, Jacek Jankowski, after he spoke about the historic building's purchase--they bought it in December and have been trying to move into the space since late January but, despite piles of eviction notices Jankowski personally left, the arts groups haven't yet left.

Moreno had reason to be skeptical--the mission, which is active in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, used to be headquartered in Chicago's 36th Ward on the northwest side and in 2005 was brought to court by the City of Chicago for zoning issues. Signs outside the building called it a communication center, which required a special-use permit, as did the building's use as a church. The ward's alderman, William Banks, warned Moreno to stay far away from the mission when they bought the Wicker Park church.

As owners of the building, Moreno said, the mission could do what it wants within the space, but to have congregation of more than a couple dozen people, they'd need a special-use permit. He sees no reason to give them one. "I tried to get information about your group and meet with you," Moreno told the group of seven mission members at the meeting, "but you sent your attorney in." And Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, he said, believes that the mission is "not on the up and up."

Unless the mission can prove with letters and papers from members of the communities in which they've lived that they're a reputable group of people, Moreno said, "I'm not gonna give you a special-use permit."

For all the anger toward and confusion about the mission, at the heart of the community meeting was uncertainty about the future of the arts in the neighborhood. Rents are high, and it appears difficult for the Near Northwest Arts Council and other organizations to find a space as conducive to their work as St. Paul's Community Church.

Moreno had met with the board of St. Paul's, which had no representatives at the community meeting, when they were trying to sell, requesting that the new owners have a "sustainable, robust arts component." "I don't have the power to tell them who not to sell to or who to sell to," he said, but he was disappointed that the message wasn't passed along to the mission.

Some organizations aren't planning to leave any time soon. "We've been here for 23 years," said a representative from the Nelson Algren Committee. "You want us out in 30 days. Not gonna happen."

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Dan / March 14, 2012 8:01 AM

Fascinating the moral perception of arts vs. religion and the public support for squatting on private property. Fascinating the alderman would indicate a special use permit is issued from his office and said permit would be predicated on the social goodness and legitimacy perceived in a religious group by a leader of the state.

All that said, I live in the neighborhood and generally like Moreno's work as he works tirelessly for the good of our community. More religious groups should have vibrant arts communities and this is a great set-up that could be mutually beneficial for a group with a greater vision for community. I know hundreds of churches that would give their right arm for an opportunity to share their space with 30 arts groups in their building. Contemporary worship spaces "preach" about becoming a "third place" - besides home and work/school - and to be dropped into a building already serving this purpose and destroy the opportunity seems shortsighted.

Usually you approach the alderman first in coming to buy a property like this to get a pulse on the community. They might not ever be your advocate, but they can help you find your way within their ward and give you a sense of place in their community vision. If an alderman calls to meet with you, you ask how high they would like you to jump.

This old building needs a couple million in repairs just to get up to code. I wonder if the 30 community arts groups using the building couldn't band together to raise the funds for the property to become a permanent arts center in the community?

Romano Maschietto / March 16, 2012 11:27 PM

Hi Laura, its good to see you still fighting the good fight.
Your tireless efforts must have been noticed by many in and out of the political field. Isn't it time they gave you dues?
With five kids I had no fight left and now only have my 19 yrs old living with me, which as you can imagine is enough. Im now located in the Zhou B Art Center.
Its great to see you still on the radar

Walt / April 4, 2012 2:29 PM

The religous group bought the building and the artists did not. The religous group has plans which does not include the artists. Their building, their right. Other than innuendo and attemps at vilification, this group has done nothing wrong and is well within their rights - respect that.

Larry Pahl / October 22, 2012 1:23 PM

Is Wicker Park and its alderman in the United States? The place that invented the concept of separation of church and state? The concept the world had not previously known in its long history of state-run churches or churches bullying states? The concept foreign to Babylon, ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and Medieval Europe?
The thing fought so hard for by James Madison, George Mason, and Thomas Jefferson? So now we just demonize somebody that doesn't fit our cultural pattern, our sociological outlook? And keep them from using a a church? Really?

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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