Thursday, December 10, 2020

Gene Siskel Film Center's 26th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival surpasses goals; a "balm for viewers"





•Attendance, audience engagement, and box office revenue 

more than double any month since going virtual

•A “balm” for viewers, boone for Film Center

•BHFF Audience Awards Announced; Chicago filmmaker honored



Chicago—The Gene Siskel Film Center’s 26th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival, presented virtually between November 6 through 30, surpassed the Gene Siskel Film Center’s sales goals for the festival and generated more than double the attendance and box office revenue of any month since the Film Center launched its virtual “Film Center from Your Sofa” platform in April. 


The festival, which tells the stories and explores the images, heritage, and history of the full-range of the Black experience, surpassed its box office goal by 61% through sales of individual tickets and festival passes. Festival attendance totalled 1400 people, with 32,950 page views of the Black Harvest Film Festival home page


In keeping with festival tradition, the Film Center’s Opening Night “Black Harvest Feast,” featuring a “sampling” of several short films--plus video messages from the filmmakers, festival organizers, and honorary co-chairs Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and First Lady Amy Eshleman--generated the most ticket sales and viewers. The shorts program, “Love African American Style,” featuring tales of the ups-and-downs of Black romantic relationships, was second, followed by Chicago filmmaker (and former Film Center projectionist) Ashley O’Shay’s documentary, UNAPOLOGETIC, which follows two young abolitionist organizers, as they work within the Movement for Black Lives.

The Black Harvest Audience Award, announced on Closing Night, went to the two films that received the highest ratings from viewers, on a one-to-five scale. The feature award winner was THUMBS UP FOR MOTHER UNIVERSE: THE LONNIE HOLLEY STORY by director George King; and the short film recipient was SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLUE by Chicago director Stephanie James. 


“The Black Harvest Film Festival was the perfect balm to a turbulent year; for a month, festival goers came together in joy to celebrate stories that are seldom seen in the mainstream media,” said Executive Director Jean de St. Aubin, in a letter to email subscribers and sponsors. She also expressed gratitude for “the small but mighty team at the Film Center,” as well as the Black Harvest Community Council--an advocacy group for the festival--for their hard work and commitment to the success of the festival during a pandemic. 


Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, who served as an honorary co-chair of the festival, along with First Lady Amy Eshleman, said in a statement, “If these past seven months have shown us anything, it’s that, during trying times, we can turn to the arts and storytelling to find meaning and understanding. Events such as the Black Harvest Film Festival are what make Chicago a thriving, multicultural city.”


Sergio Mims, Black Harvest Film Festival Consultant and co-founder of the festival noted the desire to see Black life reflected in art. “We’ve been here for 26 years--but now, more than ever, there is a hunger and a need for people to see a full range of Black stories and experiences reflected on the screen. We’d prefer to show them on the big screen--but a TV or computer screen from the comfort of home can suffice.”


Moving the 26-year-old festival to a virtual platform required a buy-in from the filmmakers.


Director of Programming Barbara Scharres said, "Filmmakers were fully onboard with the idea, even very enthusiastic. Being virtual meant that we had greater latitude for planning Q&As, panels and workshops travel and all the related arrangements. Our offerings of admission-free events that provide for viewer participation increased substantially. One bonus was that we were able to offer nearly all of the Black Harvest programs for a two-week streaming period, with the potential to capture more audiences over a period of time. We also benefited from one of the key advantages of streaming: our audience can watch at their convenience on the device of their choice."



Black Harvest Community Council Co-chair Troy Pryor noted that the ease of the virtual connections allowed filmmakers from all over to come together and “meet” in ways that were previously impossible. He said, “I moderated several virtual panels during the festival, including one with three filmmakers who all happened to live in Harlem but didn’t know each other before the Q&A. Now, they’re planning socially distanced walks in the neighborhood and cross promotional posts on social media. Ironically, the fully-online festival brought people--both filmmakers and viewers--together in a time of social distancing.”



