No Room for Un-Conventional Art

Since moving here in 1959, artist Robert Guinan has painted the city’s run-down neighborhoods, street people, prostitutes, and barflies. While his work has been championed in France–even Francois Mitterand owns a Guinan painting–he has remained relatively unknown in his hometown.

Earlier this year the Chicago Cultural Center decided to remedy that situation. A retrospective of Guinan’s work was scheduled to take place during the summer of 1996, when the Democratic National Convention comes to town. But now it looks like the exhibition has been scuttled, and the reasons behind the cancellation remain vague.

City cultural commissioner Lois Weisberg says the plug was pulled for lack of funding. “We have no money to do the show,” says Weisberg, who also explained that she’s been trying to raise about $500,000 for an international conference to be held next October on the role of the arts in city life. Besides being strapped for cash, Weisberg says her office simply didn’t have enough lead time to pull the exhibit together, even though meetings about the Guinan show began 11 months ago.

But last week Guinan received a telephone call from his Paris-based dealer Albert Loeb, who said a prominent Chicago art collector with close ties to Mayor Daley told him that city officials “wanted something else in the Cultural Center during the convention.” A new exhibit, “Explorations in the City of Light: African-American Artists in Paris 1945-1965,” has now been slated to take its place.

Interference by City Hall would appear odd considering that the idea of doing a Guinan show started with Maggie Daley. At a meeting last January, Guinan recalls the mayor’s wife talked enthusiastically about his paintings and her desire to mount an exhibit in the Cultural Center. Loeb and Cultural Center curator Gregory Knight were present at a second meeting in March, along with Weisberg, Maggie Daley, and Guinan. Loeb had come from Paris expressly for the meeting. “He laid everything out for them in a bound booklet,” remembers Guinan. By that point, Guinan says it had become clear that the kind of exhibit Daley envisioned would not come cheaply. A preliminary budget came in at about $100,000 because most of the paintings would have to be shipped from Europe. Loeb also wanted a catalog, which represented $30,000 of that total.

According to Weisberg, the city spends only $60,000 a year for art exhibits and other programming at the Cultural Center, requiring all additional costs to be covered by sponsors. That meant most of the funds for a Guinan show would have to have been raised from outside sources. Curator Knight reportedly balked at the high cost of doing the Guinan show, but Daley pushed for it, and everyone fell in line behind her. Guinan says they talked of opening the exhibit next April and running it through the summer. Shortly after that meeting, Knight stopped off in Paris to discuss the show with Loeb. But that was the last substantive meeting until Loeb heard the bad news last week.

Weisberg insists a Guinan show will still be mounted at the Cultural Center, just not next summer. “We got cut back on our money, but we are still working on the show.”

Dance Chicago ’95’s Modest Triumph

It appears Dance Chicago ’95, the six-week performance series held at the Athenaeum Theatre this fall, will wind up in the black, an achievement of some note for a first-time festival featuring many of the city’s lesser-known dance companies. Organized by Athenaeum general manager Fred Solari and festival codirector John Schmitz, the event cost $185,000 to mount. Schmitz raised about $90,000 in contributions, and ticket sales generated over $100,000, which should leave a small surplus. Aside from showing a profit, Dance Chicago ’95 achieved another important goal. “We brought attention to the city’s smaller dance companies, which is really most of the dance community,” notes Solari.

The festival spotlighted 40 troupes and choreographers. Attendance averaged about 400 people per performance, well above Solari’s projection of 225. The River North Dance Company, a rising young troupe, pulled in the largest crowds. Solari says the festival could become an annual event, but that depends on whether the festival can get the same kind of foundation support it received this year. Solari also believes dance organizers will have to stay on their toes: “We have to look at whether we can keep the freshness and the excitement if we do it every year.”

Stagebill Upstaged

Stagebill, the monthly program booklet handed out at area theaters, is about to lose one of its most prestigious clients. Sources confirm that beginning in January the Shubert Theatre will drop Stagebill and begin using a program booklet produced by Performance Media Network, a company owned by the Chicago Sun-Times. This defection comes in the wake of protests within the theater community over Stagebill’s decision to begin charging theaters $20 for each photo published in excess of five. The new fee apparently isn’t a factor in the Shubert switch, however, because it’s one of the few places that doesn’t use photos in its program biographies.

There are no photo fees at PMN, which over the past three years has quietly picked up some of the city’s prime venues. Unlike Stagebill, which puts together a monthly mix of arts features for its program book, the entire editorial content of a PMN program is generated by the client. “Everything belongs to the client,” says Davis, “so the program book reflects the venue.”

PMN first nabbed the Ravinia Festival three years ago. It then won the program book account at Navy Pier’s Skyline Stage, and this season it took the prestigious Chicago Symphony Orchestra account away from Stagebill. Ravinia spokesperson Jean Oelrich gives the publisher high marks for its work: “They do a quality product, and they do it exactly the way we want it.”

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