Nine Chicago Arts Organizations Receive Excellence Awards

October 18, 2006


Contact: Mary Trudel
Senior Communications Officer
The Wallace Foundation


The Chicago Community Trust and Department of Cultural Affairs Join Wallace to Foster Local Arts Engagement Knowledge Network

Chicago– In recognition of their commitment to community and audience building activities, Beverly Art Center, Black Ensemble Theater, Chicago Sinfonietta, Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, Hyde Park Art Center, Merit School of Music, Music of the Baroque, Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Victory Gardens Theater have received Excellence Award project grants ranging from $200,000 to $500,000 from The Wallace Foundation for a total Foundation investment of $2.9 million.  The awards will be announced October 18, 2006, at the Chicago Cultural Center by The Wallace Foundation President Christine DeVita.

The Wallace Foundation Excellence Awards were created to support exemplary arts organizations to pioneer effective practices to engage more people in high-value arts activities. The Awards are an important part of the Foundation’s efforts to develop and share effective ideas and practices for enhancing arts participation and bringing the powerful benefits of the arts to all. 

In addition to the Excellence Awards, The Wallace Foundation is collaborating with The Chicago Community Trust and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs to create a Learning Network for all Chicago arts organizations and to foster arts engagement in Chicago. The collaboration, funded by a grant to the Trust from the Foundation, will inform and support the participation-building work of many arts organizations throughout the city.

The purpose of the partnership with the Chicago Community Trust and The Department of Cultural Affairs is to help area arts organizations reach more people, capture knowledge about effective practices toward this goal, and make that knowledge known to a broad constituency of arts professionals.   By adding further support to local arts organizations, the collaboration will promote the effective exchange of knowledge -- extending the benefits of this work to many other organizations beyond those that receive individual awards.  The initiative will include a series of seminars/workshops and potential technical assistance on market research and evaluation of audience development efforts.

The Foundation is taking a city-based approach to its arts funding to help improve arts participation across a whole community. Wallace chose Chicago as one of the first two sites for this new effort because of the city’s high concentration and variety of arts organizations and because of the congruence of these grants with Wallace’s support of After School Matters with a multi-year grant to improve city-wide delivery of high-quality out-of-school time programming to children who need it most. Boston is the other city chosen for Wallace Excellence Awards grants in 2006.

 “The Excellence Awards honor organizations that have made a commitment to engage more people deeply in the arts part of their DNA,” said DeVita. “We created these awards to encourage organizations to sustain and expand the impact of their work with local constituencies, to draw national attention to the importance of engaging more people in the arts and to generate an assortment of useful, broadly-applicable lessons and practices that will be helpful to the field.”

"The Wallace Foundation's remarkably generous grants honor respected and diverse cultural organizations that have contributed greatly to Chicago's vibrant arts community and to the quality of life for all who live here," said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lois Weisberg.  "We're looking forward to this unique collaboration, which will create new opportunities to build partnerships and audiences, and showcase both the innovative work being done by these organizations and the wealth of cultural opportunities available in the city."

“In Chicago, the arts are not elite pastimes; they are the glue that bind our diverse communities together.  The Chicago Community Trust has been committed to cultivating Chicago’s artistic diversity for more than 90 years, and we’re very pleased to be part of this exciting collaboration,” said Terry Mazany, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Chicago Community Trust.

Twenty innovative institutions across the United States received Excellence Award Grants from The Wallace Foundation in 2004 and 2005, among them: Arena Stage, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Hispanico, the Des Moines Art Center, El Museo del Barrio, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Real Art Ways and the San Francisco Symphony.

The Wallace Foundation
The Wallace Foundation is an independent, New York-based national foundation dedicated to supporting and sharing effective ideas and practices that expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people. Its three current objectives are: strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement; enhancing out-of-school learning opportunities; and building appreciation and demand for the arts. More information and research on these and other related topics can be found at The Wallace Foundation Knowledge Center at or by calling 212-251-9810. 

