A renaissance of art, culture, and community is taking place in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood.
This reawakening is housed in The Quarry, an event and entertainment venue honoring the best of the South Shore community’s influential past while inspiring the area’s future. This project is funded by the Chicago Community Loan Fund and is part of the lender’s Activate Retail initiative.
Yvette Moyo, Chief Executive Officer and co-owner, can be dubbed the architect of this South Shore revitalization, having nurtured The Quarry’s growth and purpose to what it is today. Moyo’s marketing background initially led her to The Quarry as a volunteer for more than three years.
“My fellow workout partners in an aerobics class at the South Side YMCA kept saying they needed my marketing expertise for something they were working on and asked me to come for a tour,” Moyo recalls.
“Their son-in-law was a chef who’d built-out the kitchen to his specifications, but he never opened as a restaurant. The owners asked me what to do next, since everything was based on the property being a restaurant.
“I told them the first thing they had to do was open!” Moyo continued. “I called a friend and told him, ‘The struggle you’re having finding a venue for your Friday night jazz events could be resolved if you relocate to The Quarry.’
“I encouraged the owners – the late Dr. Ernest Armstrong and Suzanna Armstrong – to get the required licenses. They did and Mo’ Better Jazz opened at The Quarry in 2014.”
Moyo also brought a farmer’s market and the South Shore Healthy Food Hub to The Quarry while she continued to serve as a volunteer.
She also was working on the nonprofit Real Men Charities, Inc., which serves as the incubator of the renowned Chicagoland staple, Real Men Cook, which Moyo co-founded with Kofi Moyo. Real Men Cook, presented annually on Father’s Day, is the largest urban family celebration in the country.
During the festivities, men volunteer to show off their culinary skills and serve family and neighbors during a day filled with good food, family tradition, and celebration of community.
Today, Real Men Cook is not only a Chicagoland institution – it is a tradition throughout the United States, as well as in the Bahamas, and certain European and African countries.
Under New Management
With Moyo as CEO, a social enterprise known as Real Community Investment Group (RCIG) was created by Real Men Charities, Inc. in an effort to purchase The Quarry.
“There was a need for new management, new tenants, a new mission, and a new objective for The Quarry,” Moyo recalls. “We thought about changing the name, but there was already a beautiful statement at the front door defining The Quarry.
“It speaks of unearthing value and I thought about diamonds – diamonds are rocks and if unearthed and polished and cut correctly, they are the most valued things on earth. So I see high value at The Quarry. I’m investing the rest of my life in spreading joy and health and our culture to those who are saddened by a lack of opportunity, a lack of self-worth, and a lack of exposure.”
The Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF), in conjunction with the Chicago Neighborhood Development Fund, provided $200,000 to RCIG to acquire and renovate The Quarry as a catalyst for further economic development in the South Shore community.
The building houses five office spaces, a small event space for meetings and conferences, an entertainment venue, and a shared kitchen. In addition to Real Men Charities, Inc., occupants of the office space at The Quarry include a sociologist, a mental health professional, a radio personality, and Moyo’s own Binamu Media, Inc.
With her business partner and Managing Editor Lisa Dawn Taylor, Binamu publishes two local magazines: The South Shore Current, serving the South Shore community, and The West of The Ryan, covering the nearby Englewood community.
“We want to interrupt the bad news that’s been going on with good news,” Moyo says of Binamu Media and particularly The South Shore Current. “On each cover of the magazine, we decided to feature local Chicago artists, mostly male, who oftentimes don’t get an opportunity for exposure. Many artists have reported that once their art appeared on the magazine’s cover, they were actually commissioned to do other art pieces or exhibit in other ways.”
The quiet foyer of The Quarry has been transformed into a dynamic exhibition space for established and emerging artists, embodying the vision of Lisa Dawn Taylor as the curator of what she calls Current Q Gallery, which opened right before Christmas.
The opening exhibit, which runs through February 28, features the work of artists and photographers who have created the covers of the South Shore Current and West of the Ryan magazines since 2014.
