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Albany Park’s Burgeoning Arts and Cultural Scene Flourishes in a Community that is Enthusiastic and Welcoming
Chicago’s Albany Park and Irving Park neighborhoods have emerged as a growing hub of arts and cultural activity during the past few years, pleasing residents and the arts groups who view the area as fertile ground for creative expression. The area offers relatively inexpensive real estate, the neighborhoods are home to a vibrant, culturally diverse population, and the explosion of exciting new restaurants all add to the attractiveness of Albany Park and Irving Park as a place where arts and cultural can flourish. The area also taps the creativity of young people to build an identity as an aesthetically pleasing and entertaining place to live in and visit.
“The arts scene in Albany Park and surrounding neighborhoods is an increasingly collective effort among residents, businesses and the arts groups,” said Thomas Applegate, Executive Director of the North River Commission. “The area offers many advantages to arts and cultural organizations who are looking to establish a home base and the community is eagerly embracing them.”
Attractively priced real estate is a plus for Albany Park’s arts organizations Many growing arts organizations need to keep costs down as they build their audience, and Albany Park’s relatively low rental rates make the area attractive. Available storefronts enable organizations to set up shop quickly. The community has responded favorably to groups who have located in the area and surrounding businesses are finding creative ways to showcase their performances and works.
Windy City Playhouse, located at 3014 W. Irving Park Road (www.windycityplayhouse.com) , is a three-year old professional theater company that didn’t have an official space until 2015 when it opened its main stage performance space in Albany Park. The new theater is cost effective and provides the opportunity to make performances accessible to a wide diversity of people.
“We considered ourselves to be arts pioneers in Irving Park, and we were pleasantly surprised by the response of the neighborhood and the business owners. The community is very vibrant and has been thrilled to have us,” said Evelyn Jacoby, Windy City Playhouse’s Managing Director.
Windy City Playhouse presents contemporary, relevant plays in a fun, uplifting, and immersive way. “While about a third of our audience is made up of traditional theater goers from around Chicago, we are also reaching people who may not typically go to the theater, she said. “We’re doing that by offering a more casual, less formal theater experience. Windy City Playhouse is an “audience first” theater company—it’s all about the audience experience.”
Jacoby believes that the area is only at the beginning of its expansion as a cultural center and the future is promising. “Right now, the art scene in Albany Park is small but mighty. We’ve made a long-term investment in being part of its growth. We see that as the arts, dining and nightlife opportunities grow in Albany Park and Irving Park, people from the neighborhood increasingly want to frequent their local venues rather than travel to other neighborhoods.”
The theater company also offers master classes led by Chicago’s top agents, casting directors and artists. In 2017, Windy City Playhouse launched The Sandbox, which presents readings of theatrical works that are free and open to the public.
Another group that is important to the arts community is 2nd Story (www.2ndstory.com), a unique 19-year old network of storytellers who elevate the impact of their stories by offering theatrically presented live events in and around Chicago. They perform in venues of all sizes, and also offer workshops and classes. Each performance consists of several stories dispersed throughout the evening.
2nd Story opened its organizational home in 2016 at 3001 W. Lawrence in Albany Park. Here they received a warm welcome. “The first thing we experienced was curiosity,” said Lauren Sivak, 2nd Story’s Managing Director. “Residents were really interested to know what we did and how they could help.”
Sivak explained that having a permanent storefront space is important for building traffic and creating interest; 2nd Story also has hosted pop-up performances there. 2nd Story produces more than 30 events every season and facilitates more than 145 artistic collaborations. Sivak also praised the alderman, Deb Mell, for her active support and stated that local real estate owners have recognized the importance of filling their properties with a wider variety of tenants.
Albany Park’s growing and supportive restaurant scene is another advantage for arts and cultural groups. “One way to grow awareness of our programs is to partner with local businesses to host pop-up performances,” said Sivak. “We hope to perfom at venues such as Nighthawk Coffee Bar & Tavern (4744 N. Kimball; www.nighthawkchicago.com) and find ways to partner with Bikes N’ Roses, a local bike shop (4747 N. Sawyer; www.bikesnroses.org), who already host open mic and poetry readings. Theater goers appreciate having great dining available pre- and post-performance, and the rapid growth of new, chef-driven independent restaurants in the area—ranging from casual to fine-dining—helps make the Albany Park and Irving Park area an attractive destination for Chicagoans.
