It began on May 1, 2005 as a single event centered on spiritual reflection and social action, with the goal to unite the campus & community, art & life, and faith & action.
The event featured an eclectic mix of artistic expression, including a seminal indie rock band, two independently-produced short films, and a local photographer’s powerful exhibit. Short stories and testimonials tied together the event’s theme, which challenged those gathered to discover and fulfill their unique calling and purpose in life. Each piece of the event was designed to spark inward reflection leading to outward action.
Because of the success of our first try, we knew that The Union must continue beyond a single event. However, large multi-faceted events require an incredible amount of lead time and planning to create. Realizing that a more regular, sustainable model was needed, we decided to continue The Union as a weekly event venue that focused on a singular aspect of expression – live music, film, or art. Thus, The Union as a venue was born – guest artists were booked, events were promoted, and people showed up.
The Union was launched as an effort of the Office of Ministry and Service at North Central College. The idea of an off-campus, student-run venue was unique, and also a bit risky. Would enough students venture off-campus to an old church building where events were run by the campus ministry? Would the general public find interest in events hosted by college students? Could we connect diverse populations that may have different musical tastes, social concerns, political persuasions, and spiritual interests? Over the years, attendance has answered these questions with a “yes.” Students of all backgrounds, interests, and social circles have found the Union to be a welcoming and legitimate off-campus hangout where they can connect with known and unknown friends and musicians.
Ten years and hundreds of events later, The Union has become one of the premier underground music and arts venues in the Chicago suburbs. Still considered by some as a “best kept secret,” the 300 person standing-capacity room is often filled to the brim, and draws people of all ages from surrounding cities and states. More than just an entertainment venue, The Union still operates on the presumption that great art can inspire both personal and social change – it can make dry bones dance, speak life into the human spirit and move people to action. If an event, indeed a venue’s entire operation, can transcend entertainment and connect in ways that are significant both socially and spiritually, there is hope that those who unite in a shared experience can enact positive change locally and globally.