Going out on top

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Five years ago, the South Side Community Art Center was struggling under a small budget; today, Maséqua Myers leaves a thriving Bronzeville institution whose dramatic resurgence ended with a record multimillion-dollar grant

By Erick Johnson

The clock is ticking as Maséqua Myers wraps up her final touches on a masterpiece that took her five years to restore. In 2014, she arrived at the South Side Community Art Center only to learn that that facility’s budget was left with little money for her salary. With just a contractor, a part-time employee and an office manager keeping the facility going, the future of the house that pioneer Margaret Burroughs built appeared bleak.

Today, the SSCAC is a thriving institution that is once again a glowing work of art on the Chicago cultural scene.

Like a struggling artist with little money, Myers endured years of hard work to restore a masterpiece that fell to financial hardship and time. In five years, Myers rose above the challenging circumstances and sculpted an impressive plan that put the SSCAC back on the map. Now, after a string of achievements, Myers is packing up and leaving the institution to start a new chapter in her life.

September 13 will be a bittersweet day for Myers. It will be her last day at work. At the end of the day, Myers’ staff and many artists who work with the Center will honor and thank Maséqua Myers for her transformative leadership from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the South Side Community Art Center.

MASEQUA MYERS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of the South Side Community Art Center will be honored on her final day September 13. (Photo by Erick Johnson)

“I am very pleased with the growth of SSCAC since my executive directorship, and I look forward to its continued growth,” said Myers. “I have accomplished all of the goals I came to accomplish and more, which makes my plan to return to the private sector the perfect time to resume my independent multimedia production projects. The revitalization of South Side Community Art Center is in ‘high gear,’ which makes now the best time to pass the torch.”

Phillip Grant, co-president of the SSCAC board, shared, “Thanks to all that Maséqua has accomplished in partnership with the many artists she has worked with, the staff, board, and our community of friends and supporters, the South Side Community Art Center is well-positioned for our future.” He went on to say, “We are well-prepared to preserve our legacy, promote our future and transform the South Side Community Art Center.”

“Maséqua has been a transformative leader for the SSCAC,” said Twyla Jenkins, co-president of the board of the SSCAC. “During her five-year tenure, Maséqua achieved many significant milestones that recognize both the SSCAC’s rich history and set the stage for a dynamic future.”

Sources told the Crusader that Myers is leaving without controversy. She took the helm at the SSCAC in 2014 when her predecessor, Heather Robinson, left after just two years. Myers is an award-winning film and theater director whose experience boosted the SSCAC prominence on the local and national levels.

During her tenure, SSCAC experienced heightened visibility and increased its services for artists and the community with enhanced programming and a more robust staff.

Myers’ collaboration with artists, foundations and curators resulted in numerous exhibitions including, “CHANGE THE CANVAS, CHANGE THE WORLD” and “A Landscape of Cultural Discovery,” funded by the Terra Foundation highlighting the important work of the founding artists of the South Side Community Art Center.

Also, in partnership with the Art Institute of Chicago, a major public program titled, “The Gathering,” celebrated the 100th anniversary of Charles White’s birth and the important role that each organization played in White’s career. The Charles White exhibition is currently touring the country.

Most recently, Myers broke attendance records with over 1,900 visitors attending “FLOWERS IN THE GARDEN — A Tribute to the Struggles and Triumphs of the Black Woman.” In addition, Myers led efforts to secure over $3.5 million to support the work of the Center and its expansion. With the support of key funders, including the Alphawood Foundation, Chicago Community Trust and Joyce Foundation, Myers assembled a passionate, dedicated and cohesive staff, including a new development director, curators and an executive assistant.

In 2017, the SSCAC was named a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an organization that helps to raise millions of dollars to save Black historic landmarks and institutions across the country and to increase the awareness of these institutions and landmarks. In 2018, the SSCAC was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, joining several other historic sites on Chicago’s South Side.

The center’s biggest achievement came during the summer when the State of Illinois awarded the SSCAC a $2 million grant as part of its capital plan. The money will be used to help restore the SSCAC’s 127-year-old Georgian Revival-style mansion located at 3831 South Michigan Avenue.

The Board of Directors is working with Myers to identify possible candidates for her replacement.

SSCAC staff invites the community to join with them and the many artists who work with the Center on September 13 to thank Myers for her leadership.

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