Dance also is a growing aspect of the Albany Park cultural scene. One such example is Dovetail Studios, located at 2853 W. Montrose (www.dovetail-studios.com). This 6,000 square-foot dance space offers a full schedule of classes in a variety of styles for children, young adults, adults and professional dancers. Dovetail’s multi-style approach meshes well with the area’s culturally diverse population.
Visual Arts are alive and well in Albany Park and Irving Park Albany Park’s arts and cultural scene transcends the performing arts, as the visual arts are also thriving. There are many young, up and coming artists who live and work in the area. One notable artist who calls Albany Park home is Thomas Melvin (www.thomasmelvin.com), a nationally acclaimed commissioned artist who specializes in original large-form murals and decorative paintings and has been in business for 40 years. His work is found in businesses, residences, museums, schools and other public institutions.
His studio exemplifies another reason that Albany Park and Irving Park are attractive areas for artists—the availability of large work spaces. He was looking for large studio space with north facing windows—artists prefer that—and found an old department store at 3243 W. Lawrence that perfectly fit the bill. “The building has beautiful windows on the top floor and 13 ft. by 55 ft. painting walls,” said Melvin. “I rent half the floor and share the space with three additional artists—Ken Minami, Josh Brown and Carmen Chami—who are excellent artists in their own right.”
The second floor and half of the top floor of his building are available to rent, Melvin noted.
Melvin’s work can be seen at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Field Museum, as well as a recently completed 41 ft. by 400 ft. mural on the south face of the E-2 Apartments parking structure at 1890 Maple Street in Evanston.
Melvin’s wife, Nancy, maintains a studio in the top floor of their residence. She is a textile designer and Lazure color glaze artist, and her fine handwork is marketed at Union Hand Made at 3860 N. Lincoln Avenue.
Melvin emphasizes that the area is terrific for artists because it’s affordable and large spaces exist—an important virtue because it’s getting expensive for artists to survive. He advises artists that they should be willing to build out their space themselves and must convince landlords that artist space a good way to reinvigorate properties that are underutilized.
Two other artists of note in Albany Park are Oli Watt of Free Range Gallery at 3257 W. Lawrence Avenue and Matthew and Magdalena Almy at The Ravenswood Atelier, located at 3009 W. Lawrence.
Two other important Albany Park institutions for artists are Chicago Canvas and Supply, located at 3719 W. Lawrence (www.chicagocanvas.com) , a major supplier of theatrical and artist canvas and muslin, drop cloths and tarpaulins, and Artisan Handprints, at 4234 North Pulaski (www.artisanhandprints.com), a highly respected silk screen printer of custom, artist-designed wallpaper.
Tapping young people as a resource for arts and cultural development Many of Albany Park’s arts leaders point to the area’s young people as an important resource for building a more vibrant cultural scene. The Albany Park Theater Project (www.aptp.org) , founded in 1997, gives young people the opportunity to write and produce plays that tell real-life stories which are honest, intelligent and inspirational. The group has premiered 19 plays and created Albany Park’s first performing arts space, the Laura Wiley Theater at Eugene Field Park.
Another way that the area has tapped its young people to energize its arts and cultural scene is by giving them the skills and opportunities to create attractive public spaces that serve as venues and community gathering places. Territory NFP (www.territorychicago.org ), led by Helen Slade, is a not-for-profit organization that partners with community organizations and businesses to give young people aged 14-21, including youth at risk, a variety of civic-minded opportunities to design compelling spaces that benefit the entire neighborhood. “We think of it as civic engagement through urban design,” said Slade.
Through the organization’s design studio programs, which are funded by After School Matters and others, young people learn about and practice urban design, public art and community planning in the neighborhoods where they live and learn.
In 2011, the group received funding to design a safe space for teenagers to hang out after school along Lawrence Avenue. “We created a design studio where the young people could design things to benefit the neighborhood,” said Slade.
One important project underway currently is the “People Spot” being built at Spaulding and Lawrence. Territory Urban Design worked with the North River Commission, SSA, the 33rd Ward Office and various government agencies to obtain the funding needed to create the space.
Because Territory Urban Design is focused on civic engagement, they are ready to work with building owners to create interesting public spaces that will benefit the community at large.
Albany Park’s future as a cultural hub is bright, with many more untapped opportunities in sight. “The thriving and growing arts scene in the Albany Park and Irving Park neighborhoods mixes long-established artists, organizations and institutions with the arrival of new artists,” said the North River Commission’s Applegate. “Artistic expression is a wonderful way to exchange and understand our immense cultural diversity in Albany Park. We embrace and celebrate difference among each other, and the arts help to bind us all together as strong, supportive communities. Artists, organizations, and people who love the arts should all make their way to Albany Park and Irving Park soon to experience the vibrancy for themselves.”
