Today In The Culture, July 27, 2022: Regina Victor Exits Sideshow | New Steve James Doc | Jazz Fest Lineup

Brian Citro/Photo: Courtesy Jessica Levin


AfriCOBRA Artist Nelson Stevens Was Eighty-Four

Artist, educator and activist Nelson Stevens, an early member of the Chicago collective AfriCOBRA, was eighty-four, reports Culture Type. “He contributed to a ‘radical Black aesthetic that asserted Black empowerment, self-determination and unity.’” Adds ARTnews: He was “known for creating inventively constructed, brilliantly hued portraits… Stevens was a veteran activist and teacher, serving as a professor of art at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for more than thirty years.”


Can Michigan Avenue Be “Magnificent” Again?

A panel has been convened to work on a rescue strategy for the Michigan Avenue shopping district, writes Robert Reed at Chicago magazine. “Like other prestigious shopping districts, the Mag Mile is coping with online rivals and a business-crushing pandemic; after the recent rash of shootings, assaults, carjackings, and ‘smash-and-grab’ thefts, it’s also now seen as a dangerous place to visit. The entire [area] is in need of revitalization, being primarily responsible for the twenty-two percent retail vacancy rate (compared with four percent in 2016) and a twenty-three percent year-over-year drop in city sales tax revenues in its affluent 60611 ZIP code.”

Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize Announces Outstanding Projects By Emerging Practices

The Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize (MCHAP) announces ten projects by emerging practices in the Americas as being outstanding, drawn from the body of projects nominated for the 2022 MCHAP.emerge. The 2022 jury found extreme diversity across the nominated efforts, a result of projects which respond to their local conditions and offer lessons for a whole continent. Different contexts produce different values, provide specific materials and processes, and produce diverse projects. “How can architecture not just serve as a static monument but positively impact the specific context in which it stands?” MCHAP 2022 jury chair Sandra Barclay asks in a statement prepared by the jury. “Some architecture is big, some small, some built to manifest the novel innovation of human intuition, and other projects showcase the feats of our brain with large scales and modern technologies. No direction is better than the other. The most vital projects seem to effortlessly and elegantly solve problems appropriate to their context and offer people new ways to think about, experience, and use the world around them. This is the Americas—a body of Earth spanning from far North to far South that offers a diversity of all sorts.” The ten projects, hailing from Mexico and South America, are here.

Quarry Strike Ends, Construction Could Resume

“A seven-week strike of heavy equipment operators has ended after an unanimous vote by the Local 150 construction union,” reports WGN-TV. “A tentative agreement was reached and it ended the strike. It is unknown when road projects may start up again.”


Fierce Competition For Workers In Chicago Hospitality Industry

“While ‘recruiting’ workers from fellow restaurateurs by flashing $100 bills and assuring lucrative pay is uncommon, the urgency to staff the Chicago hospitality industry has reached a fever pitch this summer, fomenting what some in the hospitality business are calling ‘a survival of the fittest’ environment,” reports the Tribune of efforts by restaurants and hotels. “The steep shortage of workers needed to ensure restaurants and hotels run smoothly is also prompting many employers to offer enhanced wages and benefits, along with a new effort to promote the industry as a promising career path with strong potential for advancement.”

Wicker Park’s The Point Must Stay Closed Into August

A city report says The Point is not to blame for the shootings that have kept the establishment closed since February, reports Block Club. “The mere unfortunate fact that some of The Point’s patrons may have gotten caught in the crossfire of several unlawful individuals who were loitering on said block at said time, cannot be attributed to The Point, anymore than it can be attributed to other businesses located on said block,” according to the report. The bar and venue “will stay closed until at least early August, keeping the business sidelined for a full six months in a ruling the owner says is ‘scapegoating’ the business for Chicago’s violence problems.”

