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Charter public school opens performing arts center for Chicago’s Austin community

Posted on: July 16, 2019

For nearly 50  years, an auditorium in a closed Chicago high school sat silent and unused. Envisioning its potential, a Chicago charter public school brought the building back to life with a meticulous restoration complete with state-of-the-art technology and features.

Catalyst Circle Rock, a charter public school in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, and the Ravinia Festival celebrated the opening of the Kehrein Center for the Arts and Sistema Ravinia Auditorium with parents, students and community members in a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 22. The 900-seat performing arts center is home to Catalyst’s student orchestra and open to the Austin community for events, performances, film screenings, presentations and more.

“The goal of this art center mirrors the goal of El Sistema music training,” said Catalyst Schools CEO Gordon Hannon. “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.”

Located at 5618 W. Washington Blvd., the $4.9 million auditorium is complete with proscenium, mezzanine and balcony. The walls are adorned with acoustic panels that aid in producing state-of-the-art sound. The auditorium also has a motorized, drop-down screen and projector to aid in multimedia presentations.

The auditorium is named after the Ravinia Festival’s Sistema Ravinia program and long-time Austin community members Dr. Glen and Lonni Kehrein. Since 2008, the Sistema Ravinia program has built student orchestras for schools without music programs. The Festival began this programming at Catalyst Circle Rock, providing its students with instruments and highly immersive musical training.

Thanks to the Ravinia Festival’s support, the Circle Rockets has grown into one of the nation’s largest African American elementary school orchestras.

The arts center also bears the name of Dr. Glen and Lonni Kehrein, who moved to the Austin community in the 1970s and spent subsequent years dedicated to works of racial reconciliation among Austin residents. The Kehrein family helped start a youth center, legal clinic, medical clinic, invited Catalyst Circle Rock to campus, and more. The couple also dreamed of one day opening a performing arts center for the entire Austin community.

Though Glen Kehrein passed away in 2011, the center is a dream actualized.