CHICAGO - The South Side Community Art Center has been named a National Treasure.
"Art speaks from the heart. Art opens up the lines of communication," executive director Masequa Myers said.
On Tuesday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation officially gave the designation to the center, which has been operating in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood for the last 76 years.
"This designation means that we believe the SSCAC is a part of our nation's history book," said Barb Pahl, National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The groundbreaking institution is located along South Michigan Avenue in the historic Georgian-Revival style building originally built in 1892. The site already has Chicago landmark status.
"This is an iconic space," said Chicago Special Events and Cultural Affairs Commissioner Mark Kelly.
The art center was founded in 1940 by a group of artists - including DuSable Museum of African American History co-founder Dr. Margaret Burroughs - who sought to provide support for black creativity.
"And we are required to continue this rich legacy," said Twyler Jenkins, a board member at South Side Community Art Center.
In 1941, the art center was dedicated by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. It is the only WPA facility to continuously operate in its original building. Aki Antonia's mother Annie Smith was one of the program's first artists.
"Coming here and going to Margaret's house was really like an incubator for me to want to grow up and be an artist," Antonia said.
The South Side Community Art Center has helped launch the careers of scores notable African American artists. Center officials hope all the attention will mean more financial support which will allow them to renovate the building.
They hope to start that sometime next year.