Chicago’s Cultural Affairs Department names “IncentOvate” grant recipients

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Christopher Wheeldon seen here working with dancers of the Joffrey Ballet. (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

Six major Chicago cultural institutions have been named the recipients of  2015 “IncentOvate” grants – competitive awards totaling $400,000 that are designed to underwrite the creation of new arts experiences and “support projects that advance the goals of the Chicago Cultural Plan and Cultural Tourism Strategy.”

This year’s recipients of the awards, which are overseen by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), include: Court Theatre, the DuSable Museum of African American History, Goodman Theatre, The Joffrey Ballet, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Old Town School of Folk Music.

The poster for Court Theatre’s Satchmo Festival, designed by Daniel Minter.

The poster for Court Theatre’s Satchmo Festival, designed by Daniel Minter.

In a prepared statement, DCASE Commissioner Michelle T. Boone noted: “This group of IncentOvate Program grantees shows the creativity and ingenuity of our city’s cultural institutions and neighborhood arts organizations. Each of their projects contributes to the cultural landscape, engages new audiences and reinforces Chicago as an international draw attracting people from all over the world to experience its arts.”

The IncentOvate Program, now in its second year, is part of the Cultural Grants Program of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, which provides more than $1.7 million annually in direct funding to artists, creative professionals and arts and cultural organizations across Chicago – including the CityArts Program, which supports small to mid-sized nonprofits, and the Individual Artists Program.

Twenty-eight applications were reviewed by an independent panel on criteria that included: 1) the innovation of a new program or product; 2) the presence of or collaboration with neighborhood cultural programs or experiences, and 3) the opportunity for audience growth through arts education for all ages, increased access to the arts, the integration of culture into daily life and/or enhanced collaboration across public spaces.

Here is a closer look at the six projects:

+ Court Theatre is coordinating the artistically-expansive Louis Armstrong Festival in conjunction with its staging of “Satchmo at the Waldorf,” a one-man, three-character exploration of the famed jazz musician’s life. Involving the Beverly Arts Center, Gallery Guichard, the Logan Center for the Arts and The Promontory restaurant, among others, the festival programming includes theatrical arts, visual arts, films, scholarly symposia and music performance throughout January and February 2016.

+ The DuSable Museum of African American History is honoring the 50th anniversary of the 1967 dedication of the landmark public art mural, the “Wall of Respect” with Project RESPECT, including the ambitious recreation of the historic mural at the museum and development of educational and public programs to explore the impact of the Wall on Chicago’s history, public art and Black Arts Movement.

+ Goodman Theatre will co-produce “Learning Curve”, an immersive, site-specific theatrical journey created collaboratively by Albany Park Theater Project (APTP) and Brooklyn-based Third Rail Projects and performed by APTP’s youth ensemble. Planned for summer 2016, Learning Curve places audiences within the walls of a Chicago public high school and in the shoes of its students. It will be one of Chicago’s first immersive performances, placing audiences directly inside the story and world of the performance, and the first large-scale immersive performance anywhere to be developed with and performed by youth.

+ The Joffrey Ballet, now celebrating its 60th anniversary, is commissioning Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon to re-envision the classic ballet “The Nutcracker”for a world premiere in December 2016. Announcements in early spring will provide more information on the reimagined storyline and the artistic team creating new sets, costumes, scenery and choreography— still set to Tchaikovsky’s glorious score.

+ Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lyric Unlimited program is launching Chicago Voices community-created collaborations, new music theater pieces generated by a citywide invitation to Chicagoans to share their community stories. A social media campaign will then offer everyone the opportunity to view selections online and vote for the stories that they find most compelling for development into semi-staged readings at neighborhood venues.

+ Old Town School of Folk Music is creating a musical travelogue entitled “77 Beats,” designed to celebrate all 77 of Chicago’s ethnically-diverse neighborhoods. In consultation with community leaders, “77 Beats” will present a series of “pop-up” performances representing the music and culture of each neighborhood, paired with other cultural elements such as cuisine, visual arts and traditions in unique and unexpected locations, throughout spring, summer and fall 2016.

For more information about the Cultural Grant Program of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, please visit

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