Founded in 2002 by husbands Malik Gillani and Jamil Khoury, Silk Road Rising (originally Silk Road Theatre Project) began as an intentional and creative response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. We recognized that the consequences of that catastrophic day would reverberate for years to come, posing unique and urgent challenges for artists of all backgrounds. It would, moreover, underscore our commitment to educating, to promoting dialogue, and to healing rifts via the transformative power of storytelling.
Harnessing that power, we set out to challenge the ideology and hatred that fueled the 9/11 attacks and the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim backlash that immediately followed. Our vision was to counter negative images and stereotypes of Middle Eastern and Muslim peoples with representation grounded in authentic, multi-faceted, and patently human experiences. We’d center politics that were anti-racist, anti-colonial, and pro-feminist, and tell stories that were by us, about us, and for all.
Our focus quickly expanded beyond the Middle East to encompass the vast territory known historically as the Silk Road, a network of trade routes stretching from China to Syria. The legacy of the Silk Road provided us the narrative from which our core values would appear: Discovery, Pluralism, and Empathy.
Over the years, Silk Road Rising has emerged into an award winning, nationally recognized art-making and art service organization that shapes conversations about Asian and Middle Eastern Americans. Understanding that cultures are inherently linked, we seek out the intersections of cultures without undermining the specificities of cultures. And we strive to create a world that values art over ideology and inquiry over dogma.
The Silk Road
“Silk Road” refers to the great trade routes that originated in China and spread westward across Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and into Europe. From the 2nd century B.C.E. until roughly the 1600s C.E. the world’s dominant land routes adjoined China to Syria and connected sea routes to create an East-West corridor linking Japan with Italy. These transcontinental caravans resulted not only in trade, of which silk was an important commodity, but also in tremendous cross-cultural interaction among the peoples of the regions; interaction that fostered the exchange of ideas and the fusion of art and aesthetics.
The legacy of the Silk Road spawned rich traditions of storytelling, primarily oral narrative and epic poetry. As we ourselves are storytellers, Silk Road Rising has in the Silk Road a geographic polestar and a guiding metaphor for our unique brand of cultural interchange. And the scope of this interchange is limitless.
If we were to trace on a contemporary map the myriad trade routes connected to the Silk Road, the modern nation-states of this vast territory would comprise approximately two-thirds of the world’s population. From a political perspective, the Silk Road represents a model of interdependence and interconnectivity serving to unite diverse peoples across geographically contiguous regions—prior to the upset of European colonialism and imperialism, and its strategies of divide and rule.
For these reasons and many more, we embrace the Silk Road as a living historical heritage and a precedent to the anti-colonial and anti-Orientalist politics that define our company’s aesthetic. May its legacy continue to thrive at Silk Road Rising.
Silk Road Rising has been blessed with not one but two residencies in the heart of the Chicago Loop, the city's vibrant downtown arts and business district. Two iconic high rise buildings, within just four blocks of one another, house our residencies. One serves as our performance venue, the other as our administrative headquarters.
The Historic Chicago Temple Building
First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple
77 W. Washington St., Chicago, IL
Silk Road Rising is the professional theatre-in-residence at the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple. Since 2006, we’ve been producing plays and events in our intimate, 85-seat “jewel box” of a theatre in Pierce Hall, in the historic building’s lower level. To learn more about this dynamic partnership between a religious institution and a secular arts organization watch Sacred Stages: A Church, A Theatre, and A Story
First United Methodist Church of Chicago
The First United Methodist Church of Chicago is the oldest church in Chicago, pre-dating the incorporation of the City of Chicago by six years, and tracing its origins to 1831, back when Fort Dearborn was an outpost on the United States’ western frontier. The congregation has contributed enormously to Chicago’s spiritual, civic, and cultural development, and has been described as “a microcosm of the history of Chicago and of the nation itself.” Celebrated as one of Chicago’s most diverse congregations, members hail from every ZIP Code in the city as well as 80 suburbs. The congregation’s rich ethnic, racial and economic diversity renders it an ideal partner for Silk Road Rising.
The Historic Chicago Temple Building
When the Chicago Temple opened its doors in 1924, it held the envious title of tallest building in Chicago. While it would retain this honor all throughout the 1920s, far more striking than the tower's altitude is the marvelous achievement of its design. The Chicago Temple, conceived by the renowned architectural firm of Holabird & Roche, melds the practicality of an American skyscraper with the graceful opulence of a French Gothic cathedral. Indeed, its 27 storeys of pristine white and gray Bedford limestone culminate in a magnificent cathedral-like spire. In addition to a church, the Chicago Temple houses a parsonage, a Sky Chapel, 17 floors of commercial space and private offices, and, of course, Silk Road Rising.
Crain Communications Building
150 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL
Silk Road Rising is the Crain Communications Building’s Resident Curator of Arts, Culture, and Learning, an honor we have held since early 2018. Our administrative office, and the company’s “Creativity Zone” studio space, are all housed in the venerable North Michigan Avenue skyscraper. Throughout the year, we offer arts-related programs to the building’s diverse community of office tenants, bringing the mission of Silk Road Rising into the workplace.
The iconic Crain Communications Building, known up until 2012 as the Smurfit-Stone Building, was designed by Sheldon Schlegman of the architectural firm A. Epstein and Sons. Schlegman conceived of it with two goals in mind: 1) to optimize the site's breathtaking and unobstructed view of Lake Michigan, and 2) to take full advantage of the direct morning sunlight afforded by that view. These aims resulted in the Crain's distinctive angled diamond of windows—they're essentially an enormous low-tech solar panel. Since the building opened in 1984 the view has grown even more luscious with the addition of Millenium Park diagonally across the street.