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Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School opens new arts center and Ravinia site in Austin

Fulfilling a 25-year dream of becoming the cultural cornerstone and social forum for the entire West Side community of Austin, Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School recently unveiled both its new Kehrein Center for the Arts and Sistema Ravinia Auditorium, at 5618 W. Washington Blvd.

Planning on the $4.5 million projects began in 2013, and ground was broken in April 2018.

Young cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing.

“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 Senator Kimberly A. Lightford, Assistant Majority Leader and member of the Education Committee.

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 by supplying 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, and now alumni from the Circle Rockets Orchestra have gone on to attend the Chicago High School for the Arts and national music festivals. Sistema Ravinia is just one of the festival’s Reach Teach Play education programs that serve more than 85,000 people each year.

Young cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing.

“The goal of this arts 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 CEO 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 West Side 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 900-seat Sistema Ravinia Auditorium will be home to Sistema Ravinia’s Circle Rockets student orchestra, who christened the rebuilt auditorium, with a performance, featuring soprano Michelle Areyzaga accompanied by Ravinia President and CEO Welz Kauffman at the piano, and award-winning cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing. 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 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 investments.

Catalyst Circle Rock is a partnership between Catalyst Schools, Circle Urban Ministries, and Rock of our Salvation Church in the Austin community of Chicago with a campus at Central Avenue and Washington Street.

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