Eli’s Cheesecake Breaks Ground On $9.5 Million Expansion

“Eli’s Cheesecake Co. broke ground on a $9.5 million expansion of its Northwest Side production facility that will give the iconic Chicago cheesecake-maker space to grow as it builds back from the pandemic,” reports the Trib. “President Marc Schulman, son of the late legendary Eli Schulman, said the expansion will give the family-owned company some much-needed breathing room.”

Andersonville’s Polygon Cafe Shuttered

“City officials closed down Thai and sushi restaurant Polygon Cafe in Andersonville after health inspectors discovered live roaches, rat droppings and raw fish that was not properly refrigerated, records show,” reports Block Club. “Inspectors immediately threw out all the improperly stored foods…This is the fourth failed health inspection for Polygon since 2015, including when officials also found bugs in the facility last year.”


New Steve James Documentary To Premiere In Venice

In a first, a film by Steve James will premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August, in a non-competitive section that includes new nonfiction work by Frederick Wiseman, Oliver Stone and Laura Poitras. The Oak Park-based James will present the Kartemquin production, the 101-minute “A Compassionate Spy,” which co-executive producer Tim Horsburgh offers is “the story of a man who betrayed his country to save the world.”


Chicago Jazz Festival Lineup Announced

The Chicago Jazz Festival returns September 1-4 with performances celebrating all forms of jazz in Millennium Park and at the Chicago Cultural Center. Produced by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and programmed by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, schedule highlights include Henry Threadgill and Zooid, Bill Frisell, William Parker and his quintet, Miguel Zenón, Linda May Han Oh and Jazzmeia Horn. Admission to all performances is free and no advanced reservations are required. The complete list is here.

Cliff Johnson Of Off Broadway And Pezband Was Seventy

Cliff Johnson of Off Broadway and Pezband has passed, posts music maven Shelley Howard on Facebook: “Just got the sad news that rocker Cliff Johnson has left the building. Former vocalist with Pezband and Off Broadway, I saw him performing often in the early 70s at places like Rush Up. He was an Oak Park-River Forest native and we often shared stories about our mutual West Side origins. In recent years we both got a big kick over the fact that the Facebook facial recognition algorithm thought I was him. I’d post a photo of me and Facebook would ask if I wanted to tag Cliff Johnson. Great guy. Dynamic performer. You will be missed buddy.”

Writer Annie Zaleski: “Just seeing that vocalist Cliff Johnson of the great Illinois power pop band Off Broadway USA has passed away. Mighty purveyors of melody, cut from the cloth of ’60s pop greats with a melancholic core. The band’s 1979 debut LP, ‘On,’ is a must.” Video of a 1981 Off Broadway concert is here. “Before fronting Off Broadway, Johnson sang for D’Thumbs and Pezband. A true legend and one of the great voices of Chicago’s rock scene,” Illinois Bar Band posts, with a two-minute video. Oak Park Journal republished its 2007 “Cliff Johnson’s Comeback” in lieu of a traditional obit. Find more tributes at Johnson’s Facebook page.

Green Day Pops Lollapalooza Aftershow At Metro

“Lollapalooza headliner Green Day will be performing at Wrigleyville’s Metro in a surprise show,” reports WGN-TV. “Prior to the band closing out at the Grant Park music festival, they will do a special show at the Metro.” Friday, July 29, 11pm; tickets are $60, $70 day of show here.

Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest Music Lineup Listed

The Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest has announced the music lineup for the three-day festival, headlined by Chicago rapper Psalm One, Screaming Females and Chicago’s Indo-Afro-Caribbean music ensemble Funkadesi. More than 120 artists and over thirty live music acts will play on three stages in the Glenwood Avenue Arts District, steps from the Morse Red Line El stop. The Fest also features an art fair, live music on three stages, kids’ art-making activities, food and drinks from local restaurants, and live demonstrations of performance art and artmaking. The event returns to Rogers Park for its twenty-first year August 19-21. More here.

