A private school focused on the performing and visual arts will begin after-school classes this fall on the CityGate Centre campus at Interstate 88 and Route 59 in Naperville.
Dylan Ladd, one of the founders of the Academy of the Arts, said programs will roll out progressively, with a goal of being fully open by the 2025-26 academic year.
They plan to construct a new building on a site not yet chosen that will be a full-time school for sixth-grade though high school-age students offering core academic curriculum in math, reading, language arts, social studies and science in addition to a range of visual arts and performing arts classes.
When complete, they hope to have a school on par with the Chicago Academy for the Arts. The facility will have a 1,200-seat auditorium with a proscenium stage, fly loft and orchestra pit, an outdoor amphitheater, a modular black box theater, dance studios and academic classrooms.
No location for the estimated $80 million school has been chosen so, in the interim, the academy will lease space on the fifth floor of a building at 2135 CityGate Lane, Ladd said.
As a means of introducing itself to the community, the academy will host a series of pop-up events over the coming year to give area residents a taste of what the new school will have to offer, Ladd said.
Two inaugural master classes were taught this week by Chadae Nichol, a Broadway performer and academy arts educator.
Ladd said the academy is eager to launch programming and was fortunate to have Nichol provide this cornerstone event.
“Holding these classes during winter break fills a gap for students,” he said. “Even a lot of local performing arts schools suspend classes during this time so it allows students to keep up their skills, fill their time and be exposed to accomplished artists.”
Nichol, who grew up in the area and graduated from Joliet West High School, said she was excited to return as a teacher.
“I’ve been traveling and working professionally for the past several years,” said Nichol, who made her Broadway debut in “Motown the Musical.”
Her “Motown” stint enabled to her work with people in the music industry, including Motown founder Berry Gordy, whose autobiography formed the basis for the musical, and to meet musicians Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson, she said.
“But even outside of that, it’s continued to open up doors,” she said. “That was definitely one of the most impactful jobs because it’s still it’s kind of like the gift that keeps on giving.”
Nichols said the musical was like being a part of history repeating itself as a group of Black artists with the Broadway troupe traveled across the country and presented the music to the masses in the way similar to how the original Motown artists did more than 60 years ago.
“It was really an experience that I don’t even think that you can fully imagine or explain. It was kind of surreal at times,” she said.
Growing up in Joliet, Nichol said she didn’t see many people pursing the performing arts and she would have loved the opportunity to learn from professionals.
Her first introduction to the arts was a program held during a school holiday break.
“We had the opportunity to take a class with people who were dancing professionally at the time,” Nichol said. “For me, that experience was a defining moment. For the first time I saw, ‘Oh, I think that’s something that I want to do.’”
For that reason, she wants to share her experiences in the hope of inspiring a new generation.
Ladd said the academy has a lot of work to do before opening its state-of-the-art facility and welcoming its first class of full-time students. “Much of that work is fundraising, and we will be holding our first gala event in February,” he said.
The gala — “A Night of Broadway,” featuring stars from Broadway hits like “Hamilton,” “In the Heights,” “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “The Book of Mormon” — is planned for Feb. 19 at North Central College’s Wentz Concert Hall in downtown Naperville.
Tickets are $100 and available online at illinoisartsacademy.org/gala.
The nonprofit’s first year fundraising goal is $2 million from which it anticipates building momentum toward the $80 million needed to break ground on the school.
“These classes, the gala and community support all are critical elements toward meeting our goal to fully open in fall 2025,” Ladd said.
“It sounds lofty, but we’ve done the research and have the data. This is the right location with the level of community engagement needed to bring this asset to the families of Naperville and surrounding suburbs,” he said.