George Lucas and Wife Donate $25 Million for Chicago Art Center

An artist’s rendering of the Gordon Parks Arts Hall at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools campus. Courtesy University of Chicago.

The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools has received a $25 million gift from filmmaker George Lucas and his wife, Mellody Hobson, who is president of Chicago’s Ariel Investments, to help construct an arts building.

At the pair’s request, the new facility, a deluxe art center that will include performance, studio, and gallery spaces, will be named after photographer, filmmaker, writer, and composer Gordon Parks, who died in 2006. 

A Kansas native, Parks moved to Chicago in 1940 and opened a photography studio. He went on to shoot for the Farm Security Administration and Vogue. Notably, Parks was both the first African American staff photographer for Life magazine and the first African American film director. His best-known film is Shaft (1971). Parks also wrote an autobiographical novel, The Leaning Tree (1963), and composed a 1989 ballet, Martin, honoring the life of Martin Luther King Jr. 

Lucas and Hobson, who married in June, were encouraged to donate by Hobson’s mentor, Ariel Investments founder and University of Chicago Laboratory Schools alumnus John Rodgers Jr. Their contribution is among $80 million raised by the university for the project. The three-story building is expected to open next year, and will serve the Laboratory School’s over 1,700 students, who range from nursery school through twelfth grade.

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