Today In The Culture, July 7, 2023: Lookingglass


Woman in winter clothes hangs on to the top of a fence while holding a large bag.

“The Pigeon Lady” (1966), from the film by Tom Palazzolo/Photo: Metrograph

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Performance Curator Tara Aisha Willis Leaving MCA

“I have made the challenging decision to depart MCA Chicago at the end of six years in my role curating performance,” writes MCA Curator, Performance and Public Practice, Tara Aisha Willis. “I will continue my curatorial work more independently for now, and will also be more consistently pursuing my academic research and writing, as well as artistic projects spanning from performing to dance dramaturgy. Although it has been a challenging few years for everyone, I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished: keeping the program [going] through major leadership transitions, COVID-19 cancellations and safety measures, diminished and shifting staffing [and] invigorating conversations with artists about labor and ethics. I am happy to share that our Chief Curator, René Morales, has secured a resounding institution-wide commitment to the Performance program and will be soon seeking my replacement.” Follow Willis here.



What About NASCAR Floated To The Top?

“NBC’s most-watched Cup Series race in six years, the Chicago broadcast beat the TV ratings of the most recent Formula 1 street race in the U.S., the Miami Grand Prix held May 7, according to Nielsen,” reports the Tribune. “The NASCAR Chicago Street Race went off after a long rain delay, but criticism included road closures, police overtime and park limits on the holiday weekend,” the paper adds. “Why did NASCAR choose Chicago, of all places?” asks sports columnist Rick Morrissey at the Sun-Times, in a surprisingly old-fashioned metro columnist-style banter (read: going in circles). “Some of the people who love NASCAR are the same people who watch the partisan TV channels obsessed with the gun problem in Chicago. And they’re going to show up in their RVs on Sunday and enjoy the race? Will there be a staging area where they can circle the wagons to fend off the career criminals? The whole thing just seems odd and cumbersome and ill-fitting, like two-by-four trying to find a home in a round hole.” Eater Chicago’s Ashok Selvam: “So someone talk to me about which NASCAR video game will feature the Chicago track? Because that would be cool to play.”

Michigan Avenue’s Exile In Bookville weighed in on Instagram: “We were not offered an opportunity to voice our absolute objection at any public meeting. We were not given the chance to defend the integrity of our 125-year-old historic building from noise, vibration, and accidents. To argue against the environmental impact of racing cars over a hundred laps in downtown Chicago. To express deep concern over public safety. To convey the financial burden many businesses have and will face from this decision. We are one of those businesses.”

Tweeted Capitol Fax: “Gorgeous city visuals and an exciting, new type of NASCAR race. Plus, Chicago watches when they’re the center of attention. Huge number of eyeballs and that drives ratings. NASCAR needs to up the payout tho. A lot. Chicago is now essential to its comeback. $$$” The Tribune’s Gregory Pratt:”miniscule money going to the city, non transparent planning, and aggravation by some.” But, he concedes: “the views are showing off Chicago’s beauty.”

West Side Blue Line Rebuild Starts

“Construction to rebuild the Blue Line’s entire West Side branch starts this month, kicking off a years-long project to replace outdated tracks and make stations one hundred percent accessible,” reports Block Club.

Three Southside Landmark Churches Get Grants

Landmarks Illinois has awarded three grants through the Timuel D. Black, Jr. Grant Fund for Chicago’s South Side to preservation projects at historic places of worship in the Bronzeville and Englewood neighborhoods. A total of $7,500 in matching grant funds was awarded to Monumental Baptist Church, Bronzeville, a $2,500 matching grant for roof repairs at the 1899 Chicago Landmark church that has long been home to one of the largest and most active African American congregations in the city; Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, Bronzeville, a $2,500 matching grant to help pay for scaffolding to prepare for needed repairs due to storm damage, water infiltration and overall deterioration at the 1912 church designed by famed Chicago architect Alfred Alschuler and designated a Chicago Landmark in 2020; Canaan Baptist Church, Englewood, a $2,500 matching grant to restore the front doors of the Solon S. Beman-designed church, a Chicago Landmark, built in 1905. More here.

A Look At The Forthcoming National Museum of Gospel Music

The historic site of Bronzeville’s Pilgrim Baptist Church “is undergoing a transformation into the National Museum of Gospel Music,” reports Chicago YIMBY. “The design of the project blends the past and present, incorporating the original limestone walls of the church. The developer for the project is Don Jackson, CEO of Central City Productions and founder of the Stellar Gospel Music Awards, in collaboration with architect Dirk Lohan of Wight & Company.”



