The George Lucas Family Foundation has pledged to donate $25 million to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools for a new arts hall. The schools enroll about 1,800 students from nursery school through 12th grade.
At the request of George Lucas, the highly successful filmmaker, the new arts hall will be named to honor Gordon Parks. The new Gordon Parks Arts Hall will house programs in theater, music, and the visual arts. Included in the new building will be performance halls, studios, rehearsal and practice space, and a digital media lab. The building is scheduled to open in 2015.
“We believe in the power of art to transform lives and communities,” said Lucas. “Gordon Parks’ work did just that. Keeping his example at the heart of one of the nation’s outstanding urban schools will serve to inspire future generations for many years to come.”
A native of Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks, the youngest of 15 children, spent his formative years in the Minneapolis area. As a young teen he left home and got a job playing piano at a brothel. He later worked as a waiter and a Pullman porter. On one train trip he bought a small camera for $12.50 and soon began doing fashion photography shoots for a chic Minneapolis boutique.
After World War II Parks moved to New York and he began a long career as a magazine photographer. His first assignments were for Vogue and then he became the first African American staff photographer for Life magazine where he took on many assignments dealing with the civil rights movement.
Parks published his first novel, The Learning Tree, in 1963. Six years later, Parks produced and directed a movie based on his book. He later directed Shaft and three other feature films. Parks died in 2006.