The Big Business Of Live-To-Film Concerts

“These concerts are wildly popular around the world. The Pittsburgh Symphony’s performances of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Harry Potter’ films typically sell out, and orchestras around the country are performing more and more such live-with-film concerts thanks to their marketability and quality,” writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra grossed around $250,000 during its two performances of ‘Jurassic Park’… This is significantly more than the orchestra typically earns on a concert weekend. ‘I think it’s one of the best, if not the best, lifelines for orchestras,’ said… the PSO’s assistant conductor and the man who leads the orchestra’s film concerts. ‘It shows the orchestra off in the best way.’”


“Resigning As Renewal: Visions For Artistic Leaders Of Color”

“Three artistic directors of color announced their intent to resign from their institutions. Ken-Matt Martin at Victory Gardens, Eric Ting at California Shakespeare Theatre, and myself at Sideshow Theatre Company,” writes Regina Victor in a two-part essay at Rescripted. “Each of us resigned for very different reasons. Inclusive, exciting work has been happening at all of these companies, and continues to happen under the tenure of leaders of color across the nation. It is essential to celebrate the successes these leaders had, discern what systemic obstacles to success are in place, and think of solutions that can provide ease to future leaders…Not every resignation is or will be a point of pain. Sometimes they are necessary evolution for the artist and the company.”

African American Arts Alliance Presents Black United Theatre Auditions

The African American Arts Alliance presents Black United Theater Auditions and pre-audition “Focus on You” preparatory events for African American performers and students of Chicago, the group says in a release. The workshops will include three panel discussions and workshops designed to prepare actors for upcoming auditions as well as providing career-building resources. Participating theaters include Black Ensemble Theater, Congo Square Theatre, eta Creative Arts Foundation, Pegasus Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, Perceptions Theatre and Definition Theatre. The Black United Theater Audition events will be held online beginning August 8 with an audition preparedness workshop and panel discussions. Each audition day will have two sessions, and will be held August 15 and 22. The auditions are open to all adults, but some experience is recommended. To participate in auditions, register here.

Krasl Art Center Presents Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival 

“What play reopened Shakespeare’s theatre after a forced shutdown due to the plague? Arguably, it was ‘All’s Well That Ends Well.’” Krasl Art Center welcomes the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival Touring Company for a free outdoor performance Friday, July 29 in St. Joseph, Michigan. Details here.


Big Pitch For Chicago To Host Democratic National Convention Again

“Democratic leaders are visiting Chicago this week to see if it could be the host of the 2024 Democratic National Convention,” reports Block Club. Channel 2 has video here. “Chicago is the only choice and a place where the DNC can truly shine,” Mayor Lightfoot said, according to Channel 7. “A convention this size and visibility would be tremendously beneficial to the city.” “Democratic leaders talked about why Chicago is the best location for the DNC, including world-class infrastructure and experience hosting large-scale events. Officials are taking a look at different venues and logistics, expecting visits to places like the United Center and Wintrust and dinners at Navy Pier and Millennium Park.”

Pat Quinn Fights To Retain Soldier Field Name

“Arguing that there is ‘no tasteful way’ to attach a corporate name to a ‘sacred’ war memorial, former Illinois governor Pat Quinn is reprising the fight he waged more than twenty years ago to preserve the name Soldier Field,” reports the Sun-Times. “Quinn launched his campaign to deprive the mayor of the only funding source she has revealed so far to bankroll the ambitious project: selling corporate naming rights. Quinn introduced yet another ‘citizens ordinance’ to get an advisory referendum on the February 28 ballot that would ask voters a loaded question: ‘Shall the people of Chicago protect the good name of Soldier Field—which is a war memorial dedicated to the memory of soldiers who fought for our American democracy—by prohibiting the mayor, City Council, Park District or any other governmental entity from attaching a corporate name to Soldier Field or selling the naming rights to Soldier Field in any way?’” Neil Steinberg offers a history of Soldier Field renovations dangled by successive ranks of politicians through the years.

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