Chicago’s Lookingglass, A Red Orchid theater companies among 2016 MacArthur grant recipients

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Eighth Blackbird poses with their trophy for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance for “Filament” during the 58th Annual Grammy Music Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 15, 2016. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP Getty Images)

Scan the Chicago cultural landscape and you will notice that in many cases it is this city’s arts organizations that have developed the best survival strategies. Buttressing their creativity and staying power are funders like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation who help ensure their long-term sustainability.

A case in point: Today, the MacArthur Foundation has awarded grants to 14 Chicago arts nonprofits. Ranging from $200,000 to $1 million each, they recognize the organizations’ “exceptional creativity and effectiveness.”

These MacArthur Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions support work in all disciplines —theater, dance, music, film and writing. And while some of the awardees are familiar with such largesse, others are celebrating their first-time recognition on such a scale. The size of each grant is scaled to the size of the organization’s overall budget.

Presented nationally since 2006, this year’s awards are notable in that the recipients have been drawn exclusively from Chicago’s arts and culture community. The organizations will use this support to build cash reserves, develop strategic plans, and upgrade technology and physical infrastructure.

In a prepared statement, MacArthur president Julia Stasch noted: “These superbly imaginative arts organizations, competitively selected, bring diverse new audiences to opera, inject storytelling into dance, create new types of music, add humor to theater classics, and even partner with jazz musicians in Cuba.”

Kareem Bandealy and Atra Asdou will star in Lookingglass Theatre’s production of “Blood Wedding. | Photo: Sean Williams)

Kareem Bandealy and Atra Asdou will star in Lookingglass Theatre’s production of “Blood Wedding. | Photo: Sean Williams)

Receiving the top grant of $1 million is Lookingglass Theatre, whose newest production, “Blood Wedding,” begins performances March 2. (“Moby Dick,” its hit from last year, will be mounted at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage next season.)

“We will use this grant with an eye towards things we want to develop for our 30th anniversary season (2017-2018) and beyond,” said the company’s newly appointed artistic director, Heidi Stillman. “We want to expand some of our existing programs as well, like our writer-in-residence program, where we hire in-company artists to come to the theater and write for a month at a time.”

This is the first such major award for A Red Orchid Theatre, a smaller company, where an acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ rarely seen play, “The Mutilated,” is running through March 13. The company’s artistic director, Kirsten Fitzgerald, admitted the phone call delivering her the news “truly took my breath away.”

“I’m elated, tearful, humbled and full of pride in our artists, our staff and our board of directors,” said Fitzgerald. “With this award, all of us at A Red Orchid Theatre look forward to developing new audiences, and getting to know our current patrons so much better — all in the service of sharing the fearless live experience that is A Red Orchid.”

A scene from the 2015 Albany Park Theatre Project production of “Feast.” | LIZ LAUREN PHOTO

A scene from the 2015 Albany Park Theatre Project production of “Feast.” | LIZ LAUREN PHOTO

The Albany Park Theater Project (APTP) will use its MacArthur Award to establish a reserve fund to ensure the long-term stability of the organization as it approaches its 20th anniversary in 2017.

“While that might not sound exciting, it is a dream come true for us,” said David Feiner, APTP’s producing artistic director. “A true operating reserve is out of reach for most small and mid-sized arts organizations, and we thought it would take us 10 years of careful budgeting to get there. We’ll also use the award to launch an Innovation Fund — the seed money that will allow us to begin dream collaborations between APTP’s teen ensemble and some of our favorite local, national, and international artists.”

Here is the complete list of the 2016 recipients of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions:

A RED ORCHID THEATRE, building new audiences for the modern stage ($200,000).

ALBANY PARK THEATER PROJECT, producing bright futures and youth-driven plays about social justice ($400,000)

CHICAGO FILM ARCHIVES, keeping Midwest history alive through film preservation ($200,000)

CHICAGO JAZZ PHILHARMONIC, pushing the boundaries of jazz and classical music ($400,000)

CHICAGO OPERA THEATER, staging fresh approaches to opera for new audiences ($800,000)

CHICAGO SINFONIETTA, building diverse classical music audiences, musicians ($625,000)

EIGHTH BLACKBIRD, creating new classical works through creative collaborations ($400,000)

HYDE PARK ART CENTER, supporting contemporary visual artists, and connecting Chicago to their work ($625,000)

LINKS HALL, supporting artistic innovation and the creation of new work ($200,000)

LOOKINGGLASS THEATRE, creating ensemble-driven, imaginative productions ($1 million)

LUCKY PLUSH PRODUCTIONS, reinventing contemporary dance through storytelling and humor ($200,000)

THE HYPOCRITES, creating immersive theater experiences around historic and original work ($200,000)

TIMELINE THEATRE, using history to bring new dimensions to today’s most pressing issues ($625,000)

YOUNG CHICAGO AUTHORS, transforming the lives of young people through creative expression ($625,000)

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