A Leaner Coyote

Ten years ago Jim Happy-Delpech, the owner of a Paris art gallery, visited friends in Chicago and realized that the burgeoning West Town art scene could use some organizational muscle behind it. After immigrating to the city, he founded Around the Coyote in 1990. The community arts festival was based on the principle of inclusiveness. “We have very good, good, and sort-of-good artists,” he told the Reader in 1992. “We don’t judge.” At the heart of the festival was a series of studio walks, bringing visitors into close contact with area artists, an idea Happy-Delpech got from having arranged gallery walks in Paris’s Bastille district.

His boundless energy made for an exciting, cutting-edge festival in a decidedly bohemian community. But Bucktown and Wicker Park began to gentrify, and after Happy-Delpech left the festival in 1995 due to failing health, Around the Coyote lost its center. No one knew from year to year who would be in charge or what the festival would represent, and as recently as last winter its true believers were wondering whether the festival would happen this year. Finally Olga Stefan, an assistant director at Yello Gallery and arts administration student at the School of the Art Institute, took it upon herself to organize the tenth Around the Coyote: this year’s festival, scheduled for September 9 through 12, will be dedicated to Happy-Delpech, who died on August 3.

Stefan says the four-day event will be budgeted at $100,000 (about a quarter of what was spent during its peak years); some neighborhood businesses will make small cash gifts, but most of the $100,000 will be in-kind donations. As in years past, the festival’s visual art focus will be complemented by an array of dance, poetry, and theater, presented by companies like Trap Door Theatre, Thirteenth Tribe, the Roudnev Ballet Company, and the 58 Group. New this year is the “EXE Digital Spectacle,” described as a real-time environmental multimedia installation that includes video, music, and performance art. The festival will present a curated exhibition, featuring the work of 46 artists; it was supposed to be somewhat larger, but it received only 180 applications. Asked if this would be the last Around the Coyote, Stefan was noncommittal: “We’ve been too busy dealing with number ten to think much about what happens next.” Bob Markey, the only veteran member of the festival’s board, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Who’ll Helm Hubbard Street?

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Lou Conte, founder and artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, is the certainty that his company will survive without him. Last week Conte announced that he’ll step down at the end of the 1999-2000 season, and after 22 years he’ll leave behind the most respected and financially secure dance institution in the city. Hubbard Street is better positioned to survive a leadership change than many arts organizations of its size: two years ago it concluded a $6.5 million fund-raising campaign and moved into a plush new facility at 1147 W. Jackson, both key components in a long-range business plan drawn up in 1993. And last year the Nederlander Organization, which operates the Shubert Theatre and other venues around the country, signed Hubbard Street to its roster of attractions, giving it access to subscription audiences and marketing dollars in other cities. As leader of Hubbard Street, Conte has always kept a low profile: he hasn’t choreographed a new work for the company since 1987, preferring to bring in new faces and develop an eclectic repertoire that would broaden the company’s appeal. But behind the scenes he’s worked hard to define Hubbard Street’s image, deciding everything from who would dance in which pieces to what photos would appear in advertising spreads.

Conte’s departure might have surprised some in the dance community, but the business plan provided for an orderly succession, establishing a search committee to review candidates. “Lou actually has been pushing us to think about succession for the past ten years,” says Gail Kalver, executive director of Hubbard Street. Kalver insists the committee is keeping all its options open, but sources familiar with the company say one of two scenarios is likely. The seven-person committee could focus on high-profile choreographers who have a history with the company (including Daniel Ezralow, David Parsons, Margo Sappington, Jiri Kylian, and even Twyla Tharp); choosing a well-known figure would bolster fund-raising and ticket sales. The committee might also choose someone from within the company; sources say Claire Bataille, one of the troupe’s original dancers and its current ballet mistress, could be a contender, though Kalver says that Bataille has not expressed interest in the job. The company hopes to name a new artistic director by the spring of 2000.

Fosse in Limbo

Fosse, the Tony Award-winning tribute to director-choreographer Bob Fosse, opens September 14 at the Oriental Theatre, but it’s still unclear whether the engagement will be presented by the bankrupt Livent Inc. or by Pace Theatrical Group, the division of SFX Entertainment, Inc., that’s expected to acquire the Oriental and other Livent assets. A Livent spokesperson said the show would be presented by Pace, but a Pace spokesperson said it could not claim Fosse until the acquisition’s been completed, and no one is sure how soon that will happen. The uncertainty might explain why Fosse hasn’t gotten the kind of aggressive marketing push Chicagoans came to expect from Livent: the show’s print advertising has shrunk to infrequent quarter-page black-and-white ads, a far cry from the colorful campaigns masterminded by CEO Garth Drabinsky back when he was racking up $200 million in debt.

Ravinia’s Sunny Skies

Despite June’s heavy rains and July’s heat wave, the Ravinia Festival recently surpassed 200,000 in pavilion ticket sales for the first time in a single season, and sales have increased for all categories–jazz, pop, classical, and dance. Jean Oelrich, director of marketing for Ravinia, thinks using the festival’s Web site and E-mail to move unsold blocks of tickets at the last minute may have helped set the new record.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.