Partnerships boost the arts in Evanston

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Evanston is well established as a cultural hub for the arts. The city is also a catalyst for forging partnerships between the fine and performing arts organizations and important community groups.

Open Studios Evanston is working to produce Evanston’s first open studios crawl on June 7. Another one Oct. 11 will coincide with Arts & Culture Month. The City of Evanston, Arts Council of Evanston and Arts Community of Evanston are all working in concert to create “access to the arts for everyone,” which is a mission of the Evanston Arts Council.

“There is tremendous excitement for the first Open Studios Evanston, with more 50 artists and arts organizations participating,” said Lisa Degliantoni, event producer.

“You don’t have to go into Chicago to see great art. We have great art and artists showing right here in Evanston and events like Open Studios Evanston provide access to those artists,” said Steven Bialer of Hevanston Gallery, 529 Davis St.

Participating visual artists with a studio, art galleries and arts organizations in Evanston will open their doors to the public on Saturday, June 7 from 3-8 p.m. A website will feature a list of all participating artists on a Google Map, where people can choose how to get to the studios and at what time.

“Artists without a gallery don’t have many opportunities to show their work, and an event like this is ideal. [Visual artist] Julie Meridian will show her photography along with my work for Open Studios Evanston. It’s wonderful to create this kind of access for the public and artists,” said florist and visual artist Barbara Bellamy. Bellamy will show her flowered dress creation from Fluerotica, a fundraiser for The Garfield Park Conservatory, at Ixia Flowers, 1630 Chicago Ave., #1.

Next Theatre Company, 927 Noyes St., has also created a number of exciting community partnerships. With Northwestern University, Next has established a playwright-commissioning program. Next and Northwestern professors Rebecca Gilman and Laura Shelhardt work with one undergraduate and one MFA playwright per season, developing a new play. These projects receive staged readings led by professional directors and actors in the spring that are normally standing room only events.

This season, Next and the YWCA Evanston/North Shore have partnered to create a series of exciting community programs. These programs include an original theatrical piece created by seniors and students on the topic of race in how this issue is experienced by different members of the Evanston community; an after school drama program for girls; and a theatrical piece exploring issues of domestic violence experienced by women on the North Shore. These programs will be rolling out this summer and into the fall.

In other performing arts, the Music Institute of Chicago, with one of its Evanston locations at 1490 Chicago Ave., has implemented community outreach programming around the concept of “citizen musicianship.”

“The idea is that you, in some way, use your abilities with music a performer to create social change,” said Deirdre Harrison, director of community engagement for MIC.

“We’re not just a private music school, but we’re doing things outside of the walls of the school,” Harrison said.

For MIC, the music citizenship initiative is taking form through three examples: raising money and awareness, mentoring and leadership development, and bridging communities with music.

Harrison explained that young people may want to help causes, but it’s hard to know where to start. That’s where their musical talents come in. Kids can hold events to fundraise or bring awareness. “It’s joyful for them. It’s also something empowering for them that it’s their realm to do.”

As a second example, MIC is forging talent in public schools, such as implementing the nationally taught Brass for Beginners program at District 65’s Lincoln Elementary School.

Finally, the institute has also been working with groups who can find themselves isolated, such as seniors, Harrison said. MIC has worked with a senior jazz combo group including players aged 70 and older.

“We’re seeing an uptick in adults returning to play. Learning something new is a good way to keep your memory sharp.”

The creation of Harrison’s position at MIC three years ago helped solidify the structure for these activities, which, she said, have been going on for a long time. “We’re trying to celebrate it more. It’s about developing leadership and making it part of the culture.”

“Life is tough, and having joyful things happen in unexpected places in important.”

On June 7, MIC will host seven civic musicians during Open Studios Evanston. The event will include a free concert and a public panel of these professional musicians who will talk to young visitors about the importance of pursuing one’s passion for music.