Arts center hopes to bridge gap between communities

Rampant gang conflicts and unemployment in two neighboring communities on the West Side have long stifled growth and opportunities in the area. But the idea to transform an old fire station into a community arts center could be the beacon of hope the area

The Lawndale Community Church will turn the old Chicago Fire Department’s Engine 38 building, at 2111 S. Hamlin Ave., into “The Firehouse Community Arts Center.” “There’s a lot of tension around here because of the consistent violence stemming from gangs. Our efforts are to bridge that gap and create a united Lawndale.

The arts will help with that,” Jackson told the Defender. Jackson said it boils down to basic economics. The lack of jobs creates the need to make quick money. Quick money is usually tied to drugs. “Here comes the drug selling issues.

Certain gangs will run certain areas for control. Then you have some guys who sell drugs just to make money, but they aren’t part of a gang,” he said. The Firehouse aims to show teens that there is a vast assortment of positive activities that can “compete against the streets.” The church’s youth ministry, the “Hip Hop” church, led by youth pastor Terence Gadsen, was meeting twice a month on Saturdays for various activities such as dancing.

The teens wanted to meet more and the need for the arts center was born. All that was needed was a location. Jackson approached the city in 2003 about purchasing the closed fire station. They shared their ideas for the space and the city liked it, he said. “It was a great marriage. They saw the potential and the work we’ve already done in the neighborhood.

We put together a development corporation and we have a medical clinic,” Jackson said. The church bought the fire station for an undisclosed amount. They closed on the deal in December and are getting the required permits needed to start renovating.

Scheduled to be open six days a week for about eight hours each day, the arts center will provide participants with dance classes, culinary arts training, graphic and visual arts, and may even house a recording studio. “We want to reach more children. When they are doing what they love, and thrive at it, they feel appreciated.

That competes against the streets,” Jackson said. There are other community centers in the area, such as the Better Boys Foundation near 15th and Pulaski Road, but the Firehouse will be the only center concentrating on the arts. Located near the Cermak Road dividing line between Little Village and Lawndale, Firehouse is positioned to bring the neighborhood’s youth together. “It’s not so deep into either neighborhood where they won’t feel comfortable.

It’s in a unique spot and creates a neutral ground,” Jackson said. To get the arts center operational, $70,000 is needed, he said. A fundraiser was held last week at the Akainya Gallery on West Erie Street, and Jackson is in the midst of raising more capital. Once renovations are complete, Firehouse is planning a September 2008 opening. For more information, visit, or log on to

______ Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

About Post Author


From the Web

Skip to content