Vintage Lombard Dairy Queen Could Escape Fate Of Carbondale’s

“The closing of a beloved Dairy Queen near Southern Illinois University sparked uproar in the community and fears for the fate of the company’s ice cream-only locations,” reports the Tribune. But “the Dairy Queen on Main Street in Lombard still [bears] many similarities with the walk-up window that opened in 1953. As the Dairy Queen company expanded from its Illinois roots and broadened the menu to include more food items, the suburban location has stayed focused on cold summertime treats. The sign is the same one operator Karyn Kanthack’s great aunt bought for $400 on layaway and put up in 1955. And the store has stayed in the same family for seventy years.”

Times Declares “The Bear” Too Nice

Cold, warm, is “The Bear” ever just right? “Some chefs said the show could give diners a frustratingly sunny impression of the realities of working in fine-dining restaurants,” writes Amelia Nierenberg at The New York Times. The executive chef at an Ever-like restaurant “reveals an extraordinarily personal detail: memories from her dead father’s notebooks. ‘That would probably never, ever happen,’ said Stephen Chavez, who teaches at the Institute of Culinary Education’s Los Angeles campus.” A chef who was interviewed “also found such a scenario far-fetched. ‘It’s obscenely rare that stages will even be able to meet the chef.’”

A list of featured Chicago restaurants from NBC 5. The Sun-Times also listifies here. Twitter poster, writer Jessica Ellis: “One more thing I adored in ‘The Bear’ is the way it quietly reinforces, over and over, that what we think of as ‘skills’ and ‘talents’ are actually things someone else has taken time to teach us. From Carmy and Syd’s ‘I’m sorry’ gesture to Marcus learning to quenelle, the whole season is a tribute to how we are a product of what we’re taught—good and bad—and how much good teaching can reshape our lives. It’s a screed against the idea of a self-made, lone genius.”

Vegan Food Hall In Uptown

“PlantX, parent company of XMarket, has announced… a 6,500 square foot vegan food hall in the base of the 811 Uptown development at Montrose and Clarendon,” reports Uptown Update. Late August is set for “vegan options, including a central bar with vegan wine and spirits, vegan bar food, and vegan wine pairings including cheese from Good Planet. There will be six separate stations offering to-go vegan fare, including a coffee roastery.”



Manhattan Retrospective For Tommy Chicago

A career interview by Chris Boeckmann accompanies a retrospective at New York’s Metrograph of octogenarian Chicago-Oak Park filmmaker Tom Palazzolo. “Outsiders are the only people I really have any chance of connecting with.” Palazzolo made the movie from “iffy” Hubbard Street loft living all the way back in 1972: “The house is over a hundred years old. We’ve lived here since 1972. It was very inexpensive then. We paid $37,000. Now it’s probably worth half-a-million… It’s completely different from the city, where all night I would hear trucks backfiring—poom!—and drunks yelling and throwing up outside. So yeah, it was time to move, but I liked that apartment. I’d look out my window. The very first film I made was ‘The Pigeon Lady,’ which Roger Ebert liked. I first saw her out my window on Hubbard, and I ran out and followed her.”

TCM Gets Big Attention But Modest Respite

“No one knows what will happen to TCM or classic films in the post-cable era. [Historian Mark] Harris suggested that it could perhaps look like that Criterion Channel service, or that it could be something completely different. While the world goes on changing, the movies won’t,” reports the Washington Post. Jeremy Arnold, a film historian who works with TCM, said “If TCM were ever to disappear or drastically change, it would be a significant loss, because movies are meant to be exhibited and seen, not sit in a vault somewhere.”



Amazon Neglects Goodreads

“Goodreads—an Amazon-owned review site beloved by the bookish—has grown beleaguered,” reports the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post. “The site is built on outdated technological infrastructure, which made the cost of overhauling and updating it a challenge that was ultimately not worth it for [Amazon]. Limited manual content moderation and a lack of protective features allow users to engage in targeted harassment known as ‘review bombing’—behavior that has resulted in the cancellation of books and their authors… Amazon seemed happy to mine Goodreads for its user-generated data and otherwise let it limp along with limited resources. In Amazon’s more than twenty-year history, the company has made dozens of acquisitions, and it is not unusual for it to try to cheaply acquire properties in markets that it wants to dominate, only to let them languish.”



