The Mexican Fine Art Center Museum says its annual Dia de los Muertos exhibit has grown to be the largest in the country. This year a variety of paintings, sculptures, and performances will be on hand today through December 1, most of them variations on a theme of death and featuring lots of skeletons. The lineup includes papel picado (paper cutouts) October 8 through 22, sugar candy sculptures (in skulls and tomb shapes) October 22 to November 17, and skeleton etchings November 19 to December 1. A holiday market opens November 23. The show opens with a free reception tonight from 6 to 8:30. Tomorrow and Sunday at 6 PM, Professor Eduardo Matos Moctezuma lectures (in Spanish, with English translation) on the origins of the celebration. Tickets for each lecture are $6, $5 for students and seniors, $4 for members. The museum is at 1852 W. 19th St. Call 738-1503 for more information.
Being a drummer with the Grateful Dead is a little like being Dan Quayle's vocal coach: it's basically a lost cause, but no one's going to blame you. Mickey Hart, who, along with Bill Kreutzmann, bears the distinction of being the band's percussion corps, is also a world-music enthusiast, a prolific composer of film sound tracks, and the author of Drumming on the Edge of Magic. Hart's new literary endeavor, Planet Drum: A Celebration of Percussion and Rhythm, written with ethnomusicologists Fredric Lieberman and D.A. Sonneborn, is a survey of the universal fascination with percussion. Hart will sign books tonight at 7 at Barbara's Bookstore, 1350 N. Wells; it's free. Call 642-5044 for details.
"What's the well-dressed woman wearing on the cocktail-party circuit these days? Try a .25-caliber Baretta, strapped around the thigh in a black-lace garter holster." That's the lead from a recent story in the Wall Street Journal functioning as a trouve image in Fe-Mail Art: Utterances About Women, a mail-art exhibit at UIC through October. Created through unjuried submissions (by mail) from around the world, the 235-artist, 530-plus-entry, 20-country show includes posters, poems, collages, and drawings. It runs through October 30 at the Chicago Gallery in the University of Illinois' Chicago Circle Center, 750 S. Halsted, and opens tonight with a reception from 6 to 7:30. Admission is free; 413-5070.
Chicago's poetry slams are the world headquarters of "kill or be killed poetry"--basically, they combine serious literary endeavor with the Gong Show, losing none of the appeal of either. Chicago's 1990 championship team--Cindy Salach, Dean Hacker, and slam organizer Marc Smith--have stepped back to let a new team, with Lisa Buscani, Carie Lovstad, Kristin Amondsen, Paul Erickson, and David Kodeski, defend the title at the 1991 National Poetry Slam. There'll be individual and team championships starting at 7 PM at Cabaret Metro, 3730 N. Clark. Tickets are $10. Call 278-7237 for more.
The Old Town School of Folk Music's seventh annual Festival of Latin Music starts tonight at the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; Ballet Folklorico Quetzali de Veracruz, a traditional 17-member ensemble of musicians, dancers, and singers from Mexico whose songs feature everything from marimbas to machetes go on at 8, followed by Boston's Flor de Cana, a folk and dance band with a more contemporary tinge, and Veracruz's Tlen Huicani. Next Saturday, same time and place, the school presents the contemporary Andean music of Sukay and the Venezuelan band Serenata Guayanesa. Tickets are $11 to $15. Call 525-7793 for more info, or call 559-1212 for tickets.
Jonathan Kozol, the author of Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools, a by-all-accounts scathing look at America's skewed priorities when it comes to educating children, will discuss his book tonight at Barbara's Bookstore. "George Bush says that more spending on public education isn't the answer," says Kozol--and notes that the president was educated at Andover, which spends $11,000 per year on students before room and board. "If money is a wise investment for a future president at Andover, it is no less so for the child of poor people in Detroit." It's at 7:30 at 1350 N. Wells, and it's free. Call 642-5044.
Photographer Joan Roth has spent her career charting the sometimes tense circumstances of various cultures, from homeless women in New York City to women in Israel to her latest work chronicling the extraordinary and dramatic eight-year influx of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Coming Home: The Odyssey of Ethiopian Jews is a collection of 40 of Roth's photos, on display at the Spertus Museum, 618 S. Michigan, through January 2. Starting in February, the same photos will show at the DuSable Museum of African American History. Spertus is open Sunday through Thursday 10 to 5, Friday 10 to 3. Admission is $3.50, $2 for children and seniors, $8 maximum for a family, and free on Fridays. Call 922-9012, extension 248.
Griffin Dunne, who's been in at least two movies with feral co-stars (An American Werewolf in London and--tee-hee--Who's That Girl?) has made his mark behind the camera as well, producing among other movies John Sayles's sultry Baby, It's You, Martin Scorsese's edgy sleeper hit After Hours, and Sidney Lumet's insular portrait of 60s radicals still on the lam in the 80s, Running on Empty. Dunne will talk about his work at 7 tonight at a meeting of the Independent Feature Project at the Wellington Theater, 750 W. Wellington. Admission is $5, free for IFP members. Call 461-1001.
A passage under the English Channel has been an engineering dream for more than a century: the vision under construction now includes three tunnels: one for maintenance and the others carrying two kinds of trains, both high-speed passenger trains and heavy-duty trains for trucks, buses, and cars. Tonight several local professional engineering organizations present a dinner and lecture on the Chunnel. Colin J. Kirkland, technical director for the Chunnel's umbrella/owner organization, Eurotunnel, will speak. A cash bar opens at 5, with dinner at 6 and Kirkland hitting the stage around 7. It's all at the Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson; tickets are $30, $15 for students. You need to register beforehand at 372-4198.
It's a pretty pass we've come to, when "civil liberties" is a dirty word, but George Bush did his best to make Michael Dukakis's status as a "card-carrying member of the ACLU" sound nasty in the last presidential election. The Chicago chapter of the 71-year-old ACLU is kicking off a four-speaker series tonight with Anthony Lewis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist and author of several books on civil liberties, among them Gideon's Trumpet, about the case that eventually found the U.S. Supreme Court making legal representation a right, and (his newest) Make No Law, about the historic 1964 libel case New York Times v. Sullivan that made it difficult to nail a paper for bad-mouthing a public figure. Lewis speaks at a $10-a-head lecture, to be followed by a panel discussion, at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, at 6 PM. The rest of the series includes an October 24 panel on "privacy and surveillance in the arts," civil rights leader Julian Bond speaking November 15, and columnist Ellen Goodman headlining a Bill of Rights dinner December 14. Call the organization for details on any of these at 427-7330.
It's time again for the Invented Instruments Festival at Club Lower Links, 954 W. Newport. For four Thursdays in October, all sorts of weird musical undertakings will be on hand. Tonight the Ian Scheller Quartet play; the instruments--guitar, bass, drums--aren't original, but Scheller made them all by hand, right down to the pickups on the guitars. Also tonight, two computer musicians--Don Malone and Dan Schaaf--display a new piece of composition software they call Algy. Shows start at 8:30; admission is $7. Call 248-5238. A concurrent four-Saturday invented-instrument workshop with Hal Rammel accompanies the performances; for more info call 784-0449.