The Chicago Community Trust
The Chicago Community Trust and its affiliates form the region’s community foundation, helping local residents manage their charitable giving. Founded in 1915, the Trust is a union of numerous gifts, bequests and other contributions totaling more than $1.6 billion. Income from these assets provides more than $83 million annually in grants to agencies that improve the lives of the residents of our region through arts, community development, education improvement, health and wellness, and to assure that basic human needs are met for all members of our community.  In 2006 the Trust awarded its one-billionth dollar in grants.  Learn more about the Trust at

The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs
The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) is dedicated to supporting and enhancing the cultural vitality of the city.  Offering close to a thousand high quality free exhibitions, performances and programs each year at the Chicago Cultural Center, Millennium Park and other venues throughout the city, DCA promotes the arts and makes them accessible to a wide and ever-growing audience.  The department supports artists, cultural institutions and arts organizations through grants, workshops, the Chicago Artists' Resource (CAR) website and by creating myriad opportunities to showcase their work.  DCA markets Chicago as a destination for culture and entertainment through the Office of Tourism; develops global partnerships and encourages cross-cultural understanding through the Chicago Sister Cities International Program; and affirms the value of the arts to the social and economic fabric of the city.  Under the leadership of Commissioner Lois Weisberg since 1989, it is widely regarded as a model for municipal support of urban art and culture.  

                                           The Wallace Foundation
                            Wallace Excellence Awards – Chicago, IL
                                       List of Newly Named Grantees

The Black Ensemble Theater, founded in 1976, has grown from a small community arts organization to a nationally and internationally recognized arts institution. It has produced more than 100 productions and employed over 7000 artists. Major initiatives include outreach and education programs and the Five-Play Season of Excellence, a series of plays structured to reach beyond race and culture to bring together racially diverse groups of people to facilitate communication, understanding and acceptance. 

The Black Ensemble Theater will receive $240,000 over three years to develop a new brand identity; produce plays off-site in community venues targeting racially diverse adult theater audiences; partner with Chicago Bureau of Tourism, Mayors Office of Special Events and the Department of Cultural Affairs on marketing opportunities; and establish and promote the Five Play Card program. 

Beverly Art Center, founded in 1967, is dedicated to enriching lives through multicultural and multidisciplinary visual and performing arts that encompasses education, exhibition, and performance.  They are the only multidisciplinary arts organization serving the far South/ Southwest Sides of Chicago.

The Beverly Art Center will receive $200,000 over four years to create a Teen Arts Committee and a Junior Board for young adults to guide development of programming and marketing.  Planned activities include: free classes, workshops, and special initiatives for teens and young adults; and expanded marketing to youth-oriented media, local high schools, and colleges. Since youth participation tends to fall off steeply after age 12, this work will be geared to learning how to sustain participation through the teen years.

Chicago Sinfonietta, founded in 1987, provides a stage and voice for musicians and composers of color.  Its mission is to serve as a national model for inclusiveness and innovation in classical music through the presentation of the highest quality orchestral concerts and related programs. The Sinfonietta aspires to remove the barriers to participation and appreciation of classical music through its education and outreach programs that engage families and children with classical music and by providing professional development opportunities for young musicians and composers of diverse backgrounds enabling new, important voices to be heard.

The Chicago Sinfonietta, will receive $315,000 over four years to reach out to more diverse audiences through collaborations with other cultural organizations to develop highly-distinctive performances that combine several art forms.  It will target African-American, Asian, and Latino audiences to build sustained engagement among more ethnically diverse music patrons.

Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, founded in 1995, encourages the West Side community to explore the fundamental connection between plants and human life through education and recreational programs for children and families, professional training for teachers, youth programs, and public events.  It is the only major cultural organization in the area and one of the largest indoor botanical conservatories in the country.  Over the past six years the Conservatory has presented “Art in the Park”, a program of major exhibitions that included the first collaboration of a botanical conservatory with glass artist Dale Chihuly which received national awareness and attracted nearly 600,000 people.  Each year the Conservatory offers at least six annual festivals, series of performances and other arts-specific programs.