Scoop Jackson Is Sun-Times’ New Sunday Sports Columnist

New Sunday columnist Scoop Jackson introduces himself to the readers of the Sun-Times’ sports section: “A’ight stop what you’re doin’ because I’m about to ruin the image and the writing that you are used to. I write funny, and I ain’t making money see, but, yo, Chi, I hope you’re ready for me. Now gather ’round because I’m the new kid in town, and my style’s laid down by the underground (South Side!). Lemme buy that bottle of Henn that’s sitting up on ya’ shelf (take a sip), and just let me introduce myself… Truth be told, Chicago, low-key, is a summer sports city unlike many. We go deep. And just as there’s ‘nothing in the world like Summer in Chi,’ the same can be said about sports in our area codes. People forget that the Fresh Prince (before he turned into Will Smith) actually wrote (and recorded) the anthem ‘Summertime’ while in Chicago after visiting the Lake on 31st and 39th Street. Our summer sports scene can invigorate that same feeling. That feeling of joy, warmth, community, inclusiveness and togetherness, with a little competition on the side. No ketchup.”

Paper Magazine Could Be Revived

Shuttered Paper Magazine has a new owner that claims it will restart the Downtown style magazine; the New York Times offers a starter oral history of the trend rag.



Salt Shed Debuts Mascot…

… And its name is Lil’ Salty, the Shed announces on Instagram.

Alternative Latin Music Ruido Fest Cancelled

Ruido Fest, scheduled for August 19-20, has canceled, saying “it is what is necessary now for us to continue our mission,” the fest posts on Twitter.

Music Streaming Industry Unwell

“Spotify still struggles to generate a consistent profit. So the long tail, the majors, creators, and streaming services all think that streaming isn’t paying them enough,” reports Music Industry Blog. “Which begs the question: just who or what is streaming paying enough? Whatever the answer may be, the clear takeaway is that a royalty and remuneration system designed when albums, charts, downloads, and radio still ruled the roost, is failing to adapt to today’s much changed music world.”



Lookingglass Going Dark Until 2024

Lookingglass, “the ensemble-driven theater, founded by a close-knit group of Northwestern University classmates and friends in 1988, famously has produced original work for the last thirty-five years, typically with a strong visual sensibility,” reports Chris Jones at the Chicago Tribune. It’s the latest local house to go dark. Twenty-four workers will be reduced to ten, and productions won’t return until at least late spring of 2024. “In Chicago alone, closed or moribund theaters include Victory Gardens Theater, House Theatre of Chicago, Sideshow Theatre Company, BoHo, Eclipse Theatre Company and Underscore Theatre Company.” Artistic director Heidi Stillman: “People need to understand that while we had twenty-four full-time staffers, we hire well outside that number depending on the needs of a particular show. We hire seamstresses, carpenters, electricians. That can add up to 250 to 300 jobs for local craftspeople and artisans in the course of a season. So the job opportunities by not just us but all theaters on a local scale is enormous.”

From Lookingglass’ announcement: “During this period, we are committed to creating a vibrant home for our future audiences and all of Chicago to experience art. Part of our reimagining is physical. We have received capital funding from the State of Illinois to re-envision and renovate the outer lobby space in the Water Tower Water Works building in partnership with the Chicago Public Library. We believe this will be both literally and figuratively transformational; this dynamic new community space will help revitalize the Michigan Avenue corridor and gather all points of Chicago together.”

Salutes To Shakes’ Barbara Gaines Upon Exeunt

“Barbara Gaines spent thirty-seven years as artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare, a word-pairing that previously would have been thought by many to be oxymoronic, a company that she founded on the roof of the Red Lion pub. Over those years, she did more than anyone else to raise Bard awareness in Chicago, first on the North Side and then on Navy Pier, where his poetry always outclassed the fudge and trinket stores even as he brought them winter business,” writes the Tribune editorial board. “Gaines has long been a populist, a believer that Shakespeare’s genius made him universal in appeal and thus that he belonged equally to everybody. Her work always privileged clarity and accessibility and she has displayed a healthy skepticism toward pompous Shakespeareans. Looking back on her oeuvre is to appreciate a distinct Gaines aesthetic, created in concert with local actors, and it has Chicago at its very core.”

My feelings are primarily sadness dominated by overwhelming gratitude,” Gaines tells the Sun-Times: “I was given this insanely magnificent gift of exploring Shakespeare for the past thirty-seven years. Of living out what was inside my imagination. How many people get to do that? I’m sad to be leaving the staff here—that will hurt. But I won’t miss the load that any artistic director—no matter how big or small [the theater]—has to carry. The fundraising—I won’t miss that pressure. Now I can pour all my energy into the art.”



