Arts & Culture » Culture Club

Shrinkin' Centers/Cultural Center Lands Broadcast Museum, Looks for More/More on the CSO Strike/Paramount Treads Lightly With Stepping Out/Art Alarm

$13.6 million doesn't buy as much as it used to. If Centre East executive director Dorothy Litwin wants to go ahead with Skokie's new performing arts center, shell have to scale down her plans or scare up some more money.

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Shrinkin' Centers

After years of struggling to put together $13.6 million for a new Skokie performing arts center, Dorothy Litwin, executive director of Centre East, has discovered that her struggle is far from over. Consultants' studies delivered to Litwin indicate that the funds in hand, raised from the state and the village of Skokie, will cover the cost of only an 800-seat facility, not the 2,000-seat home for Centre East that Litwin envisioned several years ago. And the 800-seat space would be "pleasant, but not plush," says Litwin.

Pleasant or plush, 800 seats will not provide the capacity Litwin needs to make a new performing arts center work financially with the mix of dance, music, and theater events she books into the existing Centre East space, a converted high school auditorium that seats 1,300 but is technically inadequate. Litwin would like a new space to accommodate at least 1,200 to 1,500 people, while providing state-of-the-art tech facilities.

Litwin and the village of Skokie have until December to decide what to do now; if they don't move ahead they risk losing more than $10 million in state funds allocated to the project. Litwin insists the Skokie village trustees are committed to the venture; they are exploring the feasibility of a major capital drive to come up with the additional millions needed for a larger facility.

In the city, meanwhile, the proposal for a new performing arts center to house the Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is going nowhere fast. Even Lyric general director Ardis Krainik, once the project's most ardent supporter, is actively pursuing alternative options. Like the CSO, Krainik has retained the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to explore what could be done to expand and modernize the existing Opera House facilities. Bob Lauer, a spokesman for the blue-ribbon committee of corporate executives who were looking into the financial feasibility of the idea, said the group is dormant and will remain so unless a new impetus arises.

Cultural Center Lands Broadcast Museum, Looks for More

The Museum of Broadcast Communications, now housed at River City, has announced its intention to move into approximately 13,000 square feet of space in the Cultural Center, but in fact MBC representatives are still working with the city's legal department to hammer out a lease-type arrangement to clear the way for the move. "It's a very complicated type of deal," says Cultural Affairs commissioner Lois Weisberg, "because it involves two groups without any money [the city and MBC] trying to do something together." Both Weisberg and MBC president Bruce DuMont say they are confident details will be worked out by November 1, the deadline by which the museum must notify its landlord of plans to vacate its current home.

The MBC is but one of the groups Weisberg is eyeing as possible tenants for the 125,000-square-foot facility recently vacated by the library. Her choices have been influenced by the kind of space available in the building and her wish to pull in a broad cross-section of the city's population. The arts groups with which she has spoken include the City Lit Theatre Company, Urban Gateways, Hedwig Dances, the Chicago Children's Museum, and the Chicago Architecture' Foundation. Weisberg says she is particularly interested in involving architectural organizations in the future life of the landmark building. It's also being opened up to more special events such as the upcoming Midwest International Wine Exposition scheduled for October 19 and 20.

On another front, Weisberg's plans to clean up the Cultural Center's facade are stalled. Some $2 million in federal funds that she hoped to use to renovate the building are stuck in Congress; Weisberg says city workers are going ahead anyway with painting and other cosmetic improvements inside.

More on the CSO Strike

Two details that somehow failed to emerge in media coverage of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike: (1) One possible explanation for CSO executive director Henry Fogel's unexpectedly hard-nosed negotiating stance is the presence of Charles Brumback on two CSO trustee subcommittees, namely finance-planning and personnel-labor relations. Brumback is president of the Tribune Company and thought to be the chief architect of its draconian labor policy. (2) In the final hours of bargaining Fogel agreed to hidden fees and bonuses that amount to nearly $500,000 over the life of the new three-year contract. In addition to salary increases totaling 13.4 percent over three years, the CSO will pay $400 per performance to each musician who plays in one of the ten new Saturday night concerts added in years two and three of the contract, as well as a one-time $1,000 bonus to every CSO player in mid-1992. According to Don Koss, a member of the musicians' bargaining committee, the two sides agreed to the one-time bonus in lieu of a more generous salary increase in the third year, when the musicians' base minimum will be $1,300 a week.

Paramount Treads Lightly With Stepping Out

Stepping Out, Paramount Pictures' new Liza Minnelli vehicle, opened last weekend in four major markets--New York, Toronto, Los Angeles, and San Francisco--but not Chicago. According to a source in the film industry, executives in Paramount's Chicago district office fought to add the Windy City to the list of early release locations; Minnelli is popular here, and the play on which the film is based, about a motley crew of would-be tap dancers, was a hit in a production by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. But Paramount seems skittish about the film, which originally was scheduled for release last spring. Plans now call for Stepping Out to open in Chicago exclusively at the Pipers Alley Cinemas on October 18.

Art Alarm

According to a recent Tribune article, the Art Institute of Chicago is projecting a $1 million deficit for the fiscal year that ends next June 30. But don't start worrying just yet about the museum closing its doors. An Art Institute spokeswoman said the organization wound up in the black after projecting a sizable deficit last year. According to one jaded source, such dire projections are one way to rouse philanthropists earlier rather than later.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yael D. Routtenberg.

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