The festival streamed the Chicago premieres of 10 feature films and 44 shorts celebrating the Black experience. Other festival highlights included:

  • Three free panel discussions: Who Tells the Story, How To Get Your Movie Made, and How Culture and Film Move Movements

  • Acting/monologue workshop by actor/filmmaker/Black Harvest Community Council member Harold Dennis

  • Virtual industry networking event 

  • Twelve virtual Q&As with over 30 filmmakers

  • An Opening Night welcome video from honorary festival co-chairs Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and First Lady Amy Eshelman

  • Presentation of the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Black Harvest Film Festival Prize to Nelson Foix for his short film, YOUR KID

  • The inaugural Fresh Perspectives, a free program highlighting works from Chicago youth, including a conversation with the young filmmakers

  • Presentation of the Gene Siskel Film Center Legacy Award to Jacqueline Stewart 

  • Virtual gallery tour highlighting Chicago’s visual artists

  • Closing Night tribute to Chadwick Boseman

  • New this year: sale of Black Harvest Film Festival merchandise, designed by Black artist Rachel S. Gadson, founder of ILA Creative Studio, LLC, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting Sista Afya Community Mental Wellness


About the Black Harvest Film Festival

Each year since 1994, the Gene Siskel Film Center has presented the annual Black Harvest Film Festival, the midwest’s largest- and longest-running Black film festival. Celebrated as one of the largest Black festivals in the world, and the only month-long Black film festival in the midwest, the Black Harvest Film Festival is a celebration of independent films that tell the stories and explore the images, heritage, and history of the full-range of Black experience. The Black Harvest Film Festival features Chicago premieres of features, documentaries, and shorts; filmmaker appearances; panel discussions; and special events. The Black Harvest Film Festival supports the Gene Siskel Film Center’s ongoing mission to present inclusive and insightful programming.


“The Black Harvest Film Festival not only nurtures and showcases the talent of Black filmmakers and actors in Chicago and around the world but also presents a diversity of stories and perspectives on the Black experience. We believe film is a powerful catalyst for dialogue, empathy and growth and that this spotlight on and amplification of Black voices has never been more important,” said Jean de St. Aubin, Executive Director of the Gene Siskel Film Center.


Allstate, BMO Harris, ComEd, Gilead Sciences Inc., Locke Lord LLC, The Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Foundation, Felicia Middlebrooks, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, the CityArts Grant, WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, NBC 5 Chicago, and the Chicago Reader generously provided funding for this year’s festival. 


About the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago 

Since 1972, the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has presented cutting edge cinema to an annual audience of 85,000. The Film Center’s programming includes annual film festivals that celebrate diverse voices and international cultures, premieres of trailblazing work by today’s independent filmmakers, restorations and revivals of essential films from cinema history, and insightful provocative discussions with filmmakers and media artists. Altogether, the Film Center hosts over 1,500 screenings and 200 filmmaker appearances every year. The Film Center was renamed the Gene Siskel Film Center in 2000 after the late, nationally celebrated film critic, Gene Siskel. Visit to learn more and find out what’s playing today.


About the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

For more than 150 years, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has been a leader in educating the world’s most influential artists, designers, and scholars. Located in downtown Chicago with a fine arts graduate program ranked number two by U.S. News and World Report, SAIC provides an interdisciplinary approach to art and design as well as world-class resources, including the Art Institute of Chicago museum, on-campus galleries, and state-of-the-art facilities. SAIC’s undergraduate, graduate, and post-baccalaureate students have the freedom to take risks and create the bold ideas that transform Chicago and the world—as seen through notable alumni and faculty such as Michelle Grabner, David Sedaris, Elizabeth Murray, Richard Hunt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Cynthia Rowley, Nick Cave, and LeRoy Neiman. Learn more at


Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Mayor Lightfoot and DCASE Recognize 50 Outstanding Young Artists (Chicago, IL.)




