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Urban Juncture: Investing in the Creative Economy to Revitalize Black Chicago

The heart of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, The Forum was a center of commerce and hospitality for nearly a century, before accelerating disinvestment ravaged the city’s Black urban communities. In homage to The Forum’s vibrant history, Urban Juncture is renovating and reopening the space to include a Creative Incubator, which will transform artists’ passions into sustainable ventures.

A strong creative community is critical to Chicago’s local economies. This was especially true in the Bronzeville neighborhood, once a “Black Metropolis” home to residents like Ida B. Wells and Gwendolyn Brooks. In the mid-20th century, theater halls, music venues, galleries, and clubs defined the area, attracting thousands of visitors while providing ample opportunities for employment and socializing. Sadly, most of these cultural spaces shuttered over the last few decades as Bronzeville lost three-quarters of its population.

Established in 1897, The Forum’s presence on the bustling 300 block of East 43rd Street made it a South Side hub. Prominent performers, politicians, patrons and partygoers convened throughout its halls, making the structure an‘ electric’ center of commerce and culture. As its reputation blossomed, The Forum cemented Bronzeville’s significance in Black Chicago.

“After gen­er­a­tions of redlin­ing, dis­in­vest­ment, and neglect, we must invest in Bronzeville’s revival. We envi­sion a pros­per­ous and well-defined neigh­bor­hood that recalls that height of Chicago’s Black Metrop­o­lis.’ This work begins, of course, with The Forum.”

— Bernard Loyd, Founder & President, Urban Juncture

Like much of the South Side’s architecture, however, The Forum eventually faded into neglect and found itself in line for demolition.

That’s when Urban Juncture, a community developer focused on revitalization, stepped in. Recognizing The Forum’s inimitable place in history, Urban Juncture bought the building in 2011. To honor the space’s legacy, Urban Juncture worked hard to fix critical masonry issues, remedy extensive water damage, stabilize the structure, and invite neighbors to engage with the building’s history.

As a result of these efforts, The Forum is now on the National Register of Historic Places, which provides access to historic tax credits and other important resources. Urban Juncture also secured a grant from the National Trust for Historic Places to replace the main roof and won a state competition to rehabilitate a retail slot within the building.

Now, after The Forum’s four-decade hiatus, Urban Juncture will restore the building to its former glory, resurrecting the core of Bronzeville’s commercial, artistic, and civic life.

The Forum will now house the Creative Incubator, which nurtures creative enterprises led primarily by residents of Bronzeville and broader Black Chicago to great benefit. Currently operating out of Urban Juncture’s 51st Street facility, the Creative Incubator serves a vast, multimedia economy, including storytellers, performers, and curators.

The Creative Incubator is as organized as it is imaginative. It engages artists at three levels: cultural producers in the startup phase, working to turn passions into enterprise; established creative businesses, innovating to financial sustainability and beyond; and artistic collectives looking to collaborate and transcend creative interests.

This effort is a natural next step in Chicago’s new Black history. The Creative Incubator builds on the longstanding work of the The Bronzeville Incubator, an effort of the Build Bronzeville community revitalization initiative sponsored by Urban Juncture. For example, Bronzeville Cookin’, Boxville, and Engage Bronzeville – developed in the Bronzeville Incubator – use cuisine to merge Black joy with memory. Inspired by these three entities, the Bronzeville Incubator eventually bore seven other culinary enterprises.

It’s clear that Bronzeville rises to meet creative challenges and offers an exceptional return on investment. In celebrating the neighborhood’s singular identity, Urban Juncture is emboldening its economy and community, developing meaningful partnerships with Black Chicago and beyond.