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Evanston to evict kids’ choir from arts center as Piven Theatre expands

EvanstChildren Choir could be forced out city-run Noyes Cultural Arts Center as early as January next year under plan shared

Evanston Children Choir could be forced out of the city-run Noyes Cultural Arts Center as early as January of next year under a plan shared with the choir director last week. | Evanston Children's Choir

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Updated: April 23, 2013 11:14AM

EVANSTON — The Evanston Children’s Choir – a group recognized by the mayor with a prestigious arts award only two years ago – has been told it must leave its quarters at the city-run Noyes Cultural Arts Center as early as next January.

The notice comes amid the planned expansion of the Piven Theatre Workshop, the group’s director, Gary Geiger, said this week.

Geiger said city officials called him in on Friday at the city arts building, 927 Noyes St., and gave him the news.

“We’re stunned,” he said Wednesday.

The 100-member choir has been sought after for collaborations by the likes of the Evanston Symphony, the North Shore Choral Society, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago and singer-songwriter Barry Manilow.

“It shows an incomprehensible lack of vision to exclude such a dynamic presence from Evanston’s premier arts building,” Geiger said in a letter to supporters.

For more than a year, the city has been in negotiations with the Piven Theatre Workshop on its plan to expand inside Noyes, a former school building that now houses a number of the city’s best known arts organizations.

With 40-year roots in the community and alumni that include actors Jeremy Piven and John and Joan Cusack, the Piven Theatre Workshop has pledged a major fundraising program to pay for improvements at the building, which is in disrepair. The city has pledged to back up the plan with several million dollars in loan assistance.

In February, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told a city committee that he told tenants, “Once we have a final deal in place that it will come to them before it comes to you, so they will have some time to adjust to it.”

Bobkiewicz could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Geiger is urging supporters to contact the City Council, and to attend the council’s Human Services Committee May 6 meeting, where the plan is expected to be discussed.

The choir gives back to the community, contributing eight to 10 times more in service than required under its lease, Geiger said. The ECC – a Noyes tenant going on four years – also brings much-needed racial and ethnic diversity, both in the choir’s membership, which averages 40 percent minority participation, to the organization’s programming, he said.

“I’m not arguing to throw somebody else out instead of us,” he said. “I think they should expand the building rather than kicking us out. If they’re going to do it right let’s do it whole hog, accommodate everybody.”

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