Smart Move/Dancing for Dollars/That Empty Feeling/Oprah's Grandes Are In | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

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Smart Move/Dancing for Dollars/That Empty Feeling/Oprah's Grandes Are In

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Smart Move

Many educators take their classes to museums, but the University of Chicago is taking the museum into its classes. Last month the university's David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art opened the first of three special exhibits curated by faculty and students. "While this sort of thing does happen from time to time, it's still fairly uncommon," says Larry Norman, a professor of French who helped organize one of the exhibitions. Three years ago the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the museum a $170,000 grant to underwrite the exhibitions and their glossy catalogs; museum director Kimerly Rorschach, who applied for the grant, framed the program as an interdisciplinary exercise. "We hope these shows will foster a closer interaction between the museum and other departments at the university," says Rorschach. "There are many professors at the university who don't know what's in the Smart's own collection."

The professors and students involved in the projects combed through the museum's holdings to find most of the objects for their shows, though in each case the budget allowed for one or two key objects to be included on loan from other museums. Graduate students penned almost all of the catalog essays, usually receiving course credit for their work. Because the professors and students had little or no curatorial experience, they worked closely with Smart Museum curator Elizabeth Rodini. "Elizabeth was key in helping us figure out what was actually possible," says professor Linda Seidel, "as well as whether the objects we were considering would in fact grab a viewer." Seidel, who teaches art history, thinks her students gained a great deal from the project: "I think the immediacy of coming into contact with the art itself really empowers the students." And the participants also learned a lesson in museum administration; as Rorschach explains, "Everyone who's worked on one of these exhibitions now knows how much time it takes to organize all the details."

The first exhibit, "The Place of the Antique in Early Modern Europe," explores the impact of Greek and Roman antiquity on European collectors from the 16th through the 18th century; created by art history professor Ingrid Rowland and four graduate students, it will run through the end of February. "Pious Journeys: Christian Devotional Art and Practice in the Later Middle Ages and Renaissance," which was created by Seidel and another group of graduate students, opens next spring. And Norman's exhibition, "Theatricality in the Baroque Era," highlights how 17th- and 18th-century visual arts shaped the plays of satirists like Moliere; assembled by undergraduates and graduates studying art and literature, it will open in early 2001. Rorschach isn't sure whether the museum will continue the program after that, though she thinks it might be able to obtain matching grants if its board of directors creates an endowment to fund the program in perpetuity.

Dancing for Dollars

After a static performance at the box office last year, Dance Chicago at the Athenaeum Theatre is enjoying its most successful season to date. "Our ticket sales are up about 30 percent over the best year we ever had before this," says Fred Solari, who founded the dance extravaganza five years ago with principal fund-raiser John Schmitz. With nine of the festival's ten programs now over, Solari expects ticket revenue to account for about 60 percent of the $300,000 budget. There were no high-profile additions to the festival lineup, which has traditionally focused on small and midsize companies. But Solari and Schmitz spent more money on their glossy ticket brochure, which features photographs of dancers by Marc Hauser, and they opted to run fewer but larger newspaper ads. The festival also opened a few weeks later than usual, well after the beginning of the autumn cultural season and the end of baseball season. But as usual, the festival's ace in the hole seems to have been its reasonable ticket prices--$15 for most programs. Says Solari, "I want people to be able to afford to see the shows we produce."

That Empty Feeling

For much of the 80s the 200-seat theater at 2851 N. Halsted was home to Steppenwolf Theatre Company; more recently it's been occupied by the Organic Theater Company and by the ill-fated improv show Participlay, which abruptly vacated the space on November 1. Leonard Fisher, the building's owner, wants the first-floor space to remain a functioning theater; since Participlay moved out he's contacted many of the city's small and midsize companies, but none of them wants to shell out the $6,500-a-month rent for the theater and a basement scenery-building space. Larry Neumann, managing director of Famous Door Theatre Company, says he flirted with the idea but decided to stay at the Theatre Building, where the company's well-received production of Ghetto has been extended through the end of January. For some companies the theater on Halsted is compromised by its narrow stage and lack of adequate office or rehearsal space; Steppenwolf used the building's second and third floors too, but Fisher plans to rent them as residences or offices. He thinks the only solution might be for two or three companies to share the space, though a similar arrangement at the Theatre Building in the early 90s failed after some of the participating companies dropped out or folded.

Oprah's Grades Are In

Earlier this week Northwestern University's celebrity adjunct professor, Oprah Winfrey, completed "The Dynamics of Leadership," the course she was teaching with Stedman Graham at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Sources on the faculty say students seemed uncertain where the course was headed at first, but more recently Winfrey has gotten high marks. "She was extremely well prepared, took it all quite seriously, and was really quite brilliant," says one professor who's heard from a number of students. Graham is reported to have shouldered much of the heavy-duty lecturing, while Winfrey brought in guests like Henry Kissinger and Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. Course evaluations won't be tabulated until early next year, and until then there'll be no word on whether Graham and Winfrey might offer the course again in 2000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.

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