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Money bags (via

CHICAGO — For the second time this year, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art has received a multi-million dollar gift from one of its philanthropic supporters. Earlier this year, Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson donated $10 million to name the Edlis Neeson Theater. Now comes the news that the same sum, $10 million, has been donated by Sam and Helen Zell to create the Zell Fund for Artistic Excellence.

According to the press release, the fund will be used for all aspects of the MCA’s operations, from acquisitions, to future exhibitions, the artists’ residency program, and updated technology. I contacted the museum to get more specifics, and was told that part of the gift is already operating in the museum as part of the Vision intiative, which among other things was responsible for the year-long residency of Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed. The museum also told me that they intend to have more live arts integrated throughout the museum, more multimedia projects inside and outside the galleries, and that the funds will be used to “increase the civic visibility of the museum out in the community.”

Some people may recall Sam Zell’s more controversial moments, such as his proposal to sell the naming rights to Wrigley Field during the brief time he owned the Chicago Cubs a few years ago. But there’s no question that the Zells’ philanthropy has contributed immensely to sustaining Chicago as an important, even world-class, location for the arts. And this new fund at the MCA is the icing on the cake for contemporary art in Chicago, coming towards the end of what was already a spectacularly successful year for the museum, both in its high-quality exhibition programs and in its fortunes.

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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)...