Logo to Go: Local Designers Miffed at MCA

The Museum of Contemporary Art has snubbed Chicago’s graphic designers, and some insist the slight is yet another example of how Chicago’s most prestigious institutions, sometimes contribute–knowingly or not–to the second city mentality. The brouhaha centers on the MCA’s decision to seek a new identification design (that’s a logo), the first redesign in the museum’s 23-year history. MCA director Kevin Consey orchestrated the $50,000 project, assigning a task force of museum executives to screen potential candidates for the job from all over the country.

Perhaps the seeds of controversy were sown when the task force began their search with the idea of choosing candidates, who had some previous experience working on museum identification projects. That prerequisite immediateIy knocked out a vast number of Chicago candidates. But sources say at least one New York design firm declined to be considered, not thinking it proper to take the work away from any number of capable Chicago firms.

Anyway, the force went about its task, finally narrowing the list to seven design firms, from which written proposals were requested. After reviewing those proposals, MCA executives cut the list to three–two New York firms and one from Chicago. The finalists were called in to make presentations, and the winner was a New York firm called Pentagram. “The best firm for our needs happened to be in New York,” says Consey, who plans to unveil the new logo this fall. The Pentagram executive working directly with the MCA is Woody Purdle, a widely respected designer who has had a hand in design projects for several museums, including the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the Tate Gallery outpost in Liverpool, England, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

None of the 3,000 or so practicing professional designers in Chicago have stepped forward to question Purdle’s qualifications or talent; some simply wonder whether a local design firm might not have been equally qualified and talented. “I think the MCA would have done well to support the local community,” notes designer Rick Valicenti, who last year won an all-Chicago competition for Lyric Opera’s new logo design. Others believe Consey would have been surprised by the range of possibilities had he opted for a similar competition. “I think that would have given the museum a broad range of alternatives,” notes Bob Vogele, president of the Chicago-based American Center for Design.

Corporate designer Joseph Essex thinks Consey should have supported the local community, if for no other reason than that Chicago is the source of much of the museum’s funding. “If Consey wants to conduct an international search for a design firm to work with his internationally minded museum,” says Essex, “then I assume his funding will come from all over the world.” In fact, upwards of 95 percent of the MCA’s funding comes from Chicago or Illinois sources, according to a museum spokeswoman.

Consey, a native New Yorker who only arrived in Chicago late last year, dismisses the charge that the MCA has slighted the city’s design community. “The notion that the MCA does not support the local design community is silly,” says Consey, pointing to such locally designed items as MCA shopping bags, invitations, and annual reports. But it doesn’t take a genius to discern the gap in prestige between designing an institution’s omnipresent logo and the fleeting shopping bag or invitation. Consey can talk all he wants about the dealings MCA has with local designers, but he will have a hard time dispelling the perception that he thinks Chicago talent just isn’t good enough to do the big jobs for him.

Rubber Checks at Wisdom Bridge

Several actors in the Wisdom Bridge Theatre production of Soft Remembrance were on the phone recently with Actors Equity representatives discussing their concerns about bounced checks written out against a Wisdom Bridge bank account. Equity regulations allow actors to request payment in cash rather than by check. According to Soft Remembrance cast member Etel Billig, Wisdom Bridge producing director Jeffrey Ortmann apologized for the bounced checks and said steps were being taken to correct the problem. Joyce Sloane, chairman of Wisdom Bridge’s board of directors, said she had been told that a check to cover the actors’ payroll was found undeposited on a bank officer’s desk. Ortmann, the man in the middle of this embarrassment, is the same gentleman who could be heard screaming last month that soon-to-depart League of Chicago Theatres executive director Diane Olmen was being unfairly accused of mismanagement.

Shooting at Cabrini-Green

Nine years of determination have paid off–finally–for director/screenwriter Randall Fried, who is behind the camera directing his first feature film, Heaven Is a Playground, a story about a team of inner-city basketball players based on a book by Chicago sportswriter Rick Telander. Filmed entirely on location at Cabrini-Green and other sites around Chicago, Heaven also is the first feature film produced by Chicagoans Keith Bank and Billy Higgins. Fried, a Southern Cal film school graduate who moved to Chicago in 1980, first tried to get Heaven made through WTTW. When that attempt fell apart, he hooked up five years ago with Bank to work on raising the several million dollars needed to make the film. Fried says location shooting in and around Cabrini-Green has gone smoothly thus far. “Everyone has been cooperative, and the set has been peaceful.” Along with professional actors, Fried’s cast includes participants in the Midnight Basketball League, which comprises gang members from the projects and the west side. Radio personality Steve Dahl is featured as an unwelcome pro scout looking to recruit new talent. Pending a satisfactory distribution deal, Fried hopes the film will be released in the spring of 1991.

Cubby Bear’s New Look

At the grand old age of 70, the Cubby Bear has gotten a make-over. Owner George Loukas recently completed a $350,000 upgrade of the bar/music club’s facilities, doubling seating capacity in the music room and installing a new lighting and sound system. Loukas started his expansion binge after buying out his two brothers’ share in the club about a year and a half ago. “His brothers didn’t want to invest any money in the place,” says spokesperson Brad Altman. “Now we don’t have to beg for performers to play here anymore.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.