Tribute video premiering December 10 will recognize 50 outstanding young artists in music, theatre, dance, and the visual, media, and literary arts


  Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, First Lady Amy Eshleman and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) are pleased to announce the 2020 Rising Star Honor Roll presented by Allstate. Fifty outstanding young artists will be recognized for their creative leadership and exceptional artistic talents with a tribute video premiering on Thursday, December 10 at 3 p.m. CST at The 10-minute video features a “Year of Chicago Music” performance by the Grammy Award-winning producer and artist Peter CottonTale and includes remarks by two of this year’s Rising Stars: tap dancer Alexandrya Fryson and musician Diego Lucero. The full list of 2020 Rising Star honorees and nominating organizations follows – and is posted at


“We’re thrilled to congratulate each of the 50 young artists being honored this year,” said Mayor Lightfoot and First Lady Amy Eshleman. “What makes Chicago’s arts scene so distinctive is the diversity of our people and their stories. As Rising Star artists, these young people are authors of our Chicago story. Their energy, creativity, and hopeful perspective will help to craft our city’s future.”


Presented annually, Rising Star honorees are nominated by their mentors from Chicago-area arts organizations, school arts programs and community organizations in music, theatre, dance, visual arts, media arts, and literary arts. In 2020, the City of Chicago and Allstate honored 15 more young people than in past years due to an overwhelming number of nominations and in support of the Mayor and First Lady’s new citywide youth initiative, “My CHI. My Future.” In addition to the tribute video premiering on December 10, Allstate and the Chicago Sun-Times will profile several other Rising Stars throughout the month of December. 


“We are shining a light on the immense artistic talent of Chicago’s young people,” said DCASE Commissioner Mark Kelly. “We celebrate this year’s Rising Stars as the artists and arts leaders of the future. They inspire other young people to take a creative path.”


2020 Rising Star Honorees and Nominating Organizations


Lamari Banks

Nominated by Chicago Public Library YOUmedia for honor in Visual Arts


Lilia Benavides Medina

Nominated by the After School Matters Advanced Drawing and Painting Program at Theodore Roosevelt High School for honor in Visual Arts


Aaron Bergante

Nominated by the Chicago Public Schools Advanced Arts Program in Animation and Sequential Arts for honor in Visual Arts


Mya Corral

Nominated by the After School Matters Advanced Drawing and Painting Program at Gallery 37 for honor in Visual Arts


Ines Dombele

Nominated by The People's Music School for honor in Music


Jawuan Durant

Nominated by Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education for honor in Music


Dennis Evans

Nominated by Chicago Public Library YOUmedia for honor in Music


Jaime Flores

Nominated by Territory for honor in Visual Arts


Karina Flores

Nominated by SkyART for honor in Visual Arts


Samantha Franco

Nominated by the Chicago Public Schools Advanced Arts Program in Drawing and Painting for honor in Visual Arts


Alexandrya Fryson

Nominated by M.A.D.D. Rhythms for honor in Dance


Saint Gates

Nominated by the Lyric Opera of Chicago EmpowerYouth! Program for honor in Music


Esmeralda Gutierrez

Nominated by the After School Matters Comic Book Art Studio Program at George Washington High School for honor in Visual Arts


Shannon Harvey

Nominated by Musical Arts Institute for honor in Music


Aaliyah Haynes

Nominated by the University of Chicago Arts + Public Life Green Line Performing Arts Center for honor in Theatre


Mia Herrin

Nominated by Collaboraction Theatre Company for honor in Theatre


Danielle Hester

Nominated by the After School Matters TV Broadcast Program at Percy L. Julian High School for honor in Media Arts


Kyla Hubbard

Nominated by True Star Media for honor in Media Arts


Fionn Hui

Nominated by Chicago Architecture Center for honor in Visual Arts


Ahmad Hunter

Nominated by The Chicago High School for the Arts for honor in Visual Arts


Terry Jones

Nominated by Marwen for honor in Visual Arts


Dorcas Keme

Nominated by CircEsteem for honor in Theatre


Londyn LaGon-Green

Nominated by Lyric Opera of Chicago for honor in Dance


Daniela Lopez

Nominated by Little Kids Rock for honor in Music


Diego Lucero

Nominated by Urban Gateways for honor in Music


Javier Martinez

Nominated by Merit School of Music for honor in Music


Hugh Maxey

Nominated by the Chicago Public Schools All-City Performing Arts Jazz Ensemble for honor in Music


