"Awesome" was the word that came to mind when I received a mass e-mail from Ed Marszewski last week announcing that donations for the sixth annual Version festival would be--brace yourself--tax deductible! Marszewski, grand master of the antiestablishment art underground, is going institutional: his Public Media Institute, which produces both the Version fest in the spring (this year it's from April 19 to May 6) and the Select Media festival in the fall, became a state-sanctioned nonprofit in December. Yep, "the weird go pro," he says. "We need to build some infrastructure."
Marszewski's actually been raising funds without the lure of a tax deduction ever since Version got kicked out of the Museum of Contemporary Art. A pressure cooker of art, technology, activism, and party time, the festival was launched at the museum in 2002, but things turned sour during the second installment. Marszewski says the Version crew was accused of inviting war protests, and police, "dressed up in ninja gear," wound up shutting the whole thing down. "We weren't invited back 'for budget reasons,'" he says. "I think it had to do with the fact that a few artists went a little crazy, bothered a fund-raiser dinner three times, broke a door."
The festival has been tougher to put together since then, Marszewski says, but also "more interesting." It moved to the Cultural Center and various alternative spaces and has grown from a single weekend to three weeks of performance, music, film, video, workshops, and an art market. Last year, working with a budget of just under $30,000, it put together an international roster of more than 400 participants. It's "art fair meets science fair," Marszewski says, with an emphasis on "not being commercial"--even though art is, well, sold there. And it's a pretty effective showcase, where establishment curators and dealers are known to prowl.
Public Media and Lumpen, the technically for-profit counterculture rag Marszewski's been publishing bimonthly since 1991, are in the process of rehabbing and moving into spacious quarters once occupied by a department store at 3219 S. Morgan. The bulk of Version events will be held there and in a few other Bridgeport locations this year. Dubbed "The Insurrection Internationale," the festival will feature a full bill of "public interventionist" projects and pranks, including Art Fair Wars, in which Version will attack Artropolis--the Merchandise Mart's equally hyperbolic name for the expanded Art Chicago--by van, boat, and blimp. Also look for performances by the Jeffrey Ballet and Environmental Encroachment.
Marszewski expects his expenses to rise to as much as $50,000 in '07. "This year we want to make sure we have a budget to build more things, fly in more people from overseas, and also pay for security and cleanup staff," his e-mail said.
The latter was mostly a joke, but the costs, which keep increasing, have "been draining," he says. "It's really tough to do two festivals a year just relying on [volunteers]; we have to institutionalize in order to improve." Besides encouraging individual donations, nonprofit status will allow Public Media and its participants to dip into the grant pool. Sixteen years after he started Lumpen in Champaign, Marszewski is supporting his empire by carpentering, designing Web sites, and working at his mother's Bridgeport bar. At 38, he sees the need to "get a base" to sustain people. "I'm going to burn out soon," he says. "We need a structure in place to continue without me."
Chicago native Mark Hollmann, who wrote the music for Urinetown, has a new project: a musical version of the 1936 film classic My Man Godfrey, with a book by Dirty Blonde author Claudia Shear. Hollmann was recruited to work on the show in 2003 by Kelly Gonda, whose firm, East of Doheny, produced the current Broadway show Grey Gardens. Scheduled to be in town this week, Hollmann was hoping to play the first draft of his score for Hyde Park resident Connie Hatch, widow of Eric Hatch, who cowrote the original My Man Godfrey screenplay and authored the book it was based on. According to Hollmann, Hatch says her husband "always said My Man Godfrey should be a stage musical." East of Doheny envisions a pre-Broadway opening in Chicago for the show.
a The producers of My Man Godfrey will likely have to knock on the door of Broadway in Chicago, which has a lock on the Loop theater scene. At a press conference last week that had the mayor singing their praises, BIC rolled out "highlights" of an economic impact study it commissioned from a Florida firm, Fishkind & Associates. According to the study, conducted from mid-2005 to mid-2006, BIC attracts an audience of 1.5 million--42 percent of it from out of state--and annually has an impact on the city of more than $635 million, supporting more than 7,500 jobs. The "highlights" don't explain how they got these figures, but about half the money BIC supposedly generates is what audiences are presumed to spend on things like restaurants and hotels; the other half--spending by the businesses those audiences patronize--is calculated through the use of commerce-department "multipliers" as magical as anything in Oz.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yvette Marie Dostatni.