The 850-seat auditorium at the Kehrein Center for the Arts
The 850-seat auditorium at the Kehrein Center for the Arts Credit: Courtesy Kehrein Center for the Arts

To activist Glen Kehrein, it was appalling that Austin lacked a center for fine and performing arts to showcase the neighborhood’s homegrown talent. His dream was to convert the unused auditorium in the former Siena High School expansion—one of the city’s finest remaining examples of midcentury modern architecture—into a professionally equipped community arts center.

Kehrein’s untimely death in 2011 left his dream deferred until local volunteers, backed by public and private funding, picked up where he left off. By fall 2019, they had restored the auditorium, transformed its lobby into an art gallery, and named the nonprofit center after its visionary.

The Kehrein Center for the Arts advocates for social justice through music, theater, dance, spoken word, film, visual arts, and other forms of creative expression by local and national artists. In its first few months, the 850-seat auditorium presented performances of classical music, gospel, and musical theater, including concerts by Catalyst Circle Rock’s Sistema Ravinia Orchestra, one of the nation’s only such ensembles consisting entirely of African American middle-school students.

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In fall 2021 the Chicago Children’s Choir and the Kalapriya Center for Indian Performing Arts collaborated on Good Trouble, a production staged at the Kehrein Center that tells the story of civil rights icon John Lewis.

The pandemic forced some programs to be postponed and others to be livestreamed, but in 2021 the KCA nevertheless played host to much of the Ear Taxi Festival, screened new films, sponsored stage plays and symposiums, and presented the Apollo Chorus and the City Lights Orchestra. Last month, Music of the Baroque brought Bill Barclay’s play The Chevalier, about 18th-century Black composer Joseph Bologne, to the KCA. An opera premiere is planned for June.

“KCA programming for 2022 is an opportunity for us to engage with the community in our beautiful new space,” says Vanessa Stokes, the KCA’s interim executive director. “It’s a chance to show what it means to have an asset like this, right here on the west side.”