The end of the year is approaching and we at The Chicago Community Trust are committed to making your year-end giving and grant making from your donor advised fund as simple and easy as possible. Please review our deadlines to ensure that all your gifts and grants intended for 2023 are completed. Click here for details.
In 1957, Chicago tap dancer and choreographer Tommy Sutton opened the Mayfair Academy to provide dance classes and education to South Side youth, particularly Black children, who otherwise did not have access to the performing arts. After Sutton went into semi-retirement in 1978, his daughter Peggy took over the Academy, which later became the Mayfair Performing Company. However, when Peggy retired around the same time as the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision was made to close it permanently.
Enter the Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP). Founded in 1988 by Lane Alexander and the late Kelly Michaels, the organization creates and presents percussive dance education and performance programs that feature American tap and a variety of global foot-drumming traditions. In addition, CHRP provides career and business development services for independent artists and small arts-based nonprofits.
Also forced to close its doors during the pandemic, CHRP was looking for a new home at the same time that the Mayfair Performing Company was closing. When Peggy called Alexander to share the news, the two long-time collaborators found another opportunity to work together.
“While not a merger, we’re working with Peggy and the Sutton family to support the legacy of the Mayfair Academy and the Mayfair Performing Company, but also expand upon their work with some of the advisory services and arts programs that are hallmarks of our organization,” he said.
In Calumet Heights in the former Fine Arts Building, CHRP is developing and expanding its new home on 87th Street and Bennett Avenue, which will be called the Mayfair Arts Center (MAC). As a multi-purpose community cultural center for residents and visitors of all ages, MAC will include classes in music, dance, digital recording, culinary arts, as well as a small theater, among other amenities. The goal of the center is to expand arts access on the South Side while also serving as neighborhood anchor that will spark more economic development for the area.
In 2022, the project received a $99,750 grant from the Trust’s Pre-Development Fund, which supports commercial real estate development projects, businesses with brick-and-mortar needs, and neighborhood-scale land-use projects that aim to stimulate economic activity in disinvested neighborhoods. According to Alexander, this grant helped ensure the project would not get stuck in the pre-development phase, using the analogy of being stuck on a riverbank and needing to cross the river.
“The Pre-Development Fund gives us that boat to get to the other side because we’ll be able to show other funders, donors, and the community that we have a serious workable plan,” he said.
Currently, the project is scheduled to break ground in fall of 2024, with a grand opening date planned for September 2025.
Just as Sutton recognized decades ago, even today access to arts for South Side residents remains an issue. According to CHRP’s Artistic Director Jumaane Taylor, the new center will be a much-needed resource for the community.
“The Mayfair Arts Center is like water in the desert, especially for Calumet Heights,” he said. “This is a safe space where we can grow and feel comfortable, but it’s also a space for the neighborhood to learn high-quality art forms.”