Museums Seek New Blood

It looks like the city’s cultural institutions are getting serious about developing their young-adult clientele. Notes Newberry Library director of media relations Moyra Knight: “Many of the not-for-profits these days are having to extend themselves to get young adults interested in the programs they offer.” Within the past 12 months the Newberry, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry have launched social organizations aimed at the 25-to-40 age group similar to those already in place at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Institute, and Lincoln Park Zoo. They’re

wooing the younger set with an array of fund-raising parties, discussion groups, and sponsorship projects.

The Newberry–where once a letter of recommendation was required to use the achives–is clearly trying to change its image: at a western-themed party September 9 to kick off its new group, the Newberry Chapter, a country band called Barney and the Barnstormers serenaded some 200 guests in the library’s stately quarters. The group plans to host more soirees, as well as informal monthly discussion groups to talk about current library exhibits and related topics. Explains Jill Lloyd, the library’s director of individual gifts: “If [young adults] are educated about the institution, chances are better that they will want to use it.” At the Newberry, as at most of the other establishments, any talk about financial contribution beyond membership dues is low-key or nonexistent, but clearly the expectation is that over the long term the commitment will lead to more substantial financial support. “Eventually, we would hope that the new chapter will become a source of funding for us,” says Lloyd. The Newberry is trying to retire an accrued deficit of approximately $600,000.

Also on September 9 the Auxiliary Society of the Shedd Aquarium, which ended its 1993 fiscal year $316,000 in the red, hosted its second annual black-tie gala, “A Night in Atlantis.” Approximately 750 of the city’s young movers and shakers crowded around plentiful open bars when they weren’t watching a dolphin show in the Oceanarium or a diver talk about and feed exotic fish. Parties may be a lure for new members (currently the group numbers about 100), but the aquarium hopes to do more than just show its new supporters a good time. “At the Shedd we want a group that will participate and get interested in what the aquarium is doing,” says Scott Wolter, an Auxiliary Society member who’s also in charge of bringing in new recruits. Auxiliary Society programs in the works include guided visits to the aquarium for Cabrini-Green kids and campaigns to save midwestern wetlands and coral reefs in the Florida Keys. The group also holds quarterly meetings at which Shedd staffers talk about aquarium programs, and a newsletter goes out every two months.

Wolter has been associated with both the American Cancer Society and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. He says he grew disenchanted with those two organizations because there was little sense of involvement beyond raising money. “I didn’t want to just be a fund-raiser.”

On October 1 the Museum of Science and Industry formally launches its new auxiliary board with a champagne scavenger hunt. Museum officials stress that the focus of the group will be audience development, not fund-raising, though any monies the group does raise will go into various educational projects. Says Rebecca Bowen, the museum’s special projects coordinator: “We want the auxiliary group to be interactive, informal, and inclusive.”

But establishing and sustaining such groups is easier said than done, says Carolyn Stolper, chief development officer at the Museum of Contemporary Art, whose New Group has been around for ten years. “It’s hard to develop a group like this because it is [composed] of people who are making frequent changes in their lives, so it is typically more transient, a kind of moving target.” Still, New Group members, who pay annual dues of $125, are considered a key audience for the MCA. “These are young, energetic people who want to learn more about contemporary art,” says Stolper. Others worry that too many institutions are pursuing what may be a limited number of interested young adults. Robin Segal, president of the Shedd’s Auxiliary Society, says “The group we’re going after is pretty much the same piece of the pie that everyone else is going after.”

COT Moves Downtown

In another of many surprising developments in recent years at managerially challenged Chicago Opera Theater, the organization announced last week that it will present its 1995 season of two operas at the Merle Reskin Theatre, owned and operated by DePaul University. To obtain the theater COT had to push its season opener back to June, whereas in years past COT’s season has started as early as February. Until this announcement, COT had been expected to present next season’s performances in March and May at the Athenaeum Theatre, now under the management of Fred Solari, who was formerly associated with Civic Stages Chicago. COT artistic director Carl Ratner says the sudden shift in venues was precipitated by a desire for a downtown location that would prepare audiences for the company’s eventual move into the midsize theater that’s supposed to open in several years at Cityfront Center. But it remains to be seen how audiences will respond to a June schedule. “It’s not a typical opera month,” says Ratner. And Theatrical Stage Employees Local 2 plans to initiate talks with COT about hiring union stagehands for productions in its new home–an expense not presently accounted for in next season’s budget. Says Danny Kerins, business manager for Local 2: “We take a position that if they are doing other than student shows at the Merle Reskin, then the union should be in there.”

ITF Pays Up

Just as the Reader was going to press last week, a check for $15,000 from the International Theatre Festival arrived at the offices of the League of Chicago Theatres to cover a bill for display advertising the league had placed for the festival. League executive director Tony Sertich said he was surprised to see the money so quickly. But Cheryl Lewin was not so fortunate. No check arrived to cover several thousand dollars owed her public relations firm, even though Lewin maintains that festival managing director Pam Marsden (now on a leave of absence) had told her as recently as last month that she would be “at the top of the list” of creditors to be paid back if monies became available.

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