Laila May

Nominated by Hyde Park School of Dance for honor in Dance


Isamary Medina

Nominated by Puerto Rican Arts Alliance for honor in Music


Mia Mendoza

Nominated by ArtSmart for honor in Music


Emerie Moreno

Nominated by The Chicago Cuatro Orchestra Project for honor in Music


Rafael Noriega

Nominated by Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras for honor in Music


Makari Patterson

Nominated by Joffrey Ballet for honor in Dance


Matthew Ramos

Nominated by Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education for honor in Theatre


Janet Rios

Nominated by the Lyric Opera of Chicago High School Choir Residency Program for honor in Music


Maleah Ristau

Nominated by The Art Institute of Chicago for honor in Media Arts


Aria Robinson

Nominated by Guitars Over Guns Organization for honor in Music


Isaiah Robinson

Nominated by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for honor in Visual Arts


Nikita Sekhar

Nominated by Chicago Children's Choir for honor in Music


Harmoni Smith

Nominated by the BandWith All-Star Band Program for honor in Music


Rashad Smith

Nominated by the BandWith Drumline Program for honor in Music


Francesca Stewart

Nominated by Marillac St. Vincent Family Services for honor in Music


Mimi Thran

Nominated by the After School Matters Glass Mosaics Program at Gallery 37 for honor in Visual Arts


Ash Vasquez

Nominated by Yollocalli Arts Reach of the National Museum of Mexican Art for honor in Visual Arts


Litzy Villalobos

Nominated by Music of the Baroque for honor in Music


Charlie Voyda

Nominated by the Chicago Public Schools Advanced Arts Program in Photography for honor in Media Arts


Jonah Weber

Nominated by The Chicago High School for the Arts for honor in Literary Arts


Zachary Webster

Nominated by Free Spirit Media for honor in Media Arts


Daina Wilson

Nominated by Lyric Opera of Chicago for honor in Theatre


Jerry Wilson

Nominated by Forward Momentum Chicago and After School Matters for honor in Dance


About the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events:

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events is dedicated to enriching Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy. This includes fostering the development of Chicago’s non-profit arts sector, independent working artists and for-profit arts businesses; providing a framework to guide the City’s future cultural and economic growth, via the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan; marketing the City’s cultural assets to a worldwide audience; and presenting high-quality, free and affordable cultural programs for residents and visitors.


Editorial Announcement >> Mira Lehr Confronts 2020 with New Planetary Visions and Takes Us Forward Beyond Boundaries


Extended through Feb. 6 - Planetary Visions!

Bold new series of work created during the pandemic quarantine.

On Mira Lehr's 60th anniversary of founding one the first artist co-ops for women artists in America, in 1960.

Mira Lehr: Planetary Visions from Spaceship Earth

Virtual Tour: Online Initiatives for Worldwide Digital Viewing

Extended through January 16th at Rosenbaum Contemporary


Mira Lehr Confronts 2020 with New Planetary Visions and Takes Us Forward Beyond Boundaries 


During the pandemic quarantine this year, the celebrated artist Mira Lehr has created more work now than ever before in her six decades of artmaking. Her new series, called Planetary Visions, represents a bold departure for the artist.

She has been invited to present a solo exhibition featuring this new series at Rosenbaum Contemporary gallery in Boca Raton, Florida (November 16 - January 16).

The gallery has launched online initiatives to allow art lovers from all over the world to experience Lehr’s new work across digital platforms. 

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of Lehr’s visionary founding of Continuum, one of America’s first women artist co-ops which she pioneered in 1960.

