A special appearance by Poi Dog Pondering, along with local band the Art Thieves, will highlight tonight’s Inspired Art Auction, a benefit for the Inspiration Cafe, an Uptown restaurant that provides good food and support services to local homeless folks. For $10 you get cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. The auction is a silent, cash-and-carry deal, featuring work donated by almost 100 artists, including Michiko Itatani and Reader contributors Lynda Barry and photographer Charles Eshelman. It starts at 7 at Gallery 312, 312 N. May. Call 878-0981 for reservations.

Anyone who can afford to shell out $60 for an evening’s fun isn’t exactly living on the edge. But why argue with the Goodman Theatre’s fund-raising Discovery Board, which has named its WBEZ-simulcast benefit Cutting Edge Chicago? The shindig begins at 7 with cocktails and a buffet catered by Carlucci’s, Blue Mesa, Geja’s Cafe, and O’Fame, and continues at 8 with performances by poet Lisa Buscani, poetry tag team Betty’s Mouth, and actor/musicians Willy Schwarz and Miriam Sturm. Afterward, audience members can rub elbows with the performers while enjoying the music of Maestro Subgum and the Whole. This brush with hipness will be hosted by Paula Killen and WBEZ’s Ira Glass. It’s taking place in the Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall, 78 E. Washington. Call 435-2770 for tickets.

The Abbey Pub, which for 20 years has been an Irish cultural mecca, will host a high-octane night of traditional music. The all-star session features internationally known Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll, championship accordionist James Keane from Dublin, flutist Joanie Madden and singer Cathie Ryan of the all-women group Cherish the Ladies, New York piper Jerry O’Sullivan, and guitarist Zan McLeod. It starts at 9 at the Abbey, 3420 W. Grace. Tickets are $5. Call 478-4408.


Shropshire sheep, Irish Dexter cattle, Sicilian donkeys, Red Wattle hogs, Black Sumatra chickens, and Pilgrim geese will be among the antiquated varieties of farm animals on display today at the eighth annual Rare Breeds Livestock Show. These animals are in danger of disappearing along with small-scale family farming, once the basis of American agriculture. You can check them out from 11 to 4 today at the Garfield Farm Museum, Garfield Road at Route 38, five miles west of Geneva. Admission is $4, $1.50 for children under 12. Call 708-584-8485 for more.

Catch art-world boy wonder Leo Ionita, 13, today at noon as he demonstrates his unique painting style at the Chicago International Art Exposition at Navy Pier, Grand Avenue at the lake. Ionita will paint while suspended on his “magic carpet,” a huge horizontal easel. Check him out at Romania’s Galeria First in booth 3-134. Admission to Art Expo is $10, $7 for students and seniors. Call 203-6656.

The Democratic Socialists of America are gathering tonight for their annual Eugene Debs-Norman Thomas-Michael Harrington Dinner, at the Congress Hotel, 520 S. Michigan. This year’s dinner honors local trade unionists/community activists Lou Pardo and Carole Travis. The guest speaker will be author and Time columnist Barbara Ehrenreich. Tickets are $40, and the evening gets under way with cocktails at 6. Call the DSA at 384-0327 for more information.


Before Europeans came to this area about one-third of what is now Illinois was covered by hardwood forest, part of a belt that stretched all the way to the east coast. Remnants can be found scattered in suburbs like Evanston and Oak Park, where a small number of ancient trees have survived nearly two centuries of development. Oak Park’s Forestry Commission is sponsoring a Tree Walk at 2 today, starting at the corner of Forest Avenue and Elizabeth Court. Walkers will be shown the neighborhood’s oldest and largest trees and learn about how they’ve adapted to their changing environment. A docent from the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio will also be on hand to point out some of the architecturally significant houses along the way. The walk is free and will end with refreshments. Call 708-383-6400, ext. 3368 for more information.


Cuban-born Loyola graduate John Herrera was nominated for a Tony for his role in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, played Che in the Broadway and national touring productions of Evita, and slit Armand Assante’s throat in The Mambo Kings. Tonight he’ll be singing “Guantanamera,” “Babalu,” and other standards from Cuba’s decadent prerevolutionary period in Tropic Illusion, a benefit for Loyola’s Mustard Seed Scholarship Fund for theater students. It’s happening at 7:30 in the university’s Kathleen Mullady Memorial Theatre, 6525 N. Sheridan. Tickets are $20, $5 for Loyola students. For reservations call 508-3847.

The Good Friday Project is a play about the life of Jean Gump, a Missouri grandmother and peace activist who spent four years in a federal prison for doing $424.84 worth of damage to a nuclear-missile facility in 1986. Gump and her equally civil-disobedient husband Joe will attend a reception following the play’s performance tonight at 7:30 at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont. Tickets are $20 and proceeds will go to the disarmament group Illinois Peace Action. Call 939-3316 for reservations.


People who have been pining for the 86ed local cable TV show This Week in Joe’s Basement can take heart; the show’s creators, Joe Winston and David Zerlin, are bringing the crew back together for an interactive, multimedia performance at the Bop Shop. Moon Blob: The Motion Picture will feature live music, comedy sketches, segments from the TV series, and video interviews in which random people on the street ponder the existence of UFOs. The show starts at 8, at 1807 W. Division. Admission is $5. Call 363-8243.


Is scattered-site housing the solution to Chicago’s public-housing crisis? Private developers, city officials, and interested architects will discuss Public Housing by Private Design tonight at 8 at the Graham Foundation, 4 W. Burton Place. Admission is free. Call 787-4071 for more information.


Artwork by young Cabrini-Green residents will be exhibited and auctioned off tonight to benefit Partners in Education, a church-sponsored tutoring program that pairs adult volunteers with students who live in the project. Also up for auction will be autographed baseball paraphernalia, a private tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, and a catered dinner for eight. Organizers will attempt to pry even more money from their guests’ wallets by raffling off a trip for two to the Virgin Islands at $2 a ticket. The benefit lasts from 5:30 to 8 at the Marc restaurant, 311 W. Superior. Tickets are $30 at the door and buy you food and live music in addition to a shot at the goods. Call 787-4570 for information.

Tonight’s meeting of the Virtual Reality Special Interest Group offers curious folks and confirmed enthusiasts a report on the latest VR products and technology displayed at a recent west-coast conference. The 6:30 meeting is at Columbia College, 623 S. Wabash. Admission is $2 plus a piece of information about VR. Call 708-246-0766 for more information.

The Field Museum’s north face will be illuminated tonight by a multiprojector continuous-loop slide show. This installment of the museum’s centennial- celebration light show will feature colors and images of nature to accompany a scientific conference on the environment sponsored by the museum this weekend. The Living World will run nightly from dusk to midnight through June 2, and can be seen from vantage points in Grant Park and on the museum grounds, East Roosevelt Road and South Lake Shore Drive. The environmental conference, “Dimensions in Biodiversity,” runs through May 22 and is open to the public. Call 322-8859 for more information.