On one of Chicago’s few pleasant March days, a group of community residents and art patrons from across the city sat basking in the sunlight in the gallery of the Beverly Arts Center (BAC). They were all drinking Arnold Palmers. Concocted from fresh ingredients sourced from community gardens across Chicago, the drink was as revealing of the mission of the Beverly Arts Center as newly appointed Executive Director Heather Robinson.
Although she has been on the job for only three weeks, Robinson already has big plans for the BAC. As the keynote speaker of that afternoon’s event, “Progressive Conversations on Changing Landscapes,” she was quick to point out not only the good that the BAC has already done, but also what she hopes to help the center achieve going forward. It should be no surprise that Robinson speaks so passionately about the Center—in many ways, she is herself a testament to what it has historically provided for its own community.
As a student, Robinson enrolled in theater classes at the BAC, where she was able to cultivate a youthful passion for theater. However, upon graduating from drama school, training for years, and performing in various plays, Robinson realized that she “didn’t want to smell a theater, see a theater, or go see a play.” But she did want to provide kids with the opportunity to cultivate their artistic passions, just as she had been able to do as a young adult. Thus her arrival at the BAC.
Some of Robinson’s biggest hopes are to begin to encourage relationships between the many diverse groups who use the BAC performance space and to encourage more collaboration between the different arts programs (in order, as she puts it, to “combine the islands of the archipelago that is the BAC”).
One of the biggest hurdles Robinson faces, though, is the Center’s lack of notoriety. In order to offer these chances of collaboration and discovery to others, Robinson’s first plan for the Beverly Arts Center is to increase foot traffic, welcoming those from both the immediate community and beyond.
She hopes to show those in the surrounding area just how much Beverly as a neighborhood has diversified in recent years by bringing together young artists of different zip codes, interests, and backgrounds. The BAC’s curator, Carla Winterbottom, described the families that reside in the homes of Beverly as a kind of a checkerboard pattern in the community: “white, black, white, black, and sometimes black and white in the same house.” Robinson hopes to use the diversity already in Beverly as an example of the type of community she wants to foster at the BAC.
Robinson says there will be more “Progressive Conversations” at the BAC. These conversations will be about the ways the space is changing, as well as the ever-pressing question of how to tell more people the stories of how much the BAC can do for kids and their artistic passions. Just like the lemonade, tea, and simple syrup concoctions in each of the attendee’s hands that day, Robinson hopes to create a satisfying blend of art and artists that will serve as a new prospect of what youth and art can do to refresh a community. Robinson finished off the sunny lunchtime chat on a hopeful note: “Once you get the kids, they go home and talk about
Beverly Arts Center. Monday-Friday, 9am-9pm; Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 1pm-4pm. beverlyartcenter.org