It's Curtains for the International Theatre Festival/School of the Art Institute Loses a President.../And Founds a Publication | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

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It's Curtains for the International Theatre Festival/School of the Art Institute Loses a President.../And Founds a Publication

Ink again: The School of the Art Institute's Paul Pribbenow unleashes a new magazine.


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It's Curtains for the International Theatre Festival

In the end all the talk of saving the International Theatre Festival of Chicago was just that: talk. After more than six months of considering its options, the fest's board of directors has brought down the final curtain on the biennial festival, which over its ten-year life span had accumulated a daunting deficit totaling approximately $500,000. The debt for the fifth and what proved to be the last festival, in 1994, was a whopping $250,000, due largely to lower-than-expected attendance at most productions. Festival board president Richard Gray says board members have raised about $100,000 of the total $270,000 owed to creditors, while an additional $230,000 in loans from board members will be written off as contributions.

The decision to end the theater festival appears to have resulted from a growing realization that repaying existing debts while trying to raise funds for future festivals would be nearly impossible. Foundations and corporate sponsors had generously supported the festival to the tune of more than $1 million per fest. At one point prior to last year's event, festival cofounder and executive director Jane Nicholl Sahlins characterized organizations such as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as the Medicis of our time because of their generous financial underwriting. But such groups tend not to lend their backing to losing propositions, and after the festival's disastrous 1994 showing it had taken on that aura. Right up until the plug was formally pulled last week, Sahlins insisted she was completely baffled by the public's indifference, especially after critics had showered lavish praise on almost every production. But ticket buyers are no fools, and while Sahlins may have wished otherwise, they simply didn't go for what the festival had to offer last year, including a half-baked new play by Alan Ayckbourn and a showy but rather hollow performance piece by the Dutch group Dogtroep.

Despite the festival's financial problems, board president Gray repeatedly maintained, along with many others in the city's cultural community, that the festival contributed significantly to the city's local and international image and therefore deserved another chance. But without foundation largess or any prospect of financial support from the ticket-buying public, no amount of civic flag-waving could save the festival.

School of the Art Institute Loses a President . . .

After only two academic years on the job, G. David Pollick is resigning his post as the 13th president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at the end of the current academic year. Sources at the school say the decision was Pollick's alone, but two factors appear to have played a major role in his resignation: he was the first SAIC president with no training in the visual arts, and his previous academic experience didn't include stints at institutions with the kind of creative student body found at the SAIC. Prior to joining the SAIC, Pollick was provost and vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York at Cortland. He also holds master's and doctoral degrees in philosophy from the University of Ottawa in Canada. In his inaugural speech before an audience of SAIC students and board members and civic leaders, Pollick made much of heading an institution where art and creativity were the primary forces at work. But the fit was not right. In announcing his resignation he said, "The focus of a professional art school's mission is simply both professionally and personally too restrictive for me."

Because of Pollick's considerable academic experience outside the world of visual arts, the SAIC's board of governors had hoped he would raise the school's profile among national colleges and universities. In his inaugural speech Pollick had announced his intention to forge new bonds with the local business community. A national search for his successor will begin soon, but sources said the school's trustees are unlikely to make a decision in time to avoid having to name an interim president.

. . . And Founds a Publication

One legacy of the brief Pollick era at the School of the Art Institute is a 150 percent increase in the budget for school-related publications, according to SAIC vice president for institutional advancement Paul Pribbenow. A semiannual magazine called Interrobang is one new channel of communication between the school and the outside world. The name refers to a mark of punctuation fusing an exclamation point and a question mark that first surfaced in the 1960s and disappeared when its novelty diminished. The new publication, which may go quarterly, has a print run of 20,000 and is aimed at a cross section of readers, including SAIC alumni and the social set, as well as the national design community and other artists. "We didn't want this to be a parochial publication," explains Pribbenow. "We wanted it to be linked to the school but didn't want the school necessarily to be the focus." The debut issue includes an interview with SAIC vice president for academic affairs Carol Becker on the rights and responsibilities of artists in the 20th century and a piece on graffiti art by Susan Snodgrass, the Chicago correspondent for Art in America.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Peter Barreras.

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