Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson and her husband, “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, are donating $25 million to the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools to support the construction of an arts building. This contribution brings the couple’s commitment to Chicago’s institutions to at least $50 million since marrying last year.
The couple also have pledged $25 million to the education charity After School Matters, catapulting them into the upper ranks of the city’s philanthropists.
Hobson’s connection to the Laboratory Schools is personal. The founder of the firm where she has spent her career, John Rogers Jr., is chairman of the school’s board and alumnus. He approached her about making a gift.
At Hobson’s and Lucas’ request the building will be named the Gordon Parks Arts Hall in honor of Parks, the first African American staff photographer for Life magazine and later the first African American to direct a major Hollywood movie, his most famous film being 1971’s “Shaft.”
Hobson and Lucas declined an interview request, but the university provided statements from both. “It was important to us that the University of Chicago campus have a building named for an African American, given the diverse community in which it sits, and the outstanding contributions to our society by people of color,” Hobson said. And from Lucas: “We believe in the power of art to transform lives and communities. Gordon Parks’ work did just that.”
The school is scheduled to open in 2015 and includes a lobby/art gallery, 700 seat auditorium, 250 seat theater, 150 seat drama studio and four art studios.
When Lucas and Hobson married, it magnified Hobson’s ability to give to causes that she and those she admires have long championed. In December, the couple announced they would give $25 million over five years to After School Matters, founded by late Chicago first lady Maggie Daley. Hobson is chairman of After School Matters, which has a heavy arts component.
In late 2012, after Lucas sold his film company to The Walt Disney Co. for $ 4.05 billion, a representative announced that he would donate the majority of the proceeds to philanthropy, specifically education. And in 2010, he signed Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge, committing to give away half his fortune in his lifetime or upon his death.
“This arts wing was such a big part of our campaign, “Rogers said. “Right up there with the early childhood center and we needed a lead gift for the arts wing. I knew Mellody loved the arts, so it just made sense for us to approach them.”