The Cure for Poor Circulation?/Randolph Street Gallery's Slight Return/Music and Dance Theatre Back to Ground Zero | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

The Cure for Poor Circulation?/Randolph Street Gallery's Slight Return/Music and Dance Theatre Back to Ground Zero 

Cash from the NEA gives New Art Examiner Kathryn Hixson and publisher Grant Samuelson reason for hope.

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The Cure for Poor Circulation?

Five years ago the New Art Examiner was fighting for its life. It even put the touch on its friends and subscribers to raise $60,000 to stay afloat. Now, with the magazine entering its 25th year this fall, the outlook is far better, though better may be a relative term. "Basically we broke even, which is a success for us," says Grant Samuelson, who was named publisher last October.

Founded in the early 70s by former Chicagoans Derek Guthrie and Jane Allen, the New Art Examiner was always a shoestring operation. But if the magazine's means were modest, its ambitions were not. Reacting against New York's domination of the art world, it sought to broadly cover the national art scene, paying attention to happenings not only in Chicago and New York but in smaller cities as well. "We're concerned with Chicago because this is where we're based," says Samuelson, "but we try to be inclusive. We'll run reviews of New York shows next to those about Montana."

The New Art Examiner is a not-for-profit organization--a full third of this year's $300,000 budget came from contributions (the rest was from earned income). While the publication has had more than its share of troubled times, Samuelson says the future looks bright. Last month he found out the National Endowment for the Arts will award the magazine the largest grant it's ever received to support its art reviews section, and paid subscriptions have climbed to 3,000 this year, up nearly 30 percent from 2,100 three years ago (this is, however, down from 4,500 in 1992). Its total circulation is 6,265. Ad pages are also up 30 percent over last year.

Though the New Art Examiner's readership is small, Samuelson says he and editor Kathryn Hixson believe the magazine speaks to the mainstream, striving, in his words, "to demystify art." He has hopes of adding 1,000 new subscribers a year over the next several years by tapping into areas where the magazine has not been aggressively marketed. "We're focusing on midwestern states like Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, but we're also interested in the Pacific Northwest."

Increasing the magazine's reach may be a tall order; some view its coverage as overly concerned with social and political topics of the day. Michael Wier of River North's Lyons-Wier & Ginsberg Gallery says, "I'm not keen on its agenda, which I feel is geared more toward political issues than art history." Yet others, including Feigen Incorporated director Lance Kinz, have seen a marked improvement. "I'm impressed by it lately," Kinz says, commenting on its recent redesign. "They've opened it up and cleaned it up and are offering writing you don't find elsewhere."

Randolph Street Gallery's Slight Return

After a three-month hiatus it appears Randolph Street Gallery has decided to reopen--but not just yet. Board member and former director Peter Taub says a fall relaunch is likely. He explains the gallery needs more time to formulate programming and to find a new executive director, and there is apparently money to pay for both.

While Randolph Street looks as if it will survive, another institution started in the 1970s, N.A.M.E., shut its doors, probably forever, in February. Efforts to revive the not-for-profit gallery under executive director Laszlo Sulyok's leadership failed, and the gallery's board managed to negotiate its way out of its lease and pay off all outstanding debts. N.A.M.E.'s archives have been packed up, and the gallery's remaining three officers are looking for a permanent place to store them.

Music and Dance Theatre

Back to Ground Zero

When the Music and Dance Theatre Chicago board announced it was scrapping its long-standing plans to build its $33 million facility at Cityfront Center, it claimed the imminent sale of the riverfront development posed too many obstacles to the successful completion of the theater. What it didn't say was that the biggest obstacle of all may have been its own business plan.

Board chairman Sandra Guthman says a clause was written into the original land sale agreement that gave Cityfront Center owners the right to approve the theater's business plan before construction could begin. When it became apparent several months ago that the development would soon change hands, the theater's board suddenly had to confront the possibility of running its plans by a new owner. Under the final deal, a consortium headed by investor Dan McLean will get the majority of Cityfront Center, while losing bidder Fred Eychaner will get plots of land on either side of the theater's original site. Eychaner got the land in the settlement of a lawsuit he filed to block the McLean group's bid. Because Eychaner controlled the land adjacent to the theater site, he would have been the one to sign off on the board's business plan, and it's not clear he would have supported the project. Some observers doubt the financial viability of the 1,500-seat theater and suggest the board may have opted to take it elsewhere rather than risk Eychaner's pulling the plug. Guthman says that's not true: "I had never thought of it that way."

The Music and Dance Theatre board has already assembled a new site selection committee, and Guthman hopes to have locations picked out within the next three months. It appears the board has its heart set on a spot downtown even though it wants one cheap. A frequently mentioned site is a vacant lot on Wabash Avenue that's part of a parcel controlled by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for its Symphony Center project. A DePaul University source confirms that discussions are already underway between the university and symphony executives about constructing a high-rise facility there that would include condominiums, offices, classrooms, a recital hall, and a theater. For now the Music and Dance Theatre's struggle at Cityfront Center is over, but the new facility may be a long time coming.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Kathryn Hixson and Grant Samuelson photo by Nathan Mandell.

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