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eta Creative Arts Foundation Records

Identifier: spe-ctc-eta

Scope and Contents

A sampling of material from the eta Creative Arts Foundation was given to Special Collections in 1991 to be part of the Chicago Theater Collection. While it in no way provides a picture of the Foundation in its entirety, the collection does provide a general researcher with some idea of the scope of influence and the range of activities eta has provided. Researchers wishing to do an in-depth study of a particular production or more comprehensive research on eta are encouraged to contact the theater.

Materials represented in the collection include: production programs, promotional information, reviews and a sampling of material relevant to the fundraising and development aspects of the Foundation.


  • 1983 - 2000
  • Majority of material found within 1983 - 1996


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection

Biographical / Historical

The Ebony Talent Agency/Creative Arts Foundation, Chicago’s largest cultural arts complex in the African American community, was started by performers Abena Joan Brown and Okoro Harold Johnson with journalist Al Johnson and attorney Archie Weston in 1969. A licensed talent agency, with franchises from both the American Federation of Television and Radio Arts and the Screen Actors Guild, eta branched out in 1971 to provide training and performance opportunities for adults, teens and children.

Like many theaters without a permanent space, eta spent their earliest years performing in available auditoriums and theaters around town until 1971, when they settled at the Harris YWCA where Ms. Brown was on the executive staff. From 1971 through 1978 eta Creative Arts held classes and workshops at the Harris and staged productions such as El Hajj Malik, Up from the Ashes and Second Coming-Last Chance among many others.

In 1978, Ms. Brown began looking for investors to help eta renovate an abandoned storm window factory at 76th and South Chicago. With the help of an advisory board (which became the official Board of Directors in 1984), an extensive network of community and volunteer support and a challenge grant from the National Endowment, the renovation of the factory was completed in 1988. The 16,000 square foot building at 7558 S. Chicago Avenue holds a state-of-the-art 200-seat theater, a library, a gallery, a student theatre, classrooms and workshop space and offices.

Over the years, eta has offered subscription series and produced dramas and musicals by both local and national playwrights, such as Charles Michael Moore, Ray Aranha and Rob Penney. eta has also featured readers’ theater for new playwrights called Playwrights Speak and Showfolk, a series of original plays for children such as Useni Perkins’ The Black Fairy and Runako Jahi’s Song and Dance.

eta provided an extensive training program for all aspects of performing arts and stagecraft for all ages, in addition to sponsoring several summer programs such as Chicago on the Nile for 6 to 12 year olds and Arts for Youth Empowerment, collaboration with the Muntu Dance Company and the Chicago Housing Authority.


1.5 Linear Feet (in 3 boxes)

Language of Materials



eta was founded in 1969 by Abena Joan Brown and Okoro Harold Johnson. The theater produces dramas and musicals by local and national playwrights and features “Playwrights Specak,” a readers’ theater for new playwrights.


The collection is arranged into two series.

  • Series 1: Production History Files, 1983-2000, undated
  • Series 2: Administrative Files, 1983-1993, undated

Physical Location

Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least 24-hours prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to Chicago Public Library by Abena Joan Brown in 1993. Additional materials added in 2004 and found in collection

Related Materials

Chicago Theater Videotape Collection

Separated Materials

Videotapes have been removed to the Chicago Theater Videotape Collection.

Guide to the eta Creative Arts Foundation Records
Original author unknown. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Sarah Zimmerman, 20201.
circa 2000
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875