POLITICO’s Warming Up Rahm In The Bullpen

You knew it was coming: “Rahm Emanuel is not done with politics,” five writers at Axel Springer’s POLITICO tub-thump. “My general attitude—I know this comes as a shock to you—is usually: Say you’re sorry afterwards. Don’t ask for permission, because you’re going to be sitting still for a long time. And as you probably know—and I’m self-aware—patience is not one of my strong suits. … I call patience a waste of time,” he Zooms the reporters. “I have another year and a half. I’m totally focused on making sure my first job—which is a job the President asked me to do—that I get it done right .. So that’s number one. I haven’t made a decision of what I’m going to do. I obviously love public life, and I think it’s premature right now, given everything that’s going on not only here with the job, but in politics, to say that. I don’t know. I’m young enough that I still want to do something in public life. I like doing something in public life. Where that goes? How that goes? I don’t know.”

Four-Decade Dean John Boyer Leaves UChicago 

“John Boyer, as they say around Hyde Park, is UChicago famous,” writes Christopher Borrelli at the Tribune. “North of 51st Street, if you were to spot him zipping past on his Schwinn, you might assume he was an eccentric aging hipster, a blur in a white mustache and spindly Ichabod Crane frame, with far-off eyes behind thin eyeglasses and a dark suit too large for his gangly dimensions. But on the University of Chicago campus, where he has been Dean of the College for undergraduates since 1992, he is Mickey Mouse and Mr. Chips in one six-foot-four-inch package of tweediness, regardless of whether he is wearing tweed. ‘He’s become a true creature of the University of Chicago,’ said John McGreevy, provost at the University of Notre Dame and former dean of that school’s College of Arts and Letters. ‘I doubt there is anybody alive who functions quite as effectively as a symbol of the University of Chicago as John Boyer does,’ said Agnes Callard, associate professor of philosophy at U. of C. ‘I mean, it’s tough to imagine a universe without a John Boyer.’”

Illinois Arts Council Announces Artist Fellowship Awards

The Illinois Arts Council Agency has announced the 2023 Artist Fellowship Award recipients. These are $15,000 unrestricted awards granted to Illinois artists in recognition of outstanding work and commitment. Twenty-four Illinois artists will receive Fellowships totaling $360,000. Finalist Awards of $1,500 were also awarded to ten Illinois artists for a total of $15,000. The AFA Program offered funding in eight artistic disciplines. This year’s Fellowship and Finalist Award recipients were selected from 283 Illinois-based creative artists working in choreography, media arts (including audio art, digital art, film and video), music composition, music improvisation, new performance forms, poetry, prose and scripted works. “Illinois’ artists are one of our strongest and most valuable resources, making a more creative and welcoming state for us all even in the face of global and national challenges,” Governor Pritzker says in a release.

These are the Fiscal Year 2023 Artist Fellowship and Finalist Award recipients. Choreography, Joel Hall of Chicago: $15,000; Erin Kilmurray of Chicago: $15,000; C. Kemal Nance of Champaign: $15,000; Regina Perry-Carr of Maywood: $1,500. Media Arts: Rita Coburn of Flossmoor: $15,000; Monty Cole of Chicago: $15,000; Laura Harrison of Chicago: $15,000; Özge Samanci of Evanston: $15,000; Colleen Plumb of Chicago: $1,500. Music Composition: Carlos Carrillo of Urbana: $15,000; David Vayo of Bloomington: $15,000; Martha Horst of Normal: $1,500; Amy Wurtz of Chicago: $1,500. Music Improvisation: Bobby Broom of Evanston: $15,000; Robert Chappell and Liam Teague of DeKalb: $15,000; Nick Mazzarella of Chicago: $15,000; Jon Irabagon of Park Ridge: $1,500. New Performance Forms: Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman of Urbana: $15,000; Meida Teresa McNeal of Chicago: $15,000; Marcela Torres of Chicago: $15,000; Aaliyah Christina of Chicago: $1,500. Poetry: Allison Funk of Edwardsville: $15,000; Christopher Kempf of Champaign: $15,000; Simone Muench of Chicago: $15,000; Suzanne Buffam of Chicago: $1,500. Prose: Colleen Abel of Champaign: $15,000; Nami Mun of Chicago: $15,000; Eden Robins of Chicago: $15,000; S.L. (Sandi) Wisenberg of Chicago: $15,000; Kristi McGuire of Chicago: $1,500; Sahar Mustafah of Orland Park: $1,500. Scriptworks: Kimberly Dixon-Mays of Chicago: $15,000; Reina Hardy of Skokie: $15,000; Missy Hernandez of Chicago: $1,500. Biographies and more here.


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