A vision for a vibrant cultural destination in the heart of Washington Park
The Washington Park neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago takes its name from the historic Frederick Law Olmsted–designed park along its eastern border. Washington Park is home to such significant cultural institutions and celebrated festivals, the DuSable Museum of African American History, the Bud Billiken Parade, and the African Festival of the Arts.
From the 1860s to 1890s, Washington Park was settled by a population of Irish, German, and Eastern European immigrants drawn to Chicago’s railroad and meatpacking industries. The immigrants joined a small number of working-class African Americans and affluent white Americans, making Washington Park one of Chicago’s earliest ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods.
After the construction boom at the turn of the century coupled with the Great Migration, Washington Park was transformed into a predominantly black neighborhood by the 1930s.
By the middle of the 20th century, Garfield Boulevard—the main thoroughfare in Washington Park—was one of many thriving, black cultural and commercial hubs on Chicago’s South Side, and it remains one of Chicago’s most historic areas. It was once home to the famous Rhumboogie Café, a jazz hotspot owned by boxing great Joe Lewis and regularly graced by talented singers like Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Hartman, and Dinah Washington.
Today, Garfield Boulevard serves as a major entryway into the Washington Park community and the University of Chicago campus. Realizing the potential of Garfield Boulevard as an economically strong and vibrant cultural corridor is a steadfast goal shared by the residents of Washington Park and UChicago.
That is the promise of the Arts Block, a new partnership for culture-driven neighborhood change.
Extending along East Garfield Boulevard from South Prairie Avenue to South Martin Luther King Drive, the Arts Block will establish a new standard for university community partnerships.
The Arts Block will accommodate a wide range of cultural, civic, and commercial spaces, combining University-led initiatives, programming produced by cultural organizations, and private investments from entrepreneurs. The University of Chicago's Arts Incubator, led by Arts + Public Life, currently shares the block with privately-owned neighbors the Currency Exchange Café and BING Art Books.
The University of Chicago is collaborating with the City of Chicago, Cook County, neighborhood organizations, and Chicago’s creative and educational community to make the Arts Block vision a reality.
The investment on Garfield Boulevard will provide much needed venues for art, entertainment, and education. It will invite cultural institutions to establish a physical presence on the Arts Block and actively engage local residents and community organizations.
By fostering an enhanced relationship between artists and the cultural and civic life of the community, the Arts Block will create a new and vital cultural destination in Chicago and become a socioeconomic driver for the greater Washington Park neighborhood.
The next phase of the Arts Block is the proposed Green Line Arts Center, and the transformation of vacant land into a community green space and pavilion.