MCA’s Cash Reserves Run Low . . .

It appears the Museum of Contemporary Art has found itself in a financial squeeze as it nears the final stages in the construction of its new $46 million home. The project has been funded through $50 million in tax-exempt bonds, and as part of its bond covenant the museum must maintain reserves to meet “minimum cash and investment tests” prescribed by its creditor banks, Harris, NBD, Northern Trust, and LaSalle. MCA chairman Allen M. Turner explains, “The banks hold us to a very high standard.”

A November 7 letter obtained by this column hints that the museum may be having difficulty meeting that standard. The letter, written by MCA director Kevin Consey to a First National Bank of Chicago executive, expressed concern that the museum’s finances may be strained by its plans to completely shut down its old building at 237 E. Ontario on February 4, thereby cutting off all operating income for five months.

Early this summer the MCA was required to have a reserve of at least $25.4 million in cash and investments, but, Consey confided, “We scarcely met the June 30, 1995 test.” He went on to note that these minimum requirements will rise to $27.6 million by December 30, 1995, and $29.8 million by June 30, 1996. The letter also makes clear that the museum’s start-up costs for the new building will call for an additional $3 million.

To help cover the new building’s start-up expenses and ensure that the MCA meets its upcoming cash and investment tests, Consey asked First National to “advance” $1.5 million from a bequest left by deceased museum trustee Gerald S. Elliott. Chairman Turner confirmed that the bank has not yet given the green light to Consey’s request, but said he’s still confident the MCA will meet its financial obligations: “We will meet our December 30 test and all future tests.”

The new museum is scheduled to open to the public on July 2.

. . . While Hopes for New Programs Rise

While the MCA works on meeting its immediate financial obligations, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund announced last week that the museum will receive a five-year $1.25 million grant to develop marketing initiatives and educational programs aimed at attracting patrons between the ages of 18 and 24. With the opening of the new facility, MCA executives believe the time is right to attract young supporters. The museum’s chief development officer, Carolyn Stolper Friedman, says one strategy involves recruiting artists to directly interact with school groups. “We want to use the artists themselves to help educate this particular student community about the art,” says Friedman.

The museum also plans to draw on the latest technology, including a World Wide Web site and interactive video. A new membership card will offer special benefits for college-age patrons, and another plan calls for the deployment of student representatives on most Chicago-area campuses. Actual implement-ation of the initiative, called “Stir It Up: What You Don’t See in School,” won’t begin until the fall of 1997.

Rodi Back on the Racks

Robert Rodi, one of the city’s most prolific gay authors, has just published his fourth novel, Drag Queen. The marketing of Rodi’s latest tome capitalizes on the punchy title with an eye-catching book jacket: a pair of big red lips on a silver cover. Drag Queen concerns a straitlaced gay Chicago attorney who discovers that he has a long-lost twin, a local drag performer named Kitten Kabooble. The novel recounts the twins’ humorous struggle to alter the other’s lifestyle.

Drag Queen arrives in bookstores just when interest in the bizarre world of drag queens is peaking, and Rodi’s agent on the west coast has already landed a movie development deal with Propaganda Films. Among those involved in the film project are director Alek Keshishian, who made the Madonna documentary Truth or Dare, and playwright Nicky Silver, who has signed on to write the script. Remains Theatre presented Silver’s play Pterodactyls last season, and his latest work, The Food Chain, is currently running off-Broadway in a production directed by Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls.

AIDS Estate Project Moving In?

The MacArthur Foundation has awarded a grant to the Estate Project for Artists With AIDS to study whether Chicago would support a local branch of the organization. The program was launched four years ago in New York City to help preserve the work of artists with the disease. It provides assistance in such matters as making out wills, properly cataloging artworks, videotaping dances by choreographers, and publishing the writings of authors with AIDS.

Program director Patrick Moore has already hired local visual arts maven Andree Stone, whose early findings are mixed at best. “There is both great support and great resistance,” notes Stone, who says some of the city’s existing AIDS organizations fear the project might siphon off funds that otherwise would be earmarked for their causes. Moore and Stone expect to make a final decision by this spring, when they hope to formally open the local office in conjunction with Art 1996 Chicago, the annual international art fair on Navy Pier.

Anyone interested in the project should call 935-6617.

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