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Old Chicago firehouse blazes space for young artists as it gets repurposed

Old firehouse reimagined for young Chicago artists
Old firehouse reimagined for young Chicago artists 02:24

CHICAGO (CBS) — For over a decade, a decommissioned fire station in Little Village has been vacant on a lot.

It's been an eyesore for some, but that's about to change. 

For nearly three decades, the Yollocalli Arts Reach program has served as a safe and creative space for youth on the southwest side.

Claudia Rangel and Emmanuel Gomez enrolled in the program in high school and are now artists working in the community. 

"Yollocalli gave me that opportunity to grow my art community, my art friend group. And honestly, make me believe in myself," said Rangel. 

"I don't know what I would've done with my life. It would probably have been something creative, but probably not what I'm currently doing," Gomez said.

The program, an initiative from the National Museum of Mexican Art, offers a wide range of free arts and culture programming to teens and young adults. It has often become a critical resource for the community, where access is historically limited.

While its popularity among young people has grown, the space where it functions, the Little Village Boys and Girls Club, has not.

But the decommissioned fire station on Whipple Street will change all that.

Construction on the newly acquired firehouse is expected to begin at the end of the month. The site will be ready to serve the community by the summer of 2025.  

"We need to serve more young people in the community, and this fire station has been the best opportunity for it," said Vanessa Sanchez of the National Museum of Mexican Art. 

According to Sanchez, that opportunity came late last year when the city council approved the $1 sale of the city-owned property to the museum, opening the door to what is now a game changer.

"We'll be able to double the number of students we serve here. And not only that, but we'll be able to have a community space for other community members and other community organizations to use," Sanchez said. 

The 8,600-square-foot building will soon serve as the program's second location, following a four-million dollar renovation project funded primarily through grants.

Also, it'll fill a void in a part of town where youth resources are already limited. 

"Having an abandoned building already says disinvestment. So for them to re-activate it and take ownership of that space just makes us feel like they haven't given up," Rangell said. 

"Some youth need just guidance, and spaces like this have that," Gomez said.

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