North River Commission (3403 W. Lawrence Ave., Suite 201, Chicago, IL 60625; 773-478-0202) is the nonprofit community and economic development corporation for the northwest side of Chicago, from the Chicago River to Cicero and Addison to Devon. Founded in 1962 by concerned residents and neighborhood institutions, NRC unites more than 100 civic associations, businesses, schools, institutions and places of worship to improve the quality of life in the community by creating affordable housing, quality education, arts & cultural endeavors, open spaces, and thriving neighborhood businesses. North River Commission operates the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce as part of its economic development strategy. Learn more about the NRC at northrivercommission.org and follow their news on Twitter @NRCchicago and on Facebook.
The Albany Park Chamber of Commerce supports, advocates for and promotes its members and local businesses in the Albany Park, Irving Park, Mayfair, and North Park business districts. The Chamber provides resources that strengthen and physically improve area businesses. It attracts new businesses and investment to the community. It beautifies the commercial districts to further stimulate development and to enhance culture, dining, shopping and entertainment on Chicago's northwest side. Learn more at albanyparkchamber.org and follow their news on Twitter @AlbanyPkChamber and on Facebook.
"I never met a theater I couldn't conquer" -- Richard Jay-Alexander
Dear Linda - this new story features the nationally renowned director/producer from the worlds of Broadway, world concert tours, theaters and television. We think your audience will love learning about this upcoming no-holds-barred evening of conversation about some of the famous stars he has worked with and his insights into the entertainment industry (happens next week, Thursday, Oct. 26). May we pique your interest in a news item? The press release is below, and at this link (web-view).
News Travels Fast
"Bringing together A-listers and influencers for thought-provoking conversations."
He has been called the “Diva Whisperer” for his legendary success directing and producing some of the world's most beloved stars, including Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Julie Andrews, Kristin Chenoweth, and more. Miami Beach welcomes renowned Director/Producer Richard Jay-Alexander for a no-holds-barred evening, launching the new series called "A conversation with . . ." The inaugural event features Richard alongside his friend of 30 years,Lee Brian Schrager, at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU on Thursday, October 26, from 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Richard’s 42-year career in show business, Broadway, and television, means the event promises a singular and memorable experience for South Florida audiences. At the October 26 event the audience will be invited to participate in a question-and-answer session with Richard and Lee (who are promising some surprises).
Kristin Chenoweth & Richard Jay-Alexander (during rehearsals for her recent tour)
Reservations required in advance for A conversation with Richard Jay-Alexander and Lee Brian Schrager, happening on Thursday, Oct. 26 at 7:00 p.m. To purchase tickets, call 786-972-3175 or visit https://secure.qgiv.com/for/jmoffiu/event/786238/ . The museum is located in the heart of Miami Beach's historic Art Deco District, at 301 Washington Ave. Admission for non members is $25. Free admission for museum members (at the $125 membership level and above - all other museum members $18), and free admission to FIU Students with valid ID. Some of the upcoming A-listers for this new series at the museum will include Hollywood's Brett Ratner and Billy Corben, both slated for January.
"Our new season is a real game-changer, as we continue to redefine the role of the museum for the 21st century," said Susan Gladstone, the Director of the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU. "Our audiences are growing and they are helping to define this community destination in transformative ways, as a place where new and different experiences shape the cultural landscape."
Bette Midler & Richard Jay-Alexander
"I never met a theater I couldn't conquer" -- Richard Jay-Alexander
He has produced and directed major shows in just about every venue in the world, including Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House and endless nightclubs, concert halls and stadiums, and national television specials on PBS.
Richard recently co-directed (along with Ms. Streisand), Barbra’s most recent tour: THE MUSIC … THE MEM’RIES … THE MAGIC, which was filmed in Miami at the American Airlines Arena and will premiere for streaming on NETFLIX later this year.
Richard Jay-Alexander & Bernadette Peters
Richard Jay-Alexander, Julie Andrews & Cameron Mackintosh (in New York, during rehearsals for Putting it Together at the Manhattan Theatre Club)
"He has been called the
Richard proudly serves on the Executive Board of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and is passionate about animals, especially adoption and no-kill shelters.
