ML - Michigan Avenue

2013 - Issue 5 - September

Michigan Avenue - Niche Media - Michigan Avenue magazine is a luxury lifestyle magazine centered around Chicago’s finest people, events, fashion, health & beauty, fine dining & more!

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Page 137 of 163

holding contests, and seeking to revive the Artist in Residence program, which is for professional artists under 38, who are given a membership in return for creating something. Says Recht, "If they're a musician, they play music. If they're a visual artist, their art is on display. They show everyone what they're doing, but they also bring that younger energy into the club." Hunting the Avant-Garde Programming remains one of the most valuable tools at a club's disposal, as The Arts Club of Chicago Executive Director Janine Mileaf discovered when she began offering more evening events in addition to the club's lunchtime lecture specialty. It has also meant a continued effort to present its members with the most current, avant-garde offerings, such as Claudia Hart's recent Alice in Wonderland opera, which featured iPhones clamped to a stripped-down dinner table, using augmented reality to display a naked woman and cockroaches on the empty plates beneath them. This happened in the club's Salon, an elegant room punctuated by works from Pablo Picasso, Sigmar Polke, and others in such a decorative way that it feels more like a lavish living room than a gallery. "The Salon is our opportunity to try new, risky things," Mileaf explains, hoping prospective members will see the value in the corporeal experience of viewing art in person, rather than on a computer screen. "The scale, the sense, the material—they're all different in person." Down the Mies van der Rohe staircase, a centerpiece that joins the club's private and public wings, there's a rotating gallery space where nonmembers can view the work of current artists. (September's exhibit is "Josiah McElheny: Two Clubs at The Arts Club of Chicago" in collaboration with John Vinci, featuring a film, an installation, and a fashion-related performance.) Membership is open to art professionals, though there is a classification for patrons—"those who have demonstrated commitment to the arts, but are not professionals in the field." Candidates must present a letter of recommendation from a current member, as well as signatures from two others. The mission of the The Arts Club has always been to be a site for conversation, learning, and a little dissent. So it was in 1916, when the club was founded as a response to the outcry surrounding the 1913 Armory Show, which showcased modern works at the Art Institute of Chicago. It wowed some, while inspiring protests from others. A Matisse painting was burned. "Chicago enjoyed its inflamed reaction, and its Philistinism," Mileaf explains. "In 1916 the Arts Club was actually ahead of its time, and it was formed to inspire conversation without telling people they had to love it." Careful Evolution Clubs don't remain relevant based solely on a century of tradition. The strategies each club has employed to spur growth are proof: the Union League's recruitment incentive, the University's renovations, the Standard's attention to evolving member desires, the Cliff Dwellers' contests, and the Arts Club's updated programming. Changes like these raise questions: Have their goals changed, too? What, exactly, is the future of the club in a digital society that has replaced many impenetrable gates with glass doors? "These clubs have really changed," Spidalette reflects in his office. The University Club man, whose 30-year tenure has designated him the "Dean" of the city club managers, assembles his counterparts each month for lunch and a frank discussion about the health, growth, and challenges facing their respective organizations. At each club, the answer is this: They see themselves as urban oases, where prominent members of society can relax, network, pursue their hobbies, and catch a break from their hectic professional lives. Despite an age of greater accessibility—some of which has been imposed and some of which has been voluntary—they don't expect these goals to change. They'll continue to draw like-minded, affluent individuals who are interested in influencing the city. The changes at these clubs aren't the symptoms of dying institutions trying to stay alive; they're the calling cards of shrewd leaders, who have known how to continually enhance their clubs' luxurious amenities while remaining committed to their original missions. "The successful clubs have reinvented themselves while still providing discretionary, thoughtful service," Spidalette says. "The trick is to do a lot of things well. You stay within your core principles, but inside those parameters you invent and improve." MA 136 MICHIGANAVEMAG.COM 130-137_MA_FEAT_Culture_Sept_13.indd 136 8/7/13 6:46 PM

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