Catalyst Circle Rock Opens New Center for Story Telling Through Various Art Forms

This morning, Austin neighborhood leaders joined youth, parents, friends, arts advocates and community members at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Central Avenue for the grand opening of a new arts center at Chicago Public School Catalyst Circle Rock.

Fulfilling a 25-year dream of becoming the cultural cornerstone and social forum for the entire westside community of Austin, Catalyst Circle Rock and Ravinia Festival unveiled its new Kehrein Center for the Arts and Sistema Ravinia Auditorium at 5618 W. Washington Blvd. The planning for this $4.5 million project began in 2013 and ground was broken in April 2018.

The 900-seat auditorium serves as the new home for one of the largest AfricanAmerican elementary school orchestras in the nation.

“This unique music and fine arts space presents a critical area to engage our children in the field of the arts as well as continue to emphasize values of reverence and respect,” said Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford.

Catalyst has named the redesigned auditorium, complete with proscenium, mezzanine and balcony, in honor of Ravinia Festival’s Sistema Ravinia program, which builds student orchestras for schools without music programs of their own. They supply the instruments and the instructors trained in the highly immersive El Sistema style of musical training. The Sistema model embraces the philosophy that groups of children can transform into communities of musicians who then transform their community at large. Ravinia started this work at Circle Rock 11 years ago; Sistema Ravinia is just one of the festival’s Reach Teach Play education programs and serves more than 85,000 people each year.

“The goal of this art center mirrors the goal of El Sistema music training. It’s all about connection. The students learn to connect with the music, then with each other. Their families, in turn, connect to the children’s new passion and path. The community connects at the concerts,” said Catalyst Schools chief executive officer Gordon Hannon. “We would not be able to provide a wonderful home for this thriving connection if Ravinia Festival had not remained deeply committed to Chicago’s Westside for decades. If the cornerstone of this new space is the children, then the sign above the door is a classy reminder of the pride growing inside.”

The Sistema Ravinia Auditorium will be home to the Circle Rockets student orchestra, who christened the rebuilt auditorium with a performance featuring soprano Michelle Areyzaga who was accompanied by Ravinia president and chief executive officer Welz Kauffman at the piano. The Circle Rockets was the first student orchestra launched by Ravinia Festival. The auditorium will also be available to community and professional artists.

“We’re very proud, not just to have the Ravinia name on this important addition to Austin life, but also to acknowledge the Sistema method of music education, which uses music as a way of transforming society and channeling the positive energy of our children,” Kauffman said. “We’re not looking to form the next Yo-Yo Ma or Common; we’re trusting music to assume its natural role of connecting people and enriching our lives.”

The new spaces were designed by Eckenhoff Saunders Architects, Inc., with Sound Structures, Inc serving as structural engineers and Threshold Acoustics consulting on sound. In addition to a private fundraising campaign, Catalyst also received a $1 million grant from the City of Chicago’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which is charged with helping neighborhoods lacking in private investment.

“By supporting neighborhood anchors like the Kehrein Center for the Arts, the city is helping to build community pride in the heart of the West Side,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement.

Illinois State Representative La Shawn Ford said, “The completion of this project would be an enormous boost and anchor in our Austin neighborhood.”

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