The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance will receive $375,000 over five years to increase grassroots promotion for arts programs; expand the “Art in the Park” program to include one major exhibition or performance series every year; and hire temporary curators for Art in the Park who can access a broader talent pool of artists.  The Alliance will target neighborhood families, citywide visitors and tourists to provide lessons about how a public park/cultural venue can be an effective means for bringing the arts to the neighborhood.

Hyde Park Art Center, founded in 1939, is a small multidisciplinary arts center in Chicago’s culturally-underserved South Side.  It is the only visual arts organization in Chicago that specifically focuses on local artists and fosters their role in the community.

The Hyde Park Art Center will receive $260,000 over three years to use grassroots promotions and community connections to attract more minority families from the South Side to the newly opened facility. The Center will target minority families from Chicago’s low-income, South Side neighborhoods to overcome traditional barriers to sustained arts participation.

Merit School of Music, founded in 1979, provides high-quality music education to students in metropolitan Chicago.  Merit offers a continuum of comprehensive in-school, after-school and weekend programs for students from newborn to 18 years and from novices to advanced performers.  Musical immersion sets Merit apart – students rarely come to Merit to take only one lesson or class but take a rich curriculum of classes including music theory, private or small group instruction, large ensemble and performance assemblies.

The Merit School of Music will receive $500,000 over four years to remove practical barriers to participation, such as transportation and to recruit more students to its sequential after school music programs. Merit plans to target disadvantaged K-12 students so they will take part in more intensive after school arts programs. Merit will provide more training and incentives to instructors; create a community marketing campaign and enhance its summer program schedule as an entry point for school-year programs.

Music of the Baroque, founded in 1972, is a professional chorus and orchestra committed to presenting concert performances at the highest level of artistry while increasing audience knowledge and appreciation of early works for chorus and orchestra.  Specializing in the performance of the 17th and 18th century repertoire, MOB is one of the few groups of its stature in the country devoted to early music.  The ensemble is noted for its presentation of premiere and revival performances of numerous early masterpieces.  In 2006/07 MOB will present 16 performances of seven different programs at the Harris Theater and in church venues in Chicago, Evanston, River Forest and Northbrook.

The Music of the Baroque will receive $200,000 over three years to conduct extensive audience research and analysis aimed at identifying more potential participants from high-density housing developments within walking distance of the Harris Theater.
The group plans to target adult neighborhood residents using local marketing to increase concert attendance.

Steppenwolf Theater, formed in 1976, advances the vitality and diversity of American theatre by nurturing artists, encouraging ongoing creative relationships and contributing new works to the national canon.  Steppenwolf has grown into an internationally renowned company of 35 artists whose talents include acting, directing, playwriting, designing, filmmaking and textual adaptation.  It offers up to 14 productions annually on its three stages and performs on national and international tours.

The Steppenwolf Theater will receive $500,000 over three years to increase number and intensify participation among young adults and build audiences by using market research, expanding live interactive events, providing social opportunities around performances, and offering more flexible ticket purchase options. The theater will target young adults to study combinations of audience-building strategies to successfully build stronger relationships.

Victory Gardens Theater, founded in 1974, creates diverse, world premiere productions that touch audiences, while advancing the art of playwriting.  Its mission is to develop and produce new plays, most of them world premieres, with an emphasis on Chicago writers and its own 12 member Playwrights Ensemble.  Since its inception VGT has produced 250 plays of which 150 were world premieres.

The Victory Gardens Theater will receive $400,000 over four years to attract more adult theater goers by offering new performance formats and social opportunities such as cabaret-style performances.  It plans to use grassroots marketing to generate interest in play offerings; open the theater’s building for community organizations to host their own events, and introduce the theater to new constituencies free of charge.  Theater will target adults under 40, testing novel performance formats to attract more and varied adult participants.