Northwestern Dean Bolts With Fellowship Program

For the past three years the arts have been a primary focus of attention at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where the National Arts Journalism Program is based. The initiative, funded by the Pew Charitable Trust in Philadelphia, has brought three arts journalists a year to each of four university campuses–Columbia University, the University of Georgia, the University of Southern California, and Northwestern. The fellows take university courses and meet with local arts leaders and journalists while pursuing in-depth projects. In Chicago fellows worked with such organizations as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lookingglass Theatre, and Steppenwolf. In the process, they gained behind-the-scenes knowledge of how arts organizations function, while arts executives got a better feeling for the journalists’ point of view.

But all of this is about to end in Chicago. At the conclusion of the current school year a revamped version of the NAJP is moving, along with departing Medill dean Michael Janeway, to the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York. For at least the next three years all NAJP fellows will be based at Columbia, where in addition to teaching courses Janeway will take over administration of the program from Medill professor Abe Peck. Former fellow Mary McCauley, a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel arts reporter and critic, says Peck was a large part of the reason why the program worked so well for her. “Abe brought a real spirit and dedication to the program.”

But several people connected with the NAJP say consolidating everything in New York may have been inevitable as the program evolved. Says Peck: “Even I could see early on in the program there might be some synergies gained from having all the fellows at one campus.” But Peck says when the program was laid out four years ago, Pew was interested in geographical diversity as well, so the four-campus setup looked appealing. Marian Godfrey, director of Pew’s cultural programs, says it was a “difficult decision” to leave Northwestern and Medill, but Pew executives were interested in bringing in more of the nation’s top cultural editors and journalists for seminars and meetings with the fellows. “Pew wanted the program to be closer to the major arts-journalism news organizations and policy makers in the arts,” says Peck. In a letter explaining the changes, Godfrey said New York “is the primary center for both the media and the arts.”

Though there will be cost efficiencies in some areas because of the consolidation, expenses in New York will be higher. Pew has allocated $3.4 million for the next three-year program cycle, up from $3.2 million in the first years. But there will now be only 10 fellows annually, down from 12. Each fellow will receive a $35,000 stipend, up from $30,000 in each of the past three years. Another big change, says Peck, will be the addition of senior fellows, a select group of arts journalists who will be in residence at Columbia for periods shorter than a school year and will receive stipends of $10,000 a month while participating in the program.

Whether Medill and Northwestern will ever be home to another program like the NAJP is unclear. Peck, who is a candidate to replace Janeway as dean, declined an invitation to continue heading up the program in New York. He says he intends to try to replace it at Northwestern. “There is a legacy of interest here, and a lot of people saw this as a worthwhile program.”

Shubert Boosts Rent

Last fall, producers of the musical Rent were negotiating an extended run in a newly renovated Vic theater. But now Rent is headed downtown to the 2,000-seat Shubert Theatre, where it probably will open in September. “The planned renovations at the Vic wouldn’t have been finished in time to open Rent when the producers wanted to open,” says one source familiar with developments. Another source says the move also was precipitated by the need for larger grosses to offset a hefty 10 percent amusement tax. (Cook County recently levied a 3 percent amusement tax on top of the city’s existing 7 percent bite.)

If Rent winds up at the Shubert for an extended run, it almost certainly will mean the lavish musical production That’s Christmas!, starring Sandy Duncan, will not return for a second holiday engagement, despite statements from producers that it would. In fact, a source says That’s Christmas! scenery is for sale.

Phantom Resident

The remodeled Ardis Krainik Theater (formerly the Civic Opera House) has scored a coup over the Auditorium Theatre, long the venue of choice for producer Cameron Mackintosh, who staged Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, and The Phantom of the Opera there. In the spring of 1998 Phantom will move into the Ardis Krainik for a 15-week run. With Showboat departing next month, the immediate prospects for the Auditorium don’t look promising. The only announced theatrical presentation is a six-week run of Riverdance next fall.

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