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Headlining 2008: The Chicago Cultural Outlook

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 3, 2008 7:20PM

The biggest cultural stories of 2008 are likely less predictable than this week’s Rose Bowl. Every year we see our share of breakout artists and surprising storefront gems, and 2008 promises to be no different. But 2007 left some unfinished business and we’re eager to see how these stories play out:

Stingy in Springfield
Blago’s veto of the FY08 State budget reduced Illinois Arts Council funding by 30%. And a trickle-down economics of pain proceeds: arts nonprofits feel the pain, opportunities evaporate, some companies go out of business, and school-based programs are scaled back or eliminated entirely. The Illinois Arts Alliance and their allies are rallying to restore the cuts in the upcoming session, but these efforts will likely be overshadowed by the CTA mess.

Forever Free and Clear?
2008_01_ccm.jpgOut of the blue, The Chicago Children's Museum announced plans to construct a new home in Grant Park, a plan at odds with the plot’s designation as a “Public Ground — A Common to Remain Forever Open, Clear and Free of any Buildings, or other Obstruction Whatever.” Mayor Daley got behind it and the architects promised a modest, mostly underground design … you'll hardly know it's there, honest! Thoughtful debate and typical name-calling followed. Then just as quickly, the story receded from view. Daley’s endorsement hardly makes this a done deal, and influential folk have lined up on both sides. Does the mayor, and like-minded aldermen, expend further political capital to mitigate the shitstorm? Or does the museum find a less contentious piece of valuable real estate?

2008_01_housesparrow.jpgWill Success Spoil The House Theatre?
We love these kids, really we do. But the hype machine was cranked to 11 for their most successful and longest running production to date, "The Sparrow." Broadway in Chicago championed the energetic, inventive troupe, showering them with cash and granting the show an extended run at the Apollo. The inevitable, but not yet warranted, comparisons to the Steppenwolf ensued. Among critics and theater bloggers, battle lines were drawn: Are House residents brilliant young dramatists or flashy, shallow practitioners? Back in the real world, The Viaduct Theater declined to renew The House's lease. Their holiday hit adaptation of "The Nutcracker" moved to the Steppenwolf upstairs space, raising the company’s profile further and amassing new converts.

Chicago’s “it” company is sure to find a new home and continue raking in the donations. Artistically, we can only hope they produce more Magnificents and less Hope Springs Infernals.

Funny how?
Chicago's long been a pipeline to the big time for serious comic talent, with Second City and iO sending writers and actors to Saturday Night Live, Conan O'Brien, 30 Rock, and MADtv. But the WGA strike drags on, suspending production of all those shows (Conan excepted), and pretty much anything scripted and broadcast on a plasma screen near you. Someday an agreement will be reached, allowing mainstage players to resume their dreams of the big fat paycheck. In the short term, we hope they'll focus less on The Big Time and more on the big-time funny.

Images via Krueck and Sexton and Michael Brosilow