Although known today for shopping and fine dining, the Magnificent Mile area near the historic Chicago Water Tower was once a lively arts district known as Towertown.
Now, a new coalition of 15 cultural institutions, all within walking distance of the Mag Mile, is trying to reawaken that scene with the creation of the Water Tower Arts District.
The district was launched Tuesday at an event at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) that included performances by the Porchlight Music Theatre and Concert Dance, Inc.
The district is the brainchild of Mark Kelly, Chicago commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, who said he wants the area surrounding the historic tower to draw more people to its cultural attractions.
“I hope that as [the organizations] come together, this becomes more of a district with balance and a district that is welcoming of all Chicago. Because of the programming in these spaces, who comes to this district should change,” he said.
The organizations in the district range from museums to theater companies, from foundations to galleries. They include the MCA, the Newberry Library and Lookingglass Theatre.
The groups hope the new district will spur collaborations on arts events.
“We, in different ways, have collaborated already with a number of the organizations, but I think this is going to take those collaborations to a whole new level,” said Sarah Herda, director of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, a group focused on architecture and its role in arts and culture.
Herda said an example of collaboration is the Graham Foundation and the Poetry Foundation teaming up for a reading by poet Charles Bernstein. The upcoming event will mix poetry and architecture.
Madeleine Grynsztejn, director of the MCA, said the 15 organizations and Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd Ward, are aligned in providing gathering spaces “where visitors can find their civic voice.”
The launch of the district comes after two years of planning and coincides with the Water Tower’s 150th anniversary.
The Water Tower Arts District has launched a new website where people can learn more.