New Group Party Pooped: Art Bows to Fashion

This year’s opening night in the River North gallery district, scheduled for September 8, will be missing one of its key ingredients: the Museum of Contemporary Art’s New Group, a body of the museum’s younger supporters, has chosen not to throw the street party it’s held every year for the past seven years. Instead the New Group is joining forces with the Oak Street Council to present a benefit fashion show called “Passport to International Fashion” on September 14. Proceeds from that event will be shared by the MCA and Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. New Group president Carrie Lannon says, “Many of our members were tired of the street party and wanted something new and different.”

According to MCA spokesman Michael Thomas, the decision to forgo the River North street party was also linked to the opening of the museum’s new home, now scheduled for next July. “We were too busy working on the new building to do a party,” says Thomas, adding that the Oak Street Council is doing most of the planning for the fashion benefit. Several art dealers, however, say the decision to drop the street party is evidence that the museum is apathetic about the local art scene. “They are so lost over there,” says Ken Saunders of Marx-Saunders Gallery.

Gallery owners had been counting on the MCA New Group bash to draw crowds of potential art buyers and generate sales momentum that would last through the fall and winter. With the New Group nixing its street party, art dealers say they’re shifting their hopes to a gallery walk scheduled for late September by the Evening Associates of the Art Institute, a body of young-adult museum supporters similar to the MCA’s New Group. “The Evening Associates are trying to be supportive and do something for the gallery district,” says Saunders. Lannon says her organization, which had its own successful River North gallery walk earlier this year, hasn’t lost interest in the district and will probably hold more events there in the future.

Midsize Theater: This Space Still Available

The 1,500-seat theater set to go up at Cityfront Center continues to have trouble getting prospective tenants to sign on the dotted line. Theater general manager Joyce Moffatt had hoped to have signed letters of commitment from all 12 of the organizations expected to use the facility by the beginning of August, but so far only the Old Town School of Folk Music, likely to be only an infrequent user of the theater, has complied with her request. “I screwed up,” says Moffatt, who says she hadn’t realized that the boards of the various arts groups involved wouldn’t be able to meet during the summer months to review and approve the letters of commitment. Moffatt still hopes to have most of the signed letters by the end of the month, but she doesn’t know whether all the proposed tenants will sign without further negotiation. Sources say several of the groups remain concerned about the high cost of operating in the new facility, which will be staffed with union stagehands. Another sticking point has been the earnest money requested of each group along with the letter of commitment. Since several groups balked at paying a flat $20,000 each, the deposit was prorated according to how much each organization expects to use the facility. Ground must be broken in November if the theater is to open on schedule in late 1997, and the theater’s trustees are still racing to raise approximately $25 million of the $28 million needed to build it.

Chicago Joffrey: Not Dead Yet

Despite the collapse of merger talks between Ballet Chicago and the Joffrey Ballet, the Joffrey may still decide to move to Chicago. Several sources say the company’s newly appointed executive director, Arnold Breman, has told them the Joffrey expects to base itself here, at least for the next season and perhaps well beyond that. Among other things, Breman is reportedly working to schedule a Joffrey engagement at the 4,200-seat theater set to open this fall in Rosemont and an appearance downtown during the 1996 Spring Festival of Dance. If the Joffrey does establish itself in Chicago, sources in the philanthropic community say Ballet Chicago is certain to find raising money more difficult than ever before.

Meanwhile dancer Mario de la Nuez’s efforts to establish yet another ballet company, Ballet Theater of Chicago, are proceeding slower than planned. “We had a little bit of a cash shortfall,” says de la Nuez, whose company won’t be presenting a fall season in October at the Athenaeum Theatre. However, he does expect to present Giselle and Hindemith Actuations, choreographed by former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Daniel Levans, in February and another engagement in April.

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