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Access Contemporary Music hopes to transform the vacant 7/11 storefront at 4116 N. Clark St. into a music school with an auditorium. Credit: Provided/Access Contemporary Music

UPTOWN — A nonprofit music school is seeking a zoning change to turn a 7-Eleven in Uptown into a teaching and performance space with a bar.

Founded in 2004, Access Contemporary Music operates three storefront music schools in Avondale, Rogers Park and Ravenswood, where students of all ages learn to create music and play instruments. Students regularly host small performances at the music schools and larger events in the community, but it’s become more difficult to book venues since the pandemic, said Seth Boustead, founder and executive director.

Access Contemporary Music is looking to transform a vacant 7-Eleven storefront at 4116 N. Clark St. into a music school with an auditorium where students can showcase their skills.

The development requires a zoning change because the performing arts center would have a bar for visitors who attend shows. The zoning change meeting is 6 p.m. Tuesday. You can sign up to receive a link for the meeting here.

Access Contemporary Music received a community development grant from the city that will reimburse 75 percent of the costs associated with the buildout. However, the nonprofit is still negotiating with the landlord and hasn’t yet signed a lease for the storefront, Boustead said.

If everything works out, the new music school could open this fall or early next year, Boustead said.

“This is a building that’s been vacant for a long time, and this proposal, which has the city’s support, would turn it into a thriving mixed-use music space for lessons and concerts,” Boustead said. “Our programs are designed to foster the creation of new music at all levels, from a 4-year-old plinking on the piano for the first time all the way to a diehard professional composer.”

Access Contemporary Music chose the Uptown location because it’s “highly visible” and close to a few neighborhoods, Boustead said.

“Instead of doing things in the Loop, we want to be inside different communities,” Boustead said. “We want to have active presences in different communities where we serve a hyper-local population with our programs, and we also want our space to be available for people in the community.”

Proposed plans show the interior layout of the music school Access Contemporary Music hopes to build in the vacant storefront at 4116 N. Clark St. Credit: Provided/Access Contemporary Music

The music school would house classrooms and a venue that could accommodate about 50 people, where Access Contemporary Music would showcase acoustic performances and sell alcohol and other refreshments to audience members.

Performances would take place Thursday-Sunday, operations would conclude by 10 p.m. and 20 parking spaces would be provided on-site, according to the 46th Ward’s website.

Access students currently perform throughout the city. The nonprofit hosts Thirsty Ears Festival, the city's only classical music street festival every summer. The organization also partners with Music Box Theater to host an annual film festival where musicians accompany silent films with live classical music.

But it’s become more difficult to reserve local venues for other performances since many closed due to pandemic shutdowns and those that remain are struggling to make ends meet, Boustead said.

“Venues always struggled to make money, but since COVID it’s gotten a lot harder for everyone,” Boustead said. “They’re not as willing to rent out the theaters or they’ve raised their rates. Smaller ensembles, like string quartets and jazz groups, don’t have many places to go anymore. There are a few great venues, but they can’t serve everybody.”

The new venue would provide a space for Access Contemporary Music students to perform, and other music groups will be also able to use it for shows, Boustead said.

“We’ve done our concerts all over the city, but this would give us a centralized home to actually have our own events and provide an opportunity for lots of other artists to have a place to perform as well,” Boustead said.


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