The Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design recently named Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room on 53rd Street, one of nine members of its 2018 class of “midcareer practitioners whose work has influenced the built and natural environment.” The fellowship consists of a year of independent study at Harvard.
Since relocating The Silver Room to Hyde Park at 1506 E. 53rd Street in 2015, Williams has partnered with the University of Chicago to bring several activities and spaces to Hyde Park, including the Harper Court Summer Music Series, kicking off with Poi Dog Pondering on Wednesday, June 28; the CONNECT Hyde Park Art Festival, recently named “Best Public Art Event” by the Chicago Reader; the CONNECT Gallery at 1520 S. Harper Court, now exhibiting “100 Canvases;” the upcoming 14th Downtown Hyde Park /Sound System Block Party on July 15; and other projects in the works.
The Silver Room will continue to operate during Williams’ fellowship.
“It’s been a great asset to have The Silver Room as one of 53rd Street’s most vibrant businesses,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University. “Eric Williams is a respected creative force in the community, and we’ve been honored to collaborate with him on a number of projects."
In making the announcement, the LOEBlog noted, “Eric Williams is the founder of the Silver Room on the South Side of Chicago, for 20 years an influential retail and community art hub in the city. The Silver Room Sound System Block Party attracted more than 15,000 attendees in 2016, and the three-day CONNECT Hyde Park Arts Festival, a collaboration with the University of Chicago, activated empty storefronts with pop-up art exhibits organized by some of Chicago's leading curators. During his Loeb Fellowship Williams will focus on strategies for replicating the Silver Room model nationally and methods for measuring the social and economic impact of arts entrepreneurship.”
The year-long Loeb Fellowship program has been in existence since 1971, offering participants the opportunity to “…strengthen their ability to advance positive social outcomes and to make the world a better place for all.”
Williams found out about the program through his longtime friend, Emmanuel Pratt, a 2017 Loeb Fellow, and executive director of Chicago’s Sweet Water Foundation – teaching kids how to grow sustainable businesses through urban agriculture and other programs. Participants in Pratt’s foundation built displays for use in The Silver Room, learning construction and interpersonal skills in the process. Based on Pratt’s recommendation, Williams was asked to speak at Harvard this past fall on alternative models of retail, and he was then invited to apply to the program.
Williams starts class on August 22, and will be eligible to audit any class at Harvard or MIT. He plans to focus on leadership and business courses as well as urban planning and looks forward to connecting with the students and professors. Williams will share housing with several of the other Fellows, and they will meet weekly to discuss their coursework and future plans.
This will be a big change for Williams, who was last in school nearly 25 years ago as a finance major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to continue my education, and to take a step back, reflect, and plan the next phase of my career,” he said.
It will be business as usual at The Silver Room, with Jenny Stites as manager, and Carter Dorsey as weekend assistant manager, with Williams working remotely and coming back to Chicago on a monthly basis to check in at the store and spend time with his daughter. Williams’ longtime business associate, Rob McKay, will continue to manage the CONNECT art gallery.