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Bronzeville, Near South Side

Muddy Waters Museum Plans To Add Outdoor Garden For Live Blues Performances

The North Kenwood museum is in talks to buy an adjacent vacant lot it's already been using, with hopes to transform it into a place for programs and performances.

A rendering of the Muddy Waters MOJO Museum Garden and performance space.
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NORTH KENWOOD — The Muddy Waters MOJO Museum could get a new garden to host outdoor performances — if the city allows the owner to buy an adjacent lot.

Museum founder Chandra Cooper and her team unveiled plans for the empty lot during an Aug. 30 community meeting. They hope to transform the lot next door to the 131-year-old house museum, 4339 S. Lake Park Ave., into an urban oasis with greenery, seating and a stage. A mural of the iconic blues legend would grace the exterior wall.

The move is part of Cooper’s efforts to renovate her great-grandfather’s first home, known as the “unofficial center for the blues community.” Waters and his family hosted a number of musicians there, including Howling Wolf and Chuck Berry.

Waters and his family lived on the first floor of the home for nearly two decades. It was built in 1891 and has been transformed into the museum through the efforts of Cooper, his great-granddaughter, and other supporters.

But the museum will need the city’s OK to buy the vacant lot and make the garden plans come true.

RELATED: Blues Legend Muddy Waters’ Former Home Is Now A Chicago Landmark

A rendering of the Mojo Museum garden.

The museum has seen victories in the past: It was awarded landmark status in October and has received several grants, including a $116,152 grant from the city’s recovery fund in May,

Cooper said she had “a $100,000 commitment” toward the garden’s construction.

“We’ve been using the vacant lot with no problems over the past two years for small performances in the early afternoon during the summer months,” Cooper said. “We’ve also used it as a healing space.”

Cooper envisions a communal space where visitors can practice yoga and meditation one day and take in an intimate live show the next. Community organizations would be welcome to host events, and a gate would be installed at the front of the lot. The back of the property would be “closed off” for safety, Cooper said.

Edward Torrez, the architect overseeing the project, said he’s looking for input from residents to create a garden everyone can enjoy, with design elements reflecting the city’s blues history.

“We feel that all communities — particularly this community — deserves its own mini-Millennium Park, somewhere you can be proud to be next to,” Torrez said.

To allay parking concerns, the museum received permission from owners of a nearby One Stop supermarket to use their parking lot for performers and visitors, Torrez said.

The city’s planning department is in talks with the museum team to sell the vacant lot, though a price is yet to be determined, a spokesperson said.

Cooper said she hopes the museum will get a fair shake from the city.

“What we’re doing is adding cultural value,” Cooper said. “I hope [the city] takes that into consideration.”

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