Dueling Critics Jonathan Abarbanel and Kelly Kleiman review "The Big Meal," produced by American Theater Company.
Effective immediately, eta Creative Arts Foundation co-founder and president Abena Joan Brown will step down. Former Development Director Phillip Thomas has assumed the role of chief executive.
Ms. Brown has shepherded the company for 40 years, and until recently appeared at every curtain call to solicit support for its work. When she failed to appear at a recent performance, there was speculation that she might be ill. But publicist Barbara Kensey said, "She is just tired, and she knows that life is short and then you die and it's time to go home and work on other things. She's got some books inside of her that she needs to get out. The organization has identified this young man bringing a new or renewed vision and he's going to take it into the next century."
Brown built eta Creative Arts Foundation into a major presence in the Black community, with theater and the performing arts at the core of eta's programs. Brown led the way in the early years to the purchase and renovation of a 15,000 square foot facility at 7558 S. South Chicago Avenue (sic), which houses a spacious 250 seat theater, ample gallery space, plus classrooms and studios for eta's programs in theater, music and the visual arts. As CEO, Brown has produced several hundred theatrical productions, music and dance events and overseen numerous gallery installations.
Mayor Daley has appointed Katherine LaMantia the Acting Commissioner for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), assisted by Sue Vopicka. Ms. LaMantia previously had been Deputy Commissioner for Finance and Administration of the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), which was merged last December with the Mayor's Office of Special Events to create DCASE. LaMantia, who assumed her new post on Feb. 16, had been with Cultural Affairs since 2003. Before that, she was a Senior Budget Analyst for the City of Chicago for two years.
Since its launch in December, the brief history of DCASE has been a bumpy flight. The shotgun marriage of DCA and Special Events led to the swift resignation of Lois Weisberg, the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for 22 years. In departing in January, Weisberg lambasted Mayor Daley and the political motives behind the merger, which resulted in laying off almost 30 of the DCA's senior arts specialists while farming out their jobs and responsibilities to the semi-independent Chicago Tourism Fund. Weisberg quickly was succeeded by veteran tourism official Dorothy Coyle as Acting Commissioner of DCASE, but Coyle departed Feb. 16 to assume the new position of Executive Director of the Chicago Tourism Fund.
Ms. LaMantia obviously knows a great deal about the department's programs and management.
Now is the time for all good theaters to thank their stars they don’t own their own buildings. (Most of them don't, at least.) Why? Because if I were Mayor Emanuel I’d be doing what municipalities and states around the country are doing: looking at whether the property tax exemptions enjoyed by nonprofit organizations should continue, or whether those properties should be returned to the tax rolls where they could help defray the expenses of, oh, policing and providing fire protection and schools and stuff.
The Illinois Supreme Court has already ruled that simply being a nonprofit is insufficient for property-tax exemption: you have to be a charity, which is not at all the same thing. (Charities give things away.) The Illinois Constitution provides property-tax exemptions to “religious, educational and charitable institutions,” and the Supreme Court held that a nonprofit hospital which failed to provide free care didn’t qualify.
In the trial courts right now are a pair of cases each arguing that a luxury residence for seniors doesn’t qualify as a “charity” either and therefore should lose its tax exemption. The plaintiffs in one case are a group of municipal service districts–townships, library districts, park districts–which stand to gain some revenue if the senior residence becomes property-taxable.
Doubtless the Mayor will do everything he can
“In Darfur,” by Winter Miller, was ripped from the headlines—of 2004. Unfortunately that doesn’t matter: Sudan’s horrific civil conflicts continue and may intensify despite a wobbly peace agreement reached in 2006. No surprise, then, that actress Mildred Marie Langford—who plays the protagonist, Hawa, in Timeline Theatre’s production—calls this very emotional role “definitely the most rewarding” of her career.
“It’s coming from something that’s really happening in the world,” says Langford of her Darfuri character, whose suffering is immense. “So it’s definitely rooted in honesty. You see after the show, during the talkbacks, how affected people are."
How did Langford, 30, prepare for this challenging part? “I’ve never experienced anything like this,” she says, “so how do you really tell that? Having not been to the country? So I’d pray about that a lot, really work on being as honest as I could.
For the first time in Chicago electoral politics, a coalition of arts organizations has come together with a political agenda. Arts Power Chicago does not expect to influence the outcome of the mayoral election, but hopes to influence the policies of Chicago's next mayor. Its task is "to make sure the voice of the arts industry is heard loud and clear in the 2011 Chicago election" (their website says). The non-partisan campaign is working to educate candidates and voters about the importance of the arts and arts education.
The primary movers in Arts Power Chicago are Arts Alliance Illinois and the League of Chicago Theatres, but other coalition partners include the Arts & Business Council of Chicago, Chicago Arts Learning Initiative, Urban Gateways, Lawyers for the Creative Arts, African-American Arts Alliance of Chicago, Chicago Music Commission, Chicago Public Art Group, Chicago Artists Coalition, Chicago Cultural Alliance, Hyde Park Alliance for Arts & Culture and Actors Equity Association. Day-to-day leadership of Arts Power Chicago is provided by Scarlett Swerdlow of Arts Alliance Illinois.