A rendering of the BandWith Chicago arts center in East Garfield Park. Credit: Lamar Johnson Collective/BandWith Chicago

GARFIELD PARK — An after-school music program is working to open its headquarters and a performing arts center in East Garfield Park with support from the city.

The city’s Community Development Commission has approved $5 million in tax incremental financing (or TIF) funding for BandWith Chicago’s plans to renovate the former Loyal Casket factory building at 134 S. California Ave.

The 21,459-square-foot building would serve as a community performing arts center and the permanent home of BandWith Chicago, founded in 2013 as a nonprofit offering free performing arts classes.

The renovation will include “shared space for project partners and mission-driven tenants,” including proposed tenants Deborah’s Place, a coffee shop and a homeless women’s advocacy group, according to the city.

Teacher Annie Palomino founded BandWith after LEARN Campbell Charter School in East Garfield Park axed its music program due to budget cuts, according to BandWith’s website.

BandWith is currently based out of Marillac House, 212 S. Francisco Ave. Classes include band practice, drumline, choral ensemble, studio engineering and dance. Classes are free for participants ages 5-21.

BandWith promotes social wellness in young people by providing access to the arts, Palomino said.

“The community has shown me time and again that we can keep this going, and we should,” said Palomino.

BandWith serves 165 students annually, and Palomino said she expects that number to double when the new building opens.

Funding for the project includes $1.85 million in New Market Tax Credit funding and more than $8 million in contributions from BandWith’s fundraising campaign as well as grants from organizations including the Glasser and Rosenthal Family Foundation and Wintrust, according to the city and BandWith officials. Total project cost is estimated at $12.4 million.

Palomino said about $1.8 million more in funding is needed to open the school, and she is confident the school will reach that goal by March.

The facility is slated to be open by fall 2024.

BandWith Chicago bought the vacant former factory at 134 S. California Ave. in East Garfield Park with plans to renovate it into its headquarters. Credit: Google Maps

Palomino said the greatest benefit of the program is the encouragement children receive to pursue music or the arts after high school.

Jamarquis Allen, 18, plays for Roosevelt University’s stage band as a trumpeter. He got his start musically playing for BandWith’s drumline in 2019, performing around the city at venues like the United Center and for former President Barack Obama.

“The amount of friendships I’ve created through the drumline, they are like a family to me now,” Allen said. “It’s definitely shown me what’s out there, the type of performances we see that can be possible.”

Newly appointed BandWith choir director Kiama Wa-Tenza said exposure to the arts at a young age provides a foundation for the development of other skills. Wa-Tenza said programs like this weren’t available to her as a child growing up in Dayton, Ohio, and even now in Chicago, they’re “a privilege, not a given.”

“I’m seeing how much after-school art studies are dwindling,” said Wa-Tenza. “For them to have these opportunities is amazing, and being connected to the arts is necessary.”

BandWith Chicago’s drumline students. Credit: Annie Palomino/ BandWith Chicago

Francetta Hampton is the mother of two dancers in the program, 15-year-old Ja-mlya Crenshaw and 14-year-old Ja-kira Hosey. She said BandWith has helped her and her children learn dedication to a craft they’re passionate about and give them a positive outlet after the death of their father.

“What they’re doing is great, especially by the West Side because these opportunities have dissipated over time,” Hampton said. “The kids are thrilled to be a part of it. It really teaches them to dedicate themselves to something. It makes them and me so happy to see them dance.”

Those wishing to make a donation to BandWith Chicago can do so here.

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