Trying to be heard over the boisterous crowd arriving at the May 17, 2013 Chicago Hilton event was not easy for Chicago Sinfonietta’s Project Inclusion Ensemble. They soldiered on, as if to give a prelude demonstration of the personal grit and determination many of the speakers to come would convey about students of the arts.
There were nearly 500 attendees at this inaugural benefit luncheon, Voices of a Creative State, enriching the Arts Alliance Illinois' coffers nearly $240,000.
As with everything art, money was the least of it.
What we were reminded of from the impressive lineup of speakers and first “Citizen Advocate” award honoree, Ambassador Fay Hartog-Levin (ret.) was that price tags never really reflect the real value of the arts as an engine in nearly all spheres of life that truly matter.
Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, reportedly nicknamed “Tiny Dancer” by President Barack Obama in reference to Emmanuel’s earlier career as a ballet dancer commented, “When we drafted a cultural plan for the city we found that the number one thing everyone wants is arts in the schools. Chicago is putting arts back into the schools for every child—whether it’s music, painting or dance.
“While I didn’t pursue becoming a professional dancer I did learn a lot about discipline from my dance studies. There is no better format to learn about yourself than the arts…”
Emmanuel further commented that along with Michelle Boone, Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, they were doubling the number of arts activities in the city’s parks 7 days a week—from Eye on India to the Joffrey to Shakespeare to Movies in the parks and more to ensure that no part of the city will not have one or another cultural event this summer.
Following the Mayor’s remarks a fast-paced and impressive video showcasing the achievements of the Arts Alliance Illinois was shown, created by Emmy Award-winning HMS media set to the music of Orbert Davis, one of Chicago’s great jazz artists.
Following the luncheon, in his characteristic understated cogent style, Senator Dick Durbin perhaps gave the most poignant reminder of what the arts means to our nation. He shared that he had just returned from another Republican-Democratic “gang” meeting, quipping that he’ll soon need gang tattoos. This “gang” aims to work out a compromise on immigration reform.
Durbin shared the very moving story of how “The Dream Act” was born years ago by the dilemma of a young Korean girl on scholarship at Chicago’s Merit School who had been given a chance to go to Julliard. She had been brought to America when she was two years old. When the Julliard application asked for nationality she, her parents, and her alderman were stumped. Dick Durbin was too. This talented youth had to return to Korea for 10 years and await citizenship. Although her personal story ends more happily, with a return to US, citizenship, a PhD in Music and concerts at Carnegie Hall, it was that tragic moment that had put Dick Durbin on fire to create what we now call the Dream Act.
How art affects our world was also dramatically brought home by Honoree Ambassador Hartog-Levin’s family story of losing nearly everything when they fled the Holocaust, except for two items, including a piano that her very musical family treasured.
Keynote speaker Yo-Yo Ma gave a presentation entitled “Art for Life’s Sake: A Roadmap from One Citizen Musician” where he talked, among other things, about how all the personnel qualities sought by the CEOs according to the Council on Competitiveness—innovation, creativity, flexibility, collaboration—are exactly the traits that the arts cultivate. While not critical of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educational initiative, Yo-Yo Ma made an impassioned case for it to be renamed “STEAM”, i.e. with an emphasis on arts as well.
Here too a student stepped in to show us what arts in education could mean. Jerlane Payne, a junior at the University of Chicago Woodlawn Charter School performed her spoken word piece, “The Flowship of Friends” that had been developed through an Arts Alliance Illinois initiative pairing spoken word development with student musical compositions. Yo-Yo Ma accompanied her with one of these new compositions, and at the conclusion of the event also played Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.
The Arts Alliance Illinois defines itself as the state’s leading voice for the arts and arts education, uniquely combining advocacy, service, and information to advance a creative and culturally vibrant state. All Illinoisans owe this organization a thank you for infusing our society as a whole with arts-spawned energies driving innovation.
Photos: UnPosed Photography