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U. of C. Tries to Go From Liberal Arts Geek to Artsy Chic

By Olivia Leigh in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 6, 2006 8:12PM

When you think of Chicago arts students, several schools might come to mind. The School of the Art Institute and Columbia College would surely be on the list, and maybe even you’d throw in Northwestern for some theatre. But the University of Chicago? Not unless your idea of art is some abstract illustration of economic models or something equally dorky.

The U. of C. seems to have recognized that this is how folks view their school: as a world-class institution for the very, very smart kids studying very, very academic subjects. To combat their image as a nexus of nerds, university officials have announced plans to build a $100 million creative and performing arts center along the south side of the Midway Plaisance.

The proposed 100,000-square-foot building would be a “nerve center” for a spectrum of the arts, where students would be able to study, create and perform. As quoted in the Trib, Danielle Allen, dean of the university's humanities division, said: "We'd like to see a building that will raise the profile of the really exciting -- but heretofore stealth -- arts world on our campus." (Side note: Does anyone really say “heretofore” anymore?)

In an attempt to prove it’s serious about the project, the university will be holding a design competition for five notable architects, including Daniel Libeskind, the planner for the reconstruction of New York's World Trade Center, and three winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. A selection committee and selected members of the university community are expected to choose a design in January.

nerd.jpgChicagoist thinks this project sounds quite cool. A performing arts space that huge could allow for some exciting collaborations between artists from different fields, and also make the neighborhood even more attractive than it presently is. However, adding “creative artist” to U. of C.’s catalog of students will take considerably more than a pretty building and a ton of money. But given that visual/performing arts was the number five major for undergraduates last year, we’d suggest that all those smart kids start figuring out ways to attract the artsy ones soon.