Hyde Park Art Center gala raises $500,000 at a really good party

Staff Writer

A who’s who of the Chicago art scene and Hyde Park high society turned out Friday for the annual Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC) gala.

“We’re well over $400,000 and looking to reach $500,000 tonight,” said executive director Kate Lorenz, back after missing last year’s gala due to the birth of her twins. “It’s our only fundraiser for the year.”

Indeed, Lorenz’s hopes came to fruition after dinner (Brussels sprouts salad, buttermilk-poached chicken or seared kabocha squash for vegetarians and alcohol-infused cupcakes) with an auction of sorts. Each guest had a placard with their name on it at the table; when prompted, two raised it to donate $10,000, four to give $5,000, seven to give $2,500 and several to give more after that, their gifts matched by an anonymous donor.

Guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres with blood orange negronis and cranberry liquor spritzers during the cocktail hour, perusing resident artists’ works and performance art. A room of people in skin-tone underwear did what appeared to be yoga before an audience of passing voyeurs in Brendan Fernandes’ “Still Move.”

Multidisciplinary, Bauhaus-inspired artist Barbara Kasten and noted Chicago arts patrons Biff and Buzz Ruttenberg were the evening’s honorees. Kasten thanked the audience for their support in a speech that provided a sobering counterpoint to the evening’s fun.

“One of the best things, I think, that the Art Center does is keep alive the idea of creativity and offers it to anyone at all,” she said. “I think in this day and age, it’s something that we really need to protect. As you know, it’s always the arts that go first when things get threatened, so let’s keep things like this alive.”

HPAC arts administration intern Gerald Brown, a Kenwood Academy alum and one of two 2018 class marshals of Syracuse University, from which she earned summa cum laude honors, gave the keynote.

“The magic in this space is infinite, and ever since my very first visit with my mom in 2008, I’ve been trying to understand and harness its energy,” she said. “No matter how my interests expanded, no matter how demanding basketball got or how far removed art seemed, the instinct to make never seemed to disappear.”

Brown recounted how HPAC programming allowed her to commit to her lingering interest in the arts, remarking on the peace she felt there.

“I remember feeling time slow down and, for once in my life, how calm my body felt. This is one of the few reasons I love this place. It was a safe haven,” she said. “When I was at the Art Center, it was a place I could just exist. It was my escape.” Brown said HPAC, with its free programs for students, was a central factor in her decision to pursue a career in the arts.

HPAK “[breaks] the walls of heteronormativity [to] expand all our minds, [bringing] us closer to the art we need to see in the world and [keeps] the magic alive,” Brown said.

Guests agreed with her sentiments.

“The Center really serves as a critical feeder in ensuring that students who often don’t have access to art education in their schools have the ability to gain exposure to the art world and consider art as a viable career,” said Martin Berger, head of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Berger said the work of HPAC and the Institute “really overlap. Their work really is synergistic with the kind of work we’re doing at the school, and it’s something we’re all very supportive of.”

Board member and Hyde Parker Kineret Jaffe said she personally does not collect art, but relishes working alongside HPAC artists and students.

“I love seeing art when it’s on the walls at the exhibitions, but primarily it’s watching the kids who get involved in art and recognizing that art can be part of their lives, even if they’re not going to grow up to be artists,” she said. “It’s an important part of being human, that we create cool things, and that’s what kids who come here get to do.”

HPAC artists were pleased with the gala and the audience it brought.

Jared Brown, born and raised in Hyde Park, used to come to HPAC on 53rd Street for classes as a child, and now the new center at 5020 S. Cornell Ave. contains his first studio space, his until next October.

“My life is changing right now, having this space and being recognized by my city all at once,” he said. An interdisciplinary artist, he has a collaborative WHPK show, “Open Air Radio,” which he produces alongside his performance, music and video works and writing.

“I think I now have the space to go even further into a practice I couldn’t physically go into, because I didn’t have the space,” he said, adding that he’s keen on exploring painting and creating more costuming for his performance pieces in-studio.