“This is a major turning point for humanity. Because of the global pandemic, for the first time in human history, the entire population of the planet is thinking about the same problems ─ and grasping for the same solutions,” says Mira Lehr.

“Together, we can meet this challenge and use this time to transcend across borders and places, with a unified vision for the world. We must now work together to address global problems without thoughts of artificial separations between human beings.” 

What This Earth Does Not Remember, I and II, by Mira Lehr, from the new series Planetary Visions (acrylic, ink, gunpowder, ignited fuses, burned and dyed Japanese paper, and handwriting on canvas), 2020.

“The title Planetary Visions refers to the need for all of us to remain focused on this shared vision that we need. We are a one-world landmass island, surrounded by water, flying across the galaxy on our Spaceship Earth. What happens in one part of our world affects all of us, and the pandemic proves this like never before,” adds Mira Lehr.  

A Mystic Silence that Cannot Engage, Mira Lehr, (acrylic, ink, burned & dyed Japanese paper, handwriting, on canvas), 2020.

"Planetary Visions also refers to the mythical places featured on some of these newer paintings, my visions of environmental flash-points happening around the globe,” adds Lehr. “While these are all imaginary places that I envisioned as an armchair traveler during the pandemic, the climate issues depicted are very real: rising seas, air pollution, global warming, and more. 

These issues also point back to the pandemic. Each invented place represents different climate challenges that are alarming, and time is running out for our planet Earth.”

She ignites gunpowder fuses across the landmasses to create the visual effect of fuses from a ticking time-bomb.

“I feel the need to explore new creative pathways now. To create new imagery of imaginary places and events in nature, creating poetic visions of the earth and as a result, a more inventive and carefree approach has taken over my work,” says Lehr. 

“My previous work was more part of a certain tradition in abstraction. These new works are original visions, and it feels like they are coming from a different place, more spiritual perhaps. Replaced by more of a subject matter and a narrative, about the planet and these visions.

I feel this is all new. I have no way to analyze it, this is just different.” 

“It feels like I no longer have art history sitting on my shoulders

and watching what I am doing.

I am more of an explorer now,” says Lehr.

Ancient Secret Map, by Mira Lehr (burned Japanese paper, ignited gunpowder, ink, thread and pins on canvas), 2020.

“So many friends have expressed their loneliness, boredom and frustrations at this time, with the quarantine. I understand, and I empathize,” says Lehr. “For me, however, I experienced a surge of new ideas and concepts while alone during the quarantine."

"This time of concern about the earth has changed everything,

and I don’t think the planet will ever be the same again.

We’re on the brink of making it ─ or not making it.”

"There has been more time to reflect, experiment and dream in my studio sanctuary. Being alone, without the comings and goings of normal times, has opened up new worlds for me."

Embrace I, by Mira Lehr (burned and dyed Japanese paper, ignited fuses, ink and acrylic on raw canvas), 2020.

According to Lehr, “My paintings have become darker, more mysterious. Encased in a layer of resin that creates the appearance of a layer of ice that seems to cover the surface, separating the image from the viewer. Time appears to stand still, waiting for the moment to search for solutions for our world."

"These glossy surfaces also conversely carry us in ─ because the reflection is an invitation to be involved, to be aware. Help our Spaceship Earth! There’s still time, but the clock is ticking.”

The artist Mira Lehr with her painting Norweky (acrylic, ink, burned and dyed Japanese paper, ignited fuses, and handwriting on canvas), Portrait photograph by Michael E. Fryd (2020). From her new series Planetary Visions, that she created during the pandemic quarantine.

The depth of Lehr’s perspective and the scope of her trajectory are singular, having worked as an artist through the social changes of the 1960s and 1970s, the 80s and the 90s . . . and now the 21st century, with its direction into the unknown that feels so impossible to navigate. 

Artists can imagine places and scenarios that help all of us map out our present.

They can inspire us to make sense of our future too,

guiding us to chart new courses toward the better.

