The Music Center of Lake County was established by a group of parents in 1964 as a not-for-profit corporation offering instruction in music. In 1974, the name was changed to the Jack Benny Center for the Arts. This better reflected the diverse arts in music, dance, theatre and visual arts that the Center offered. The Waukegan Symphony Orchestra was established in 1974 and the Waukegan Concert Chorus in 1976, both under the umbrella of the Jack Benny Center for the Arts. In 1982, the Jack Benny Center and the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra and Concert Chorus became the Cultural Arts Division of the Waukegan Park District, a municipal governmental body.
The Waukegan Park District completed its new home for the Center in Bowen Park in 1987. Originally, the Music Center of Lake County had been in Bowen Park, moved to Powell Park for a time, and was delighted to return to Bowen Park. With the addition of Goodfellow Hall, (renamed-Schornick Theatre in 2003) an eighty-three to over one hundred (83-104)-seat lecture/recital hall, the Division founded Bowen Park Theatre and Bowen Park Opera in the late 80’s. These two companies went from semi-professional to fully professional, non-Equity, non-union in three years.
In 1994, the Cultural Arts Division became responsible for the programs of the Waukegan Park District’s Historic District. The operation and restoration of the Haines Museum in Bowen Park was only a part of that. Programs were developed and the newest of the Cultural Arts’ departments, Bowen Heritage Circle, was born. The Bowen Heritage Circle specializes in traditional and special interest crafts and lectures. Currently, the Cultural Arts Division includes four full time employees: Superintendent of Cultural Arts, Cultural Arts Center Museum Supervisor, the Cultural Arts Specialist, a secretary and three part-time clerical staff. The administrative staff of the Cultural Arts Division has increased gradually over the division’s twenty-plus year history with the Waukegan Park District. The division hires dozens of independent contractors; i.e. instructors of music, dance, drama, and visual arts, opera and theatre directors, actors, conductors, vocal and instrumental musicians, technicians, production staff, etc.