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Bought, Sold, Still on Hold

Updates on some unfinished arts biz

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Before we kiss off 2006, here's a checkup on some of the year's loose ends—deals finally done, controversies gone cold, mysteries still unsolved.

The Duncan YMCA Chernin Center for the Arts, created less than a decade ago in a burst of optimism about the bonding and earning power of the arts, was sold this week to its neighbor, Saint Ignatius High School. It was never on the open market. Metro Y spokesperson Lee Concha said she was unable to release the price at press time, but noted that proceeds from the sale will be used for general programming at other locations. The Center, at Roosevelt and Morgan, got an 11,000-square-foot addition eight years ago that included a state-of-the-art 220-seat theater and scenery shop as well as dance, recording, and art studios. Funded by the Chernin and MacArthur foundations, among others, the Duncan Y was intended to bridge class boundaries in the rapidly changing neighborhood (near UIC) and provide arts training for kids citywide. Word on the street is the building was never properly managed; in recent years, as its real estate value rose, there was noticeable neglect.

But YMCA officials said the facility just didn't take: in Concha's words, "we built it and they didn't come."

The center officially closes after the final performance of Congo Square Theatre Company's Black Nativity, on December 31.

After months of e-mailed distress signals about its impending homelessness, the Chicago Photography Center got over the hump and purchased its space at 3301 N. Lincoln last week for $1.2 million. It's a milestone for the group, which formed after Hull House effectively booted Richard Stromberg's program four years ago. But don't look for the cash call to stop anytime soon. CPC board secretary Roger Rudich says Friends of the CPC, an ad hoc corporation of about 20 do-gooder investors, put up $360,000 for a down payment on the two-floor commercial condo. That money is due to be paid back with 5 percent interest in five years—and it's not likely to be raised solely in class and rental fees. Rudich says they expect to secure a significant portion through "a major fund-raising campaign in planning right now."

The Three Arts Club is officially on the block. Development and marketing director Mark Becker says the Gold Coast landmark was listed in October with Cushman & Wakefield, and broker Brian Pohl says he expects to close a deal worth $13 to $15 million within the next 60 days. The board's loopy plan to turn the legendary residence for women in the arts into a cultural center (with a new home for TimeLine Theatre to be dug out under the courtyard) and "affordable" condos for a few fortunate artists was scuttled after city officials held up funding earlier this year. Now Becker says proceeds from the sale will help turn Three Arts—which has always been all about its physical presence—into that most ephemeral of entities, a grant-making foundation. Former residents, who said from the get-go that the changes wrought by this board would result in the loss of Three Arts's primary mission and the transfer of the building to a developer, aren't surprised.

By the time WBEZ unveiled its new schedule earlier this month, the protest against its threatened mass dump of music programming (which included an online petition with 4,600 signatures) had faded to a whimper. In the new lineup, which launches January 8, Afropop Worldwide and Passport survive, airing once a week on Fridays, and Dick Buckley's Sunday gig is reduced to one hour. Other nighttime music programs have been replaced by reruns of Eight Forty-Eight, Worldview, Fresh Air, and the inane Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me! Disgruntled listeners like local blues musician Matthew Skoller say there's no consolation in this schedule for supporters of the music that's indigenous to Chicago: "It'll have an effect on the clubs and the musicians who work in them." Still pending: the exact shape of what's being touted as radical new programming on Chicago Public Radio's recently juiced-up second frequency, WBEW. Initially conceived as the place where all the music would go, it now looks to be another entry in the burgeoning realm of DIY media. Due to launch in April, its format is still under discussion at secretradioproject.com.

Theater on the Lake artistic director Hallie Gordon says 2007 will see a renewed push to promote and restore the dilapidated 300-seat lakefront treasure. Friends of Theater on the Lake—a group of about 20, looking for more—had their first meeting in October. They've already heard from architect John Morris, whose plans for a $6 million renovation that would enclose the theater in glass have been on the shelf for nearly two years now. "These people are passionate about Theater on the Lake," says Gordon. "It's more than just a theater to them—it's a long-standing tradition, and they want to make sure it continues." The group's next meeting is slated for 6 PM January 16 at the Margate Park field house, 4921 N. Marine Drive; call 312-742-7994 or e-mail adtotl@gmail.com for more info.

Museum of Broadcast Communications president Bruce DuMont says this could be a golden moment for Governor Rod Blagojevich: now that he's got four more years in Springfield, he could step forward and release funds DuMont says the state has promised the museum. That would allow construction to resume on MBC's future home on State Street, which has been standing half-done since May, and solve the catch-22 DuMont's been battling: he can't get the building finished without donations, but he can't get donations while the construction's stalled. "We have clarification in writing [from the state] calling for us to raise an additional $7 million before they'll release the $6 million they promised," DuMont says, but the boarded-up building is a "psychological block for potential donors." His offer to name the museum "in perpetuity" for anyone who coughs up the whole $7 million still stands. Meanwhile, he says, CBS Chicago has committed half a million and the Cox Foundation has come through with $100,000. A freight elevator will be installed in January and work on exhibits is "going forward." DuMont says the museum could open eight months after construction resumes.

Looks like the Merchandise Mart and Art Chicago won't have to worry about a competing art fair at Navy Pier in 2007; DMG World Media has pulled the plug on its plan to hire a director and mount what producer Mark Lyman had said would be a "world-class show" at the Pier. Lyman says that after polling a number of key dealers internationally, DMG decided the best thing for Chicago would be to "sit tight a bit and let time take care of some things."

Gay Games Chicago is still looking to raise about $25,000 to close the gap on its $8.8 million cash budget through donations (to be matched by an anonymous benefactor) and proceeds from the Gay Games VII DVD. The final financial report won't be out until March. Meanwhile, Repent America has filed a civil suit against the city, charging that the rights of three volunteers were violated when they were arrested during demonstrations at Gay Games events. A motion by the city to dismiss the charges was denied earlier this month.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Miryea Acierto, Jim Newberry, Yvette Marie Dostatni.

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