Lonesome Coyote

Around the Coyote began in 1989 as a small, funky arts festival offering tours of artists’ studios in Bucktown and Wicker Park. But after peaking in the early 90s, the festival has limped along from year to year. Now, after an exhausting effort to organize last fall’s festival, a small band of true believers is trying to generate support for a tenth-anniversary celebration. “We barely made ends meet last year,” admits Olga Stefan, an assistant director at Yello Gallery who’s trying to make Around the Coyote happen again next fall. Bob Berger, owner of the Flat Iron Building, has once again pledged his financial support and donated office space. Yet the organizers are considering some dramatic changes this year, including a grassroots approach that would once again focus on artists in the community.

At a recent meeting of area artists and gallery operators, three different scenarios for ATC ’99 began to take shape. Justine Jentes of Inside Art gallery outlined the options in a recent memo that was faxed to interested parties, soliciting their opinions and participation. One plan would “scale the Coyote way down and focus on what exists in the community.” ATC would no longer solicit applications from artists or coordinate exhibition spaces; people participating in the festival would have to provide their own spaces or find local businesses to host their shows. Another plan would preserve the curated event of previous years, with ATC selecting 50 to 100 artists in addition to those showing at neighborhood galleries and studios, a model that would involve “finding schools, churches, businesses, and cultural institutions like the Polish Museum [of America] and the Ruiz [Belvis] Center to host exhibitors.” Peter Bowers, who designed last year’s schedule, floated a third option: engaging Eventive Design, a local event-marketing company he works for, to manage the festival.

Stefan has contacted some businesses in search of seed money, but she doubts ATC can survive at its current size if it relies on volunteers again. Jim Holcomb, an advertising executive who wound up as volunteer director of last year’s festival, has dropped out altogether, and Stefan, who worked closely with Holcomb, says that few people on the ATC board of directors offered any assistance last year: “No one wanted to take on any of the responsibility.” If the festival is going to last, it might have to get bigger or much, much smaller. “I think Around the Coyote is still a viable event,” says Holcomb. “But if I were doing it again, I’d scale back a bit on the size of the festival.”

Season’s Greetings

At a press conference two weeks ago the Chicago Symphony Orchestra previewed its 1999-2000 season, which will include a Mozart retrospective, a celebration of music director Daniel Barenboim’s 50th year on the concert stage, a residency by composer Pierre Boulez, and a Duke Ellington tribute to be performed in collaboration with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The dry recitation of next fall’s programming didn’t generate much excitement, but some interesting developments behind the scenes could have long-range implications for the CSO. Zarin Mehta, executive director of the Ravinia Festival, says that after this season he’ll bow out of programming “Symphony Center Presents,” the series of jazz, pop, and chamber music concerts presented by Ravinia and the CSO. And the symphony has yet to replace Stephen Belth, vice president for communications, who left the CSO last November to start an audience-development consulting business.

“Symphony Center Presents” was launched four years ago to foster a closer working relationship between the CSO and Ravinia. But Mehta says his programming chores at Symphony Center are more than he can handle: “I just want to be able to come downtown and enjoy the concerts.” Fogel has assigned Mehta’s duties to Matias Tarnopolsky, a former executive of the British Broadcasting Corporation who’s been appointed CSO director of programming.

In Belth’s absence, CSO president Henry Fogel has hired an outside consultant to help with the symphony’s subscription campaign. When asked what percentage of classical concert tickets were bought by subscribers this season, Fogel couldn’t produce an exact figure but reported that subscriptions were down about “four to five percent” from the previous year. Falling subscription sales have plagued orchestras across the country; single-ticket sales require more manpower than subscription sales. Gideon Toeplitz, managing director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, says that between 1992 and 1996 his organization’s subscriptions fell from 95 percent of available tickets to 55 percent; now the PSO’s programming is guided by market research, including one concert series based solely on focus groups. According to Toeplitz, there’s no room for error when trying to interest younger audiences in classical music. “If you bring them in and play a Bruckner symphony for their first visit, they won’t be back,” he says. Part of Boulez’s CSO residency will be a performance of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony.

Plaids to Sluts: Mine’s Longer Than Yours

An item in Kup’s Column in last Sunday’s Sun-Times identified Forever Plaid–the squeaky-clean doo-wop revue at the Royal George Theatre Center cabaret–as the longest-running musical in Chicago. But that title has also been claimed by Co-ed Prison Sluts, the raunchy musical spoof that’s been playing at the Annoyance Theatre for more than nine years, racking up close to a thousand performances. According to a spokesperson for Forever Plaid, which opened in October 1994, the Royal George show has more than 1,800 performances under its belt (it’s staged five or more times a week, as opposed to twice a week for Co-ed Prison Sluts). Annoyance managing director Mark Sutton doesn’t care about the technicalities: “We like to use ‘longest-running musical’ in our advertising because it helps sell tickets.” He says he called a Forever Plaid publicist a couple of years ago when he first saw that show claim the title; the publicist ignored his complaints–but asked if his show was looking for a press agent. Sutton declined the offer, and look where it got him.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Olga Stefan photo by J.B. Spector.