Taylor says, “This space will provide a unique opportunity for exposure of the works of outstanding artists of the African Diaspora to the public that frequents The Quarry’s Friday Night Jazz, Monday Blues, and the myriad of other business, cultural and social events hosted at the center.
“You can expect seasonal and thematic events over the coming months and expect to meet the artists and hear their views on their art and the state of art of the African Diaspora.”
Full Schedule of Events
These days there is always good news to share about The Quarry, as a full schedule of events regularly takes place for the community and neighbors to enjoy. Live jazz performances are held at The Quarry on Friday evenings and live blues performances are held on Monday nights. Both events are open to the public and are presented in a classic, supper club style.
“Sometimes we open our doors so the community can hear the music,” Moyo says. “Some people might say, ‘I don’t like the blues’ or ‘I don’t like jazz’, then they’ll hear one of our performances and tell me how wonderful it was. And I’ll say, ‘Come back next week, bring your mate and you can attend the event on me.’
“Often it’s the first time they’ve seen live entertainment or the first time they’ve sat down and had dinner and a drink with live entertainment. I say it’s acting grown-up right here in South Shore. We do this to make sure our cultural footprint here at The Quarry is huge and then the rest of what we do is rent space.”
In addition to offering space to accommodate private dinners for up to 12 people, The Quarry can also hold parties up to 150 guests. Local organizations have rented space at The Quarry for events and meetings, including: Lawrence Hall Youth Services, the Joyce Foundation, South Shore Works, the 7th Ward Block Clubs, and the Obama Foundation.
“We also welcome organizations that serve as collaborating partners,” Moyo adds, “including New Era Chicago, a social justice organization and Solace Souls, a spoken word organization that has held spoken word sessions at The Quarry for the last four years. Real Men Charities, Inc. and The South Shore Current have their regular meetings here. It’s a nice mixture of organizations.”
Additionally, a Sunday Men’s Wellness event is held at The Quarry. “The men who lead Real Men Charities, Inc. are very much committed to the peace, safety, and health of the African-American male,” Moyo says.
“At the Wellness events, men of all ages have the opportunity to talk with other men. Our mission to build healthy families and communities is forwarded as a result of our hosting these events.”
Currently, Moyo is in the process of utilizing the CCLF funds to enhance the property and create a new look for The Quarry.
“The people in the community are in awe of the rendering of the new look,” Moyo says. “We will hire at least 10 men from the community to help with everything from the exterior work as well as the interior construction.
“We already have them lined up; many of them are returning citizens, many of them have not had the opportunity to develop a skill because they’ve never been hired anywhere or it’s been a really long time since they’ve worked. This gives them a credential to put on their resumes when they work on the renovation.
“CCLF was very supportive of our vision to provide an affordable space so entrepreneurs and artists can work and grow, and so local residents can hold their meetings and events in their own community instead of going across town to do so,” Moyo says.
“It hurts me to hear the negative things people say about South Shore, but it’s a gem. At The Quarry, we’re telling the real story of what goes on in the South Shore community – the life, positive action, community engagement. We’re proud of our collaboration with those that really believe this community is capable of making positive contributions.”
Moyo notes, “This experience at The Quarry has been incredibly rewarding. We have relationships with about seven new nonprofits that I never knew about, that just walked in the door. For example, there are formerly incarcerated me who have walked through the door and said, ‘We heard your mission, we heard about you; this is what we’re doing.’
“And we’ve been able to put those guys to work as a result of our growing need for labor at The Quarry and our workforce load activities, especially that happen in the kitchen. So far we’ve gotten about 30 guys certified to cook at festivals over the summer and help with the cleanup.
“We fed 250 people for Thanksgiving and another 250 for Christmas – full sit-down holiday meals – and these are people who may not have gotten a holiday meal at all, and they got it in a supper club setting to boot. We also got some of our artists and musicians to donate their talents free for a show for the people, so The Quarry really is becoming part of the fabric of this South Shore community.”
(For more information, visit www.thequarrychi.com, or call 312/259-1143. N’DIGO Editor David Smallwood contributed to this article.)