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Polish group Teatr ZAR’s “The Gospels of Childhood” on the MCA theater stage. (photo by Irena Lipinska)

CHICAGO — At a time when charitable giving to Chicago cultural institutions is either flat or declining, the Museum of Contemporary Art announced on Wednesday that it has received a gift of $10 million from benefactors Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson. The gift is specifically for the MCA’s theater, and all the museum had to do was to name the performance space in their honor. From now on, the MCA’s programming in drama, artist-based installation, literary events and so on, will be taking place in the Edlis Neeson Theater.

The pair have been involved with the MCA for many years, as board members and trustees, and they have provided the cash for purchases of works of art to add to the museum’s collection, including pieces by Maurizio Cattelan, Thomas Schutte and others. They have also donated work from their own collection, such as significant paintings by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

According to the Chicago Tribune, museum attendance in Chicago has remained flat in the last few years, staying at around 13 million visitors per year, while museum boards have wrestled with the thorny problem of whether or not to raise admission prices in the face of rising costs.

This significant donation to the MCA may be a sign that giving to institutions of contemporary art is in better shape than to more traditional museums, such as the Field Museum or the Art Institute of Chicago. I think it may also have something to do with what Aaron Mattocks said in his article here about “Dancing at the Whitney“: that performance, and performance spaces, are the sexy new clubs of modern museum spaces, where people feel that the cool stuff has moved to, now that we’re all a little jaded by street art, artists’ performances and other manifestations of the kinetic over the static.

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Philip A Hartigan

Philip Hartigan is a UK-born artist and writer who now lives, works and teaches in Chicago. He also writes occasionally for Time Out-Chicago. Personal narratives (his own, other peoples', and invented)...