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$750,000 in private funds to bring summer culture to parks

Mayor Rahm Emaunel announced 'Night Out Parks' Garfield Park Conservatory Tuesday May 14 2013.  Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. getting

Mayor Rahm Emaunel announced "Night Out in the Parks" at Garfield Park Conservatory, Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. getting dance tips from members of Meher Dance Company, Bollywood and Indian Dance. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 14, 2013 5:35PM

Chicagoans won’t have to come downtown this summer to enjoy music, dance, theater and movies in the parks. They’ll be available — in abundance — in their own neighborhoods.

Two months after unveiling a new city festival along the Chicago River inspired by the Great Chicago Fire, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is using $750,000 in private donations left over from the NATO Summit to bring culture to the neighborhoods where people live.

Dubbed “Night Out in the Parks,” the initiative calls for 750 events to be held in neighborhood parks across the city. They range from free performances by professional dancers and blues, jazz and gospel concerts to showcase those music festivals to an 11-week tour by the Midnight Circus.

There will be an “Eye on India Festival” featuring dance instruction, followed by Bollywood movies; 27 performance of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” at 18 neighborhood parks; and dance lessons followed by live music at Humboldt Park, 63rd Street Beach, Theater on the Lake, Ping Tom Park and Austin Town Hall Park.

New programs include choral performances tied to the Grant Park Music Festival; Juicebox, a music series aimed at introducing young children to contemporary music, dance, theater and puppets; The Hypocrites’ Romeo and Juliet; the Eye on India festival; Chicago Children’s Theater in association with Redmoon performing “The Elephant and the Whale,” and Collaboration’s Crime Scene: “Let Hope Rise.”

Programming also includes “Elastic Arts’ Culture Coach,” a portable stage featuring “pop-up concerts” by local musicians.

Most of the programming is free. A few events will require admission. They include $18 tickets for “Theater on the Lake,” which kicks off with a USO dance, followed by the first of eight productions by Chicago theater companies. There is also an unspecified admission for Circus in the Parks, Aug. 10 to Oct. 19.

The dramatic increase in summer programming at neighborhood parks is yet another outgrowth of the city’s new Cultural Plan, which called for creating a new “large-scale” festival as well as bringing culture closer to where people live.

Emanuel announced the expansion at a news conference at the Garfield Park Conservatory that featured a live demonstrations by Circus in the Parks, Shakespeare in the Park and Wolfgang Bientzle.

Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Michelle Boone said it’s yet another outgrowth of the city’s new Cultural Plan, which called for creating a new “large-scale” festival as well as bringing culture closer to where people live.

Residents told us repeatedly they wanted to have access to high-quality cultural programming in their neighborhoods…We are taking the programming to them. Downtown is a big hub for lots of free programming at Millenium Park and the Cultural Center. What we want to do is extend the reach of that same level of quality programming,” Boone said.

“Culture feeds the soul. It’s wonderful. I live in South Shore. I love being able to go to the South Shore Cultural Center and see the South Shore Opera Company….I used to enjoy going to the jazz festival [there]. Being able to just walk into a facility steps away from my home is fantastic. I can do it with my neighbors. I can take my family. I get introduced to a lot of work I wouldn’t have access to. It’s a great way to build audiences for these organizations….It’s introducing…people to facilities in the parks they really didn’t know existed.”

In a press release announcing, “Night Out in the Parks,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the goal was to make neighborhood parks a “safe haven” and a “hub of cultural activity” this summer.

In January, Emanuel earmarked $2 million in so-called “NATO legacy” funds for neighborhood parks. That’s where the $750,000 is coming from to bankroll the summer programming expansion.

“From Movies in the Park to music festivals, residents will not have to travel downtown to enjoy great cultural opportunities. Our neighborhood parks will offer them right in their own backyard,” the mayor was quoted as saying.

Boone was quoted as saying she’s “thrilled” to be joining forces with the Park District to “expand access to the arts — including music, dance, theater and puppetry” this summer.

She predicted that “Night Out in the Parks” would, “elevate and amplify the cultural assets of neighborhoods across Chicago, facilitate neighborhood planning of cultural activity and help the city integrate culture into daily life” — all key components of the cultural plan.

Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly said the mayor’s decision to double cultural programming this summer will translate into “community ownership” of parks that will be safer for the increased activity.

He pointed to what happened last summer when Shakespeare came to the South Side’s Tooley Park.

“I didn’t think it was gonna go over well and you know what? I was proven wrong. People started coming out of the house, bringing the casseroles, bringing the blankets and then, for at least one night, there was a sense of community. And we all know: if there’s something good going on in the parks, something bad’s not happening. The bad guys don’t want to be around it.”

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