Everything about the Washington Park Arts Incubator is new. It’s got that smell of fresh white paint and unfinished floors. The stark white walls are clearly meant for exhibition. The space is so new that, in fact, it hasn’t even opened. Yet on Saturday night, the David Boykin Trio christened the mixed-use arts facility with a soft opening in the form of an album release party. The trio played some live jazz, answered some questions about music in Chicago, and debuted the tracks from their latest vinyl album “Live at the Dorchester Projects.”
The Incubator on Prairie and East Garfield is the flagship project of the University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life Initiative, spearheaded by artist/urban planner Theaster Gates. The title of the trio’s new record refers to another of Gates’ South Side initiatives, the Dorchester Projects. Like the Washington Park space, the Dorchester Projects is a feat of architectural rehabilitation and neighborhood cooperation, and a testament to the art of adaptation. Encompassing a cluster of formerly neglected buildings in Grand Crossing, Gates and his umbrella non-profit “Rebuild Foundation” have renovated the property into a home for artist residencies, a soul food kitchen, and a special collections archive for slides, records, and books.
Unlike the Dorchester site, the Washington Park Arts Incubator is brand new, but this space too is meant to serve as a catalyst for revitalization, collaboration, and engagement. Its mission is a big one: to start up urban redevelopment, begin a cultural conversation between an educational institution and the surrounding community, and on top of all that create an arts district and brand for Chicago’s whole South Side.
These are undoubtedly large and unwieldy dreams, but if events like the David Boykin Trio are any indication of things to come, the folks at the Incubator and at the Office of Arts and Public Life seem prepared to take them on. As the Trio wrapped up their final lively selection, Theaster Gates’ voice came through the crowd of forty-odd listeners. “Bring it!” he coaxed the soloing drummer. “Come on, man!”