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Arts high school’s new home will be the old Malcolm X College

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Updated: May 11, 2012 8:07AM

The Chicago High School for the Arts will get a new home in 2015 — the old Malcolm X College — when the college moves into its new, $251 million home next door, City Hall disclosed Monday.

The high school affectionately known as ChiArts is currently located in Bronzeville and shares space with Doolittle Elementary School.

A diverse student body of 600 students is chosen after a selection process that includes academics, interviews and auditions. Their daily routine includes five hours of academic classes and three hours of arts training in their specialty area.

The move to the old Malcolm X, 1900 W. Van Buren, will give the school access to dance studios, computer labs and an auditorium and pave the way for the expansion of arts and academic programs. ChiArts also will host “performances, exhibitions and cross-school projects and programs” from across the city.

“This will be the first Chicago facility exclusively dedicated [to] the exhibition and performance of student works and will provide visibility for talented and creative CPS students,” according to a statement from the mayor’s office. “CPS teachers will use ChiArts resources as a hub for arts-focused professional development and as a laboratory for developing innovation in arts instruction.”

At Malcolm X, the high school will also provide space for an array of arts organizations and performing arts groups expected to play a “major role in the design, delivery and exhibition of professional development services” for teachers, principals, teaching artists and other arts organizations, officials said.

Those arts groups include Chicago Arts Partnership in Education, Ingenuity Incorporated and Urban Gateways.

“ChiArts represents an important opportunity for high school students who want to study fine or performing arts while also receiving a quality education that will help prepare them for college and beyond,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “Repurposing this facility allows ChiArts to have a permanent home, while also allowing residents arts organizations to positively impact and influence the studies and lives of students.”

Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard called the move a “tremendous opportunity” for CPS students to “benefit, not only from the enhanced facilities, but from exposure to the resident companies and Chicago’s diverse arts community.”

Amy Rasmussen, executive director of the Chicago Arts Partnership in Education, said the makeshift space at Doolittle Elementary is “far behind” the premiere arts high schools in other major cities.

New York’s LaGuardia H.S. — the focus of the movie “Fame” — has its own theater, dance studios and visual arts studios and exhibition space with kilns and sinks in virtually every classroom, Rasmussen said.

In Chicago, classrooms “go from being academic spaces in the morning to moving furniture around in the afternoon, which is not ideal,” Rasmussen said.

“The physical space of the school hugely informs how students learn. ... Not being in a second-rate space will bring more of a priority to arts education in the city. That’s what we want to achieve for the ChiArts kids because they are the city’s best. It’s important for them to have a stage and to have visibility,” Rasmussen said.

“The size of the Malcolm X space will provide them with an ability to exhibit their work more regularly. It will be configured to include a gallery for student work. It has a theater that will give them more opportunities to perform more. It gives them more confidence and more exposure to more diverse audiences so they can understand how their artwork interacts with the audience.”

In late February, Emanuel announced plans to build a new, $251 million Malcolm X College and 1,500-space parking garage in the shadows of the United Center to create a state-of-the-art facility to train students for careers in health care.

Asked then what would happen to the old college, the mayor said that was an announcement for another day. Backstage planning was already in the works for a new and improved home for the high school that serves as a showcase for the city’s most talented high school artists.

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