GRAND BOULEVARD — Efforts to revive Bronzeville’s historic Forum just received a $1 million boost.
The Andrew M. Mellon Foundation awarded the grant through its Humanities in Place program this month. The money will support the development of arts and cultural heritage spaces inside The Forum, 318-24 E. 43rd St.
Bernard Loyd, president of the Urban Juncture Foundation, which is spearheading the Forum’s renovation, has led efforts to bring the Forum back to life since buying the 127-year-old building in 2011. Before its decline, The Forum was one of the most significant assembly spaces on the South Side, hosting politicians, unions and social clubs above first floor storefronts on 43rd Street, he said.
“We are delighted to accept the support of the Mellon Foundation, along with that of hundreds of residents and other stakeholders, and are hopeful that Ald. [Pat] Dowell (3rd) and the city of Chicago soon will offer their support as well,” Loyd said. “The Forum is an iconic building that can play a central role in bringing Bronzeville residents together and moving us forward.”
The Creative Complex at The Forum will span three double-level storefronts that make up the building’s west annex, and it will house four arts-based spaces.
● Creative Incubator (318 E. 43rd): The organizational and hospitality heart of the Creative Complex will feature a ground-floor cafe and shared office and multimedia production space in the basement. There will be support services to help local creatives make money from their art.
● Metropolis Gallery (320 E. 43rd): The gallery will celebrate the Black experience in Bronzeville through a changing set of art and historical exhibitions highlighting the work of local artists, historians, archivists and other storytellers.
● Hansberry Studio (322 E. 43rd): The studio will have a community theater on the first floor and multi-use a wellness lab on the basement. It will celebrate Lorraine Hansberry by providing learning, performance and wellness opportunities to Black girls and women.
● West Facade: The expansive rooftop will feature “Train of Thoughts,” a year-round video storytelling initiative using a 15-by-20-foot screen on the facade.
Chicago-based Gumbo Media will be among the partners collaborating with The Forum to create the spaces, Loyd said.
In its heyday, The Forum was the epicenter of Black life in Chicago, hosting everything from cotillions to “movement” meetings and live performances from world-renowned artists, including Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters.
The Forum also is known for having the oldest surviving hardwood ballroom dance floor in the city, according to Landmarks Illinois. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.
Built in 1897, The Forum closed in the 1970s and fell into such disrepair that pieces of furniture had sunk into the floor due to the amount of water damage. It was in danger of being demolished when Loyd bought the building and announced an ambitious, $20 million effort to reestablish it. Loyd used most of his own money pay for site remediation after buying the building.
The team launched a fundraiser in 2021, hoping to collect $50,000 to finish fixing The Forum’s roofs. The North Annex roof was replaced in 2020, but the roofs of the Forum Hall and West Annex were a “bigger financial lift,” Loyd said. That fundraiser is ongoing, seeking another $13,375 to meet its goal.
In May, City Council approved a rezoning of The Forum, which will enable Loyd and his team to revive it as a performance venue. It was previously approved for residential use, but the change to commercial zoning will allow for a banquet hall, retail and restaurant space.
The City Council approval also cleared Loyd to use a $250,000 state grant to continue rehabbing the West Annex, which is expected to be completed this year.
“The Forum was a civic, cultural, and commercial hub of our community, and we can now focus fully on bringing it back,” Loyd said last year.
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