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Successful Benefit Bodes Well for Summer 2022

November 3, 2021 | Noel Morris

Violinist William Hagen plays Pablo de Sarasate with pianist Matthew Hagle

On Wednesday, October 27, the Grant Park Orchestral Association hosted its Advocate for the Arts Awards Benefit, an event that helps support the Festival's free programming in Millennium Park and beyond. With proceeds exceeding $945,000 dollars—a record for the annual event—Festival fans doubled down on their support of the arts in Chicago.

There's nothing typical about the Grant Park Music Festival: its concerts are free and the organization itself operates as a triumvirate between the City, the Parks, and the nonprofit Orchestral Association. Through this one-of-a-kind business model, the Festival fills an important niche in Chicago, driving economic growth while stimulating the greater arts community.

According to the 2019 Arts in the Loop Economic Impact Study, the total economic value of the arts in the Loop—pre-pandemic—amounted to some $2.25 billion dollars. "After Broadway/Times Square, no other arts district in the United States comes close to the Loop in size, depth of offerings and participation," read the report.

Concertgoers during the 2021 FestivalIn a typical year, the Grant Park Music Festival sits at the center of this arts district, serving some 800,000 people around the city and beyond through its 270 events—all offered free of charge. The largest Festival of its kind, the annual summer series sits apart from other orchestral offerings in its ability to present contemporary and unfamiliar works while welcoming new listeners into its fluid and informal setting.

"There's no financial risk. Chicagoans, tourists, or any person wandering into Millennium Park can hear a world-class concert without having to buy a ticket," says Grant Park Music Festival CEO Paul Winberg. " And they show up—sometimes 10,000 people on a summer night. This generates tremendous momentum, not only for the classical music field but for the city's economy."

The Advocate for the Arts Awards Benefit drew nearly 400 Advocate for the Arts Awards Benefit Co-Chairs LaRue Robinson, Kate Donaldson, Adam Grais and Amy Boonstrapeople to the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park to mingle and enjoy live music. Throughout the course of the evening, several leaders were recognized for their transformative work in the arts and humanities, including real estate developer Bob Wislow, a philanthropist who, along with his firm, oversaw the construction of Millennium Park.

Chicago real estate developer Bob Wislow addresses the audience after receiving the Advocate for the Arts AwardPresenting the award, Donna LaPietra, Chair and President of the Millennium Park Foundation, praised Wislow's work for having “changed the landscape of Chicago.” Among his projects are the Harold Washington Library as well as major features of Millennium Park, including the Jay Pritzker Pavilion with the trellis over the Great Lawn, the BP Bridge, the Crown Fountain and the beloved Cloud Gate.

“Without you, Bob, and your artful vision and leadership,Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar mingles with friends of the Festival the Park and its Orchestral Pavilion would not be the world attraction it has become with 20 million global visitors. Millennium Park has changed the world’s perception of the city we call home.”

Event co-chairs Kate Donaldson and LaRue Robinson presented an award to the Walter E. Heller Foundation. Carol Sonnenschein, director of the Foundation, accepted the award and spoke passionately about the philanthropy of Walter Heller and his wife Alyce DeCosta. Since 1962, the Foundation has generously supported the arts in Chicago, benefiting the work of the Grant Park Music Festival, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet and more.

The Project Inclusion String Quartet plays Borodin (left to right: Allie Switala, Audrey Lee, Edwardo Rios, Chava Appiah)The Festival also presented an award to Kyle Dickson, honoring his work as a violinist, conductor, educator, social activist and advocate for free access to music. Dickson is an alumnus of its Project Inclusion fellowship program.

Throughout the evening, attendees enjoyed performances by the international violin soloist William Hagen with pianist Matthew Hagle, as well as performances by alumni of the Project Inclusion fellowship program, and by pianist Stu Hirsch.

The Grant Park Music Festival operates as a unique public-A paddle raise brought in over $450,000 to benefit the Festival's programsprivate collaboration between the Grant Park Orchestral Association (established as an independent nonprofit in 2002), the City of Chicago, and the Chicago Park District. In this three-way partnership, the Association manages operations and fundraising, the City provides the Festival's facilities, while the Park District provides key financial support.

During the 2021 season, after a year of virtual performances, the Festival welcomed record crowds to its 7 1/2-week season, one that had been truncated by the pandemic. For the summer of 2022, the Grant Park Music Festival is preparing to return for a full ten-week season of choral and orchestral concerts, chamber concerts, educational opportunities and more.