MacArthur Foundation Readies Arts Report: Will Daley Be Embarrassed?

Officials of the Daley administration are said to be nervous about the impending release of a massive new study commissioned by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation entitled “A Report on the Arts.” The report, prepared by Richard Mittenthal of the New York-based consulting firm the Conservation Company, is based on discussions with a wide variety of people involved in the arts in Chicago: Writers and artists, theater and museum executives, and figures from the film and video industries, to name a few. A source inside city government said the report is believed to include some harsh words about the administration and its support for the arts. The source indicated that portions of the full report, which could be released as early as next week, may have been leaked to city government staffers with close ties to the MacArthur Foundation–and that the staffers were pressuring MacArthur executives to soften the report’s contents before it is released to avoid embarrassing Mayor Daley.

Interestingly, former deputy commissioner of Cultural Affairs Nick Rabkin recently left his post with the city to take a job as a MacArthur program officer, working directly under Rebecca Riley, the foundation’s key executive in charge of grants to arts organizations. Rabkin says that since his arrival at the foundation he has been working on the introduction to the report, but he would not discuss in detail any of the report’s contents and expressed surprise at the suggestion that government staffers may have seen portions of it. While still deputy commissioner, Rabkin was among those interviewed for the report. Cultural Affairs spokeswoman Pat Matsumoto said she did not believe commissioner Lois Weisberg had seen any part of it.

The report is apparently significant enough in the eyes of MacArthur Foundation executives to merit distribution beyond the confines of the organization itself; a spokesman says the foundation only releases a small number of its studies to the public.

More Gallery Space at the Cultural Center

Approximately 6,000 square feet of ground floor space now devoted to library use at the Public Library Cultural Center will become gallery space as early as next fall, according to a source at the Department of Cultural Affairs. The addition will double the space now devoted to art displays in the building, but the source indicated that the gallery space would be makeshift because city funding for the Cultural Center has been reduced substantially. Meanwhile studies on the Cultural Center’s long-term future continue. But don’t look for any decisions from the Daley administration about the fate of the building until the mayor is reelected in April.

Art of Africa: Is International Expo Prejudiced?

For the second year in a row the Matombo Gallery in Harare, Zimbabwe, has failed to gain entry to the Chicago International Art Exposition, to be held at Donnelley Hall in McCormick Place May 9-14. The exclusion of Matombo, the only gallery from the African continent to seek exhibit space at Art Expo, and the only gallery specializing in black and African art has raised concerns among local dealers and collectors about prejudice on the part of Art Expo officials. “The quality of the art is not questionable,” said Nicole Smith, owner of the Nicole Gallery, which represents several Matombo artists. “The only thing I can think of is prejudice.” Tom Blackman, executive director of the Chicago-based Lakeside Group (which operates Art Expo), dismissed such charges, saying the exclusion of Matombo was based on quality. “We’re not looking just to have art from Zimbabwe,” said Blackman, “we’re looking to have great art.” He said Lakeside wanted to ensure that the Chicago exposition remained one of the “top shows in the world.”

The Matombo, Gallery was part of Art Expo for at least four years before it was dropped for the first time in 1990. The committee charged with choosing the 166 exhibitors that will appear in the 12th annual version consisted of 14 members, the largest selection committee in the Expo’s history, according to Blackman. Chicago art dealer Roger Ramsey, who’s a member of the selection committee, described Matombo’s collection of Shona sculpture as “airport art” and said the committee’s vote was unanimous against the inclusion of Matombo. Dealer Donald Young, also on the committee, said Matombo’s work simply “wasn’t up to the standards of the fair.” Local dealer Alan Kass, who is not on the committee, said Young wouldn’t appreciate Shona art because he is primarily interested in “esoteric” art. And Matombo’s director, Roy Cook, says: “We believe very strongly that it is wrong for ‘international’ to in fact be interpreted to mean essentially ‘Western.'”

Lobo a Go-Go: Dough From Ohio

Investment capital for commercial theatrical productions may not be easy to come by these days, but that hasn’t stopped one industrious new theater company, Moonlight, Epics & Overtures, from amassing $30,000 to present their debut effort, Lobo a Go-Go, a cult rock horror trash musical set to open March 15 at the Theatre Building. MEO raised approximately 75 percent of its stake from investors in Ohio, where the company’s principals attended Kent State University. Only one investor hails from the Chicago area, according to Jeff Richmond, an associate producer and creator of the musical. His show concerns the mysterious deaths of three candidates for Moon Queen at Woodrow Wilson High.

Buffalo’s Box-Office Stampede

A revival of David Mamet’s American Buffalo has become the first big hit for Remains Theatre in its new home at 1800 N. Clybourn, but the powers that be in the theater company aren’t sure about the reasons for the production’s success. Notes Remains director Larry Sloan: “It may be the popularity of Mamet’s play, or it could be the attractiveness of the $10 ticket price, or it could be the appeal of star Bill Petersen.” Every performance has sold out since the show opened. Petersen’s influence on the box office–or lack thereof–will become apparent on March 19, when he leaves to fulfill film commitments; he will be replaced by Will Zahrn. Remains intends to run American Buffalo at least through April 21. If the show runs much longer than that, Remains may mount its next production in another space.

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