By Bonnie DeShong
A recent press conference focused on the partnership with Chicago TREND and Chicago Community Loan Fund, announcing a five-million-dollar investment from Fifth Third Bank designed to finance catalytic commercial development in Chicago.
The first borrower supported by the funding is the Lillian Marcie Center which will use the capital to develop a new performing arts center at 4343 S. Cottage Grove Avenue.
Lillian Marcie Center, LLC is a real estate holding firm headquartered in Chicago. The team of LMC includes Harry Lennix, Keith and Aaron Giles, and Mike Wordlaw.
At the press event I took Harry Lennix aside for a conversation about the project.
BD: Harry, we have known each other for a long time.
HL: It was ‘87 or ‘88. I was doing “The Meeting” at Chicago Theatre Company and you were a part of the company. Before then I knew of you because of your tremendous history doing traffic and weather on WGCI, but we got the chance to meet and work together on “The Meeting.”
BD: We have seen you on stage, we have seen you in film, and we are seeing you all the time on NBC’s “Blacklist.” Harry, what I love most about you is you always come home to Chicago.
HL: I think Henry James said you can never go home again, but I find that’s false. I think you should always go home, and point of fact, if it’s really your home, you never leave it. No matter where you might be geographically, it’s always in you and with you. And so being able to come back here, where I regard as the capital of Black America, and this is the epicenter of that, is a dream come true but also a debt that I owe.
BD: Now, we all know about your performance stuff, but the behind the scenes, I’m just shocked because even I didn’t know all that you’re doing. Can you tell us about the company?
HL: Yes. Well, the company is really four guys right now. Probably, we’ll get bigger. But we are going to be managers of a theater complex. It’ll be a performance art center. So, it’ll be the home of what we hope will be several existing and very renowned companies that don’t have a place to stay right now to call their own.
We want it to be for the Black community what the Lincoln Center is for the performing arts, that is, a center that exists only to provide a house for already existing companies like the American Ballet Theater, the Metropolitan Opera, Julliard. We want to be able to have a home of our own like that. So, Congo Square will be here.
I’m going to invite a couple of other auspicious groups that are looking for a place that they know they can come to that can fulfill, that can sustain their needs on either a long-term or short-term basis. This is going to be a state-of-the-art theater. As an actor, I’ve been doing this for many years, producing, directing. I know the ingredients of what goes into a viable performance arts center. I don’t know the recipe, and that’s why it’s great to have a team like I have with LMC.
BD: Why did you choose Bronzeville?
HL: Well, Bronzeville is the legendary home of many people, not just artistically, of which there are many … Louis Armstrong, of course … we can keep going on.
But also, economically, it was a powerhouse with the Supreme Life Building, all of these amazing businesses, the epicenter of Black America in many ways.
And for many years, Chicago was home to more Black millionaires than any other city. So, we know that there’s a great collaboration that needs to happen. Arts need funding, and funders need the ability to show what their money is being used for. What better way than a cultural expression to do that? So, it’s what we hope will be a great collaboration.
We will be managers of a campus, not putting the programming in, but working with people who have programming and shows and exhibitions.
BD: Well, hopefully you’ll come back, and you’ll do some directing or acting in some of these.
HL: I’m sure. I’m sure I will. I certainly want to do some directing here and producing, but I like to think of myself right now on this stage, it’s been like P. T. Barnum. I’m going to pitch a tent. We’re going to have three rings, and everybody can … if you can fly on a trapeze, you’re welcome here any time.
BD: Well, Harry, I know all these people are waiting to say something to you but thank you so much for taking the time to hang out with an old friend.
HL: That’s right, Bonnie. Thank you.
LMC plans to take the facility at 4343 S. Cottage Grove and build out the property into a modern theatre complex featuring a 350-seat multi-level flexible performance stage. There will also be a 100-seat boutique theatre in addition to rehearsal spaces, dressing rooms, and offices.
It is estimated to be two years before the official opening. It will be a wonderful asset to the community of Bronzeville and the City of Chicago.
Until next time keep your EYE to the sky!