Jackie Taylor and Black Ensemble Theater break ground on new $16 million home
"This building isn't just a building," Governor Pat Quinn said at Friday's ceremony marking the groundbreaking for Black Ensemble Theater's new Uptown home. "It contains the hopes and dreams and visions of all kinds of people, who believe in music, who believe in art, who believe in Jackie Taylor."
As Quinn and this afternoon's other speakers—who included Mayor Richard M. Daley, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, aldermen Helen Shiller and Eugene Schulter and state senator Kwame Raoul, in addition to several Black Ensemble board members—repeatedly indicated, you should always believe in Jackie Taylor. The Black Ensemble Theater's founder and executive director, who we named one of Time Out Chicago's 40 cultural heroes in 2008, famously started her theater in 1976 with a $1,200 loan; today she broke ground on what will be a $16 million facility at 4450 N. Clark St, on what's currently a pretty barren stretch of Clark between Montrose and Wilson.
The Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center is slated to contain two theaters, a 300-seat main stage and a 150-seat studio, as well as classroom and rehearsal space, an expansive lobby and indoor parking garage. It's just slightly scaled back from the $20 million plan Taylor envisioned when she first talked to me about the capital campaign four years ago. That the new venue wasn't postponed or scrapped altogether given the economy in which Black Ensemble conducted that campaign is quite impressive. And as speaker after speaker attested today, that's a testament to Taylor's passion and persuasiveness. Amid repeated and justified praise for Black Ensemble Theater's artistic programming and educational outreach, I heard about a dozen variations on the same idea: No one can say no to Jackie Taylor.
"This is not one person's vision," Taylor said today, addressing a crowd that included the likes of Christie Hefner, Bill Marovitz, Jeannette Sublett and Langdon Neal—the four co-chairs of Black Ensemble's capital campaign—alongside such theater luminaries as Goodman resident director Chuck Smith, Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey and the day's emcee, actor Harry Lennix. "This is the energy and the spirit of many, many, many wonderful people who believed and had the strength, and the courage, and the drive to understand: If we work together, it doesn't matter what our race, creed or color is, we will make it!"
"So I will be running for mayor," she continued, cracking herself up (the departing Mayor Daley had ducked out after his opening remarks). It was a joke, she swore, but the cheers that erupted when she said it had me thinking she was on to something. Nobody can say no to Jackie.