Chicago Day: To Be Free, or Not to Be Free?
More than ever before, Chicago's major museums are watching their imperiled bottom lines. A hard-nosed attitude of fiscal responsibility is readily apparent in some Chicago museums' decisions not to participate in the sixth annual Chicago Day June 19, when the city is expected to be filled with hundreds of thousands of visitors attending the World Cup. Every year the mayor's office asks the city's museums to offer free admission for one day in an effort to expand awareness of these institutions among local residents and visitors; this year 27 museums have agreed to participate in the heavily publicized event. But seven others, specifically the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, the Bicycle Museum of America at North Pier, the Museum of Holography, and the Chicago Children's Museum, plan to collect their usual fees at the door. The Art Institute was also on that list until last Tuesday, when museum honchos reluctantly agreed to participate, and a well-placed source guessed that some of the seven other museums might end up following the Art Institute's lead. But Museum of Science and Industry spokesman Jason Harris was clear about his institution's main concern: "We really are looking at the bottom line; dollars are harder to come by." Harris says MSI attendance for 1993 was down about 7.5 percent from 1992.
Executives at some of the museums that are participating in Chicago Day maintain that it's their civic responsibility to join in the spirit of the program. "We think this is a very small price for a publicly supported institution to pay to help make the city attractive to international visitors," says Museum of Contemporary Art CEO Kevin Consey. Art Institute spokeswoman Eileen Harakal, though her employer is now part of the program, sees things a little differently: "Our main responsibility with the money we get from the city is to be the best art museum we can be and operate in the black." The Art Institute, which already offers free admission on Tuesdays, is perhaps more anxious than any of the other participating institutions about its fiscal well-being and the potential impact of even one additional free-admission day. Art Institute executive vice president for development and public affairs Larry Ter Molen says the museum is facing a deficit for the 1994 fiscal year (ending June 30) of between $300,000 and $400,000, and he foresees more red ink in the years ahead because of "a number of little things throughout the operating budget." The museum will probably have to dip into its endowment to make up this year's shortfall, he says.
For the past five years Chicago Day has been held in May, generally a less busy time of year at museums, sources say. The Mayor's Office of Special Events moved the date back this year to coincide with the soccer festivities, and that switch was a key factor in the museums' deliberations. "I think there was a certain feeling that people traveling to Chicago are going to be in a spending mood and that they will expect to pay for their entertainment," says the MSI's Jason Harris. Museum executives also harbor no illusions about the need to fight for both the attention and the dollars of out-of-town visitors. "In a very real sense we are competing with Nike Town for the entertainment dollar," maintains Harris. Whether or not they plan to charge admission, several museums will spend precious funds making themselves more accessible to foreign visitors on Chicago Day; the Adler is seeking volunteers with foreign-language skills, and the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute both plan to print museum literature in foreign languages and put up new international signage.
See Shulamit Run
The choice earlier this month of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Shulamit Ran as the fifth Brena and Lee Freeman Sr. Composer-in-Residence at the Lyric Opera has raised a few eyebrows in the city's classical-music community. Effective July 1, this is the second highly visible appointment for the charismatic Israeli-born artist in just a few years; since 1990 she also has been composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Ran says she'll continue to hold the CSO post, which is focused more on advocacy and outreach activities than composing. She'll also continue to teach graduate-level musical composition at the University of Chicago, where she has been a professor since 1973. Earlier this year the school named her a William H. Colvin Professor of Composition, an honor that means she has made an especially significant contribution to the university's academic excellence.
In spite of her undeniable talent, some observers wonder whether Ran may have taken on too much. Says composer and professor Ralph Shapey: "She's certainly a young and talented woman; I hope she can handle it all." Others say Ran is in danger of being perceived as greedy for accepting yet another prestigious appointment when so many other young classical composers are seeking recognition. Notes one longtime observer of the local classical scene: "It did strike me that she is gobbling up a lot of the pie out there."
But Lyric director Ardis Krainik apparently isn't concerned. A Lyric spokesman says Krainik dispensed with the usual call for recommendations and zeroed in on Ran right away. Says Ran: "Writing an opera is something I hadn't done but had wanted to do for a while." Krainik had no trouble gaining the approval of sponsors Brena and Lee Freeman, who are fans of Ran's work. Earlier this week Ran conceded uncertainty about exactly how she's going to juggle all her jobs. "It's a huge question in my mind, and I would be foolish to say it's going to be a piece of cake." Her goal at Lyric is to create an opera based on the S. Ansky drama The Dybbuk in conjunction with librettist Charles Kondek.
Toronto-based theatrical impresario Garth Drabinsky doesn't market events like most other producers. Risking what is sure to be a deluge of disgruntled ticket holders, Drabinsky is using newspaper advertising and billboards inside the theater to tout the appearance of Vance Avery as the temporary star of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat while Donny Osmond is on a two-week vacation. Avery, a well-known Canadian musical theater actor, was hired as Osmond's understudy and also plays Asher. Producers generally sneak in an understudy when the star is away and hope no one will mind. "The approach we're taking shows the great confidence we have in the talents of Vance," notes a Joseph spokesman. Joseph is expected to continue through January 1, when it will complete a 16-month run, the longest at a Loop theater in recent memory. If ticket sales continue at their current pace, the show's total grosses could exceed $40 million.