African Americans in Chicago
South Side Community Art Center
The South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC), located at 3831 South Michigan Avenue, is appropriately named as it still functions after eighty years as a very successfully accessible, public, fine arts center in Chicago's Bronzeville community. It originally opened in 1940 with support through the New Deal's Works Progress Administration's (WPA) Federal Art Project in Illinois. Since its founding, the facility has been an important center for the development of Chicago's African American artists and has proven its worth with its being recognized both as Chicago landmark in 1994 and "National Treasure" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2007. Of more than 100 community art centers established by the WPA nationally, this is the only one that remains open.
The idea for a center originated in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's plans to support the fine arts nationally, bolstered by community support from residents, artists and patrons. With implementation of the plan in 1938, fund-raising began in earnest and continued annually. Innovative schemes involved street corner collections which incorporated artist Margaret Burroughs' "Mile of Dimes" on South Parkway (now King Drive); benefit parties, lectures by well- known luminaries; and an annual soiree, the Artists' and Models' Ball held at the Savoy Ballroom within the Regal Theater/South Center Department Store complex along South Parkway at Forty-seventh Street. Members of the Arts Crafts Guild, a group of Chicago- based African American artists organized in 1932 gave their early and strongest support as a dream was reaching fruition. Their ranks included Margaret Burroughs, Eldzier Cortor, Bernard Goss, Charles White, William Carter, Joseph Kersey, and Archibald Motley Jr. One of its earliest highlights featured First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attending its formal dedication in 1941.
In its later years, the Center attracted photographer Gordon Parks Sr., along with poetess Gwendolyn Brooks–the first African American woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Over its lengthy existence, the Center has become known as a space that devotedly celebrates the fine arts, and likewise is recognized as a place where residents learn how to master the creative crafts. With consistent governmental support for a structure, professional staff and other necessities, the SSCAC has stood the test of time and continues to serve the entire Chicagoland community.