Nuclear Blue, Mira Lehr, (burned and dyed Japanese paper, steel chain, hand drawing, canvas, ink, and acrylic on canvas), 2020

The new exhibition features a selection of twenty works by Lehr, spanning nearly 2,000 square feet, with the entire front of the gallery dedicated to this new show. The gallery is located at 150 Yamato Road, in Boca Raton, Florida.

The exhibition may be viewed on-site during gallery hours, 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (Tues-Sat), in accordance with current Covid-19 safety guidelines.

Additionally, reservations for exclusive, private in-person viewings without any other visitors in the gallery may be made in advance by calling 561-994-9180.

Private zoom viewings also available, exclusively with the gallery owner for his personal walk-through online of the show via Zoom.

Digital viewing also features this 360-degree virtual tour of the exhibition.





About the Artist . . .

Mira Lehr’s solo and group exhibitions number more than 300. She is a graduate of Vassar College (1956) with a degree in Art History, under the mentorship of Linda Nochlin, the renowned feminist art historian.

She has been collected by major institutions across the U.S., including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art (Washington), the Getty Museum Research Center (Los Angeles), the Boca Raton Museum of Art, the Perez Art Museum (Miami), the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center (NY), and by The Margulies Collection, among many others.  

Her work is in the private collections of Elie and Marion Wiesel, Jane and Morley Safer, and the artist Judy Pfaff, among others. 

Lehr is included in the prestigious Leonard Lauder Corporate Collection in New York. Thirty of her paintings were commissioned for the permanent collection of Mount Sinai Hospital. 

Her work can be seen in American Embassies around the world and is permanently on view in the lobby of the Evelyn Lauder Breast Center of the Sloan Kettering Memorial Center.

Perfect Flight, by Mira Lehr (burned and dyed Japanese paper, ink and acrylic on canvas), 2020.

Her recent solo exhibition headlined Art Basel Miami Beach 2019 at the Jewish Museum of Florida, and received national and international critical acclaim.

Lehr's 2020 solo museum show at the Mennello Museum of American Art was selected by ArtNet News and The New York Times as one of their selections among the leading museum exhibitions in 2020 in the United States. 

Her museum-wide exhibition at the MOCA Museum in North Miami spanned across 10,000 square feet of installations. She has currently been chosen by Flying Horse Editions as an invited artist for a major project this year.

Lehr’s nature-based work encompasses painting, sculpture and video. She uses non-traditional media such as gunpowder, fire, Japanese paper, dyes and welded steel. Lehr is known for igniting and exploding fuses to create lines of fire across her paintings.

Dance, by Mira Lehr, 8’ x 12’, (burned and dyed Japanese paper, acrylic and ink on wood panel ), 2020.

Critics are calling Lehr “the Godmother of Miami's art scene” because in 1960 she created one of the nation’s first co-ops for women artists, in 1960.

At the age of 86 and with a career that spans more than six decades of artmaking, Lehr is creating more new work now than at any other point in her life ─ with a heightened sense of urgency about the planet and climate change.

In the 1950s, Lehr studied and worked in New York as an artist, where she met some of America’s most prominent masters including: Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner, and Helen Frankenthaler. She studied with James Brooks, Ludwig Sander, Robert Motherwell, and within the Hans Hofmann circle. 

When Lehr moved back to Florida in 1960, she was shocked at the lack of an art scene, especially for women. She convinced many of the masters from New York to visit and lead workshops for her league of women artists. This helped the evolution of art in Florida. 

She was selected in 1969 by Buckminster Fuller, as one of only two artists, to participate in his World Game Project about sustainability and his groundbreaking “Spaceship Earth” concept which preceded the world's very first Earth Day in 1970. 

Lehr’s video installation, V1 V3, was on view at the New Museum, NY. Her work has been included in numerous art fairs during Art Basel Miami Beach, including Art Miami, Pinta Art Fair and INK. 

She was the recipient of the Vizcaya Museum Lost Spaces Commission, where she was commissioned to create a site-specific installation by the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens as part of Vizcaya’s centennial celebration.