He makes South Florida his home and has lived here for the past 25 years, while traveling hopping the globe, working.
The first event for this new series also features Lee Brian Schrager, Festival Director and Executive Director of Food Network/Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
Lee will interview Richard on stage and the two raconteurs are planning some special surprises for the audience that evening.
Kristin Chenoweth & Richard Jay-Alexander
A spectacular new series is launching in Miami Beach . . .
More about Richard Jay-Alexander:
Richard Jay-Alexander celebrates 42 years in show business, having moved to New York City in the fall of 1975. He started as an actor/singer/ dancer and made his Broadway debut in the Luis Valdez play Zoot Suit which opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1979. He was also in the Original Broadway Cast of Amadeus alongside Ian McKellen and Tim Curry, and worked on Song and Dance with Bernadette Peters and the revival of OLIVER! with Ron Moody and Patti LuPone.
He is widely known for his 12 years working with Cameron Mackintosh, as Executive Director of his North American Company and staged eleven productions of Les Miserables, as well as serving as Executive Producer for The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Five Guys Named Moe, and Stephen Sondheim’s Putting it Together, which starred Julie Andrews, presented at The Manhattan Theater Club.
He entered the recording industry via cast albums and has worked with some of the greatest artists in the world today, both in the studio and on concert stages. Those artists include Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Ricky Martin, Lea Salonga, Bernadette Peters, Kristin Chenoweth, Betty Buckley, Donny & Marie, Johnny Mathis, Il Divo, Il Volo, Lea Michele, Norm Lewis, Brian Stokes-Mitchell, Deborah Voigt, and the late Polly Bergen among them.
Richard has also done a number of television commercials, music videos, film work, awards shows, benefits and PBS specials, working in just about every venue in the world, including Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House and endless nightclubs, concert halls and stadiums. He proudly serves on the Executive Board of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids and is passionate about animals, especially adoption and no-kill shelters.
He makes Miami Beach his home and has lived here for the past 25 years, while traveling hopping the globe, working. Richard is of Latin descent (his Mom was Cuban and his Dad Spanish American) He just finished directing the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, LA MUSA Awards, founded by Desmond Child and Rudy Perez, celebrating their 5th year, which was filmed and will be televised later this season.
Richard also co-directed (with Ms. Streisand), Barbra’s recent tour: THE MUSIC … THE MEM’RIES … THE MAGIC, which was filmed in Miami at the American Airlines Arena and will be available for streaming on NETFLIX later this year.
Portrait of Richard by the artist Robert W. Richards
Richard in South Beach (Circa 1990) singing in the storefront window of Meet Me in Miami
Richard in Havana (1958)
Ricky Martin & Richard Jay-Alexander - Photo by Joan Marcus (Les Miserables on Broadway)
Richard Jay-Alexander (photo by Henry Perez)
Richard Jay-Alexander, Nell Carter and Lee Brian Schrager
More about Lee Brian Schrager:
Lee Brian Schrager is the Senior Vice President, Communications & Corporate Social Responsibility at Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, LLC.
He is widely recognized for his creation of both the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach and New York City Wine & Food Festivals, which together have raised more than $35 million to date for charity.
He is the author of three cookbooks, the most recent of which, America’s Best Breakfasts (Clarkson Potter), was released in April 2016. He is a regular contributor for Ocean Drive magazine and serves on the Board of Trustees for the Pérez Art Museum Miami and Board of Directors for Food Bank For New York City.
Lee Brian Schrager
Shanice, Richard Jay-Alexander & Ruba Wilson
Richard Jay-Alexander, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler & Toni Basil
Rudy Perez & Richard Jay-Alexander
Richard Jay-Alexander & Lee Brian Schrager
ABOUT THE JEWISH MUSEUM OF FLORIDA-FIU
The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU serves as a major cultural attraction and source of information for a wide audience of residents, tourists, students and scholars of all ages and backgrounds from throughout the state, nation, and the world. Located in a former synagogue that housed Miami Beach's first Jewish congregation, the museum's restored 1936 Art Deco building and 1929 original synagogue are both on the National Register of Historic Places. The 301 building features nearly 80 stained glass windows, a copper dome, marble bimah and many Art Deco features including chandeliers and sconces. The Jewish Museum of Florida is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed on Mondays and holidays. Admission: Adults $6; Seniors $5; Families $12; Members and children under 6 always free; Saturdays-Free. For more information call 305-672-5044 or visit www.jmof.fiu.edu.