top of page

Our History

The eta 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, 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 has provided an extensive training program for all aspects of performing arts and stagecraft for all ages, in addition to sponsoring several summer programs and Arts for Youth Empowerment.

Currently, eta plans 5 Mainstage productions a year, hosts an 8-week summer arts camp known as the Abena Joan Brown Arts camp for the youth ages 7-13. Manages Arts education classes in the winter & Fall thru our Okoro Harold Johnson Academy for both youth and adults. eta also provides rental space open to the community to host their special events. 

Abena Joan Brown_edited.png

Chicago performers Abena Joan Brown and Okoro Harold Johnson first founded the

Ebony Talent Agency Creative Arts Foundation, they were without a permanent performance space. Early shows were held in various auditoriums until 1971, when the company settled into its first home at the Harris YWCA. That year, eta was incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the mission of providing opportunities for training, performance, and art exhibition on Chicago’s South Side.


eta has since become a premier cultural resource for African-American artists, with drama, dance, and music workshops provided for patrons of all ages. Oftentimes, alumni of eta’s workshop programs go on to act in the theater’s full-stage productions, and then on to roles in the greater Chicago theater community.

bottom of page