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Guilt by Association; Don't Mess With Arthur Miller; Green Ties, Black Skies

Carlos Tortolero resigned from the Illinois Arts Alliance when he found out a fellow board member worked for Jim Oberweis.



Guilt by Association

Back in July, Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum head Carlos Tortolero was preparing for the annual meeting of the Illinois Arts Alliance, where he's been a board member for ten years. He took a close look at the roster of candidates for IAA offices and was stunned to find that a man identified as a representative of Oberweis Asset Management had been slated for treasurer. Tortolero called IAA executive director Alene Valkanas to ask if the company had anything to do with Jim Oberweis, who'd run in this year's Republican Senate primary on what had looked to him like a blatantly anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican platform. When Valkanas told him yes, Jim Oberweis owned the company, Tortolero said he didn't think someone associated with those views should have board representation. He followed up with a letter of resignation.

"During the campaign, Mr. Oberweis repeatedly made vicious comments about immigrants, especially Mexican immigrants," Tortolero wrote. "By serving on the IAA board, I am helping to legitimize Mr. Oberweis as a good corporate citizen. I can't ever do that. . . . I will not help validate anyone who attacks my community."

The candidate, Richard Hawks, has been on the IAA board for several years, but it wasn't until the primary that his corporate affiliation became an issue. People might have heard of Oberweis's other business, the eponymous dairy company, but "no one knew who Oberweis was until about eight months ago," Tortolero says. It was the broadcast commercials for Oberweis's campaign--like the one claiming that U.S. jobs were being taken by illegal aliens streaming into the country at the rate of 10,000 a day (a number the candidate later had to back away from)--that burned his name into Tortolero's memory. This has nothing to do with Richard Hawks personally, Tortolero says, "but he's representing Oberweis. I said to Alene, 'Would we have someone on the board who is antigay? Antiwoman? Of course we wouldn't. But it's OK to be anti-me?'"

Soon afterward, Tortolero says--around the same time the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant Rights staged a demonstration against Oberweis--"I got a call, Oberweis wants to talk to me. Of course he wanted to talk to me, to try to do a spin on it." Tortolero declined. "The majority of people in the art world, they talk the talk about equity and justice for people of color, but when push comes to shove there's no backbone. I'm really saddened, because if I can't convince this board who am I going to convince? This happened in July. I waited, I hoped they would do something. This is ten years of my life in one organization, and they don't get it. Dick Hawks is not the issue; it's who he works for. To use my community as a punching bag to get people to come out and vote--that was beyond dirty."

Valkanas says she's "extremely disappointed" at Tortolero's resignation and is looking forward to a time when he'll rejoin the board. "Our organization has to be open to as many voices as possible, and be bipartisan and representative of all arts advocates," she says. "The person working for Oberweis is a strong arts advocate and his own person." This week Hawks, who also chairs the board of Aurora's Paramount Theatre, was weighing whether he should resign from IAA's board to clear the way for Tortolero to come back. He says he'd like to have a chance to talk with Tortolero: "The commercial I saw, I wouldn't have liked either. I thought the tone of it didn't turn out the way Jim Oberweis meant it to be."

Don't Mess With Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller describes his new play, Finishing the Picture, opening in previews this week at the Goodman Theatre, as fiction, but it's generally understood to be an account of problems with the making of the 1961 movie The Misfits, which he wrote for his wife at the time, Marilyn Monroe. Despite Miller's own involvement in these events, the play's subject matter strikes San Diego playwright Alex Finlayson as a curious coincidence, since she wrote a play on the topic years before Miller did. Her two-act show Misfits premiered at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England, in 1996 and was reviewed (mainly appreciatively) in the major English papers.

Since then, though, there hasn't been much interest in producing it--and she wonders if that's because her portrayal of Miller is unflattering. According to Finlayson, Faber & Faber backed out of publishing the play because they also published Miller (it was issued in '98 by Oberon Books), and the Manhattan Theatre Club's interest in staging it ended with a call announcing that they couldn't because Miller was on their board.

Finlayson says that in The Misfits Miller undermined Monroe by casting her in just the kind of role she wanted to escape--a sexpot in a story dominated by men. As for the movie's main problem, a Finlayson character lays it at Miller's feet: "Trouble is, you want my opinion, Miller can't write a damn picture you chain'm to a wall and tickle his balls with a feather."

Finlayson tried to interest local theaters in a concurrent run, but Bailiwick Repertory's David Zak, who says he wanted to do it, concluded there wasn't enough time to do it right.

Green Ties, Black Skies

David Kaufman moved into a sixth-floor condominium on North Clybourn last spring and was surprised at the amount of smoke he saw blowing up from the steel plant at nearby A. Finkl & Sons. Kaufman, who grew up on the south side, is a former Chicago Public Schools teacher now in commercial real estate. He says when the wind blows the wrong way his building gets hit, but most of the time he watches prevailing westerly winds carry the smoke over Lincoln Park. "If you're in a three-story building there, you don't know this stuff is coming at you," he says.

He got another surprise earlier this month when he received an invitation to the Green Tie Ball, the annual fund-raiser for the environmental nonprofit group Chicago Gateway Green. The ball, with three stages and food from 70 restaurants, is to be held this weekend at the Finkl plant. Kaufman fired back a reply to organizers: "Forget about keeping the city green--let's keep the community residents healthy. . . . What an unusual choice for a venue in which to hold your ball."

Well, maybe not. Chicago Gateway Green's major project is its Expressway Partnership, which plants greenery and sculpture for us to admire while we inhale the fumes on our choked highways. Executive director Bill Bracken says Finkl, which has been in the city for 125 years, is one of a number of companies that impact the environment, and that this is a way they give back to the community: "They support us with cash and in-kind services, and they donate the space for the ball."

Bracken says he has no information on Finkl's emissions, and Joseph Curci, Finkl's president, says "we're in compliance with every environmental law." Still,, a site run by Environmental Defense to keep tabs on such stuff, ranks Finkl among the worst facilities in the U.S. (and seventh worst in Cook County) for the cancer risk posed by material it generates (Curci says nearly all carcinogenic by-products are captured and go into a landfill). In 1991 the company itself calculated that it might emit as much as 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide (a factor in global warming) per year and took it upon itself to plant two million trees to offset these emissions; they've more than doubled that number since then. But most of the trees have gone to northern Wisconsin and southern Illinois--a long way from the Clybourn corridor.

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

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