Copernicus Center preparing for a ‘new world’ for theaters
by BRIAN NADIG
The 1,852-seat Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., has been shut down for 2 months, but officials have been busy trying to help the community during the pandemic and preparing for a "new world" that theaters may face until the health crisis is over.
"The Copernicus is an organization for the community," Copernicus Foundation chairman Hubert Cioromski said. "We gave $5,000 to groups and churches for food pantries, (and) $3,500 for masks and hand sanitizer." The donations are an extension of how the foundation supports charitable and neighborhood groups on a regular basis, he said.
The foundation, which oversees the center, has been coordinating relief efforts with Alderman James Gardiner (45th) and Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association vice president John Garrido, according to Cioromski. The foundation also offered the use of its parking lot to the city and state for a testing or treatment center during the pandemic, but it was not needed.
From 2017 to 2019 the foundation underwrote $1.25 million for use of its theater and other facilities by nonprofit groups, including cultural organizations. The center was founded in the 1970s to help promote the arts in the Polish community, but the center is home to a variety of ethic performances that reflect Chicago’s overall diversity, Cioromski said.
The theater opened in 1930 as the Gateway movie theater and is now used almost exclusively for live performances ranging from rock concerts to dance recitals. The center also has an annex, which is a former manufacturing building used for offices for nonprofit groups, private party rentals, smaller shows and community meetings.
The center’s largest annual event is the "Taste of Polonia," a food and music festival that takes place in the center and on Lipps Avenue and nearby parking lots. It is held each Labor Day weekend and attracts bands from around the world.
Of the 38 events scheduled for the theater as of mid-March, only eight have been canceled, and others have been postponed to later this year or 2021, according to Kamila Sumelka, the center’s executive director. Some of the canceled events were high school graduation ceremonies.
The theater will not reopen until it is safe, meeting health requirements along with the community’s expectations, Cioromski said. All of the center’s facilities have been undergoing extensive cleaning by a professional company, he said.
In addition, the ticketing service used for the theater allows for assigned seats, so spacing between seats could be implemented to allow for better social distancing and a reduced capacity, Sumelka said.
It could be months before the state allows the resumption of concerts, and despite the financial burden that places on the center, it will survive thanks to the "generosity" of the foundation’s benefactors and donors, Cioromski said.
"You can rest assure that the Copernicus Center will be here," Cioromski said. He added that the center has been working with Tributosaurus, a popular cover band, on plans to host a concert honoring first responders once the health crisis subsides.