Logan Launch Festival elevates Chicago’s art scene

The Logan Center showcased everything arts at its Launch Festival.

By Michelle Lee

In the glass-paneled courtyard of the new David and Reva Logan Center for the Arts, a flurry of drums, guitars, bass, and harmonica mingled with cheerful shouts from the audience. The sunlight shone intensely on a crowd of people, vigorously (but rhythmically) shaking their hips—the unmistakable signs of a hot, heady, and heart-warming fiesta.

This was a musical performance by Los Cenzontles, who heated up the cool Chicago afternoon with their Western-Mexican style. The group’s music bears cross-cultural tinges of country, rock, and traditional Mexican folk. They traveled all the way from the Bay Area to perform at the three-day Logan Launch Festival this past weekend.

Los Cenzontles was a strong opening act for several reasons. They’re entertaining and energetic, but perhaps most importantly they represent the Center’s commitment to artistic diversity. Just as Los Cenzontles’s music appears to transcend every genre and culture, the Center skillfully weaves together seemingly different and disparate facets of the artistic community. Indeed, all manner of bands, artists, student groups, departments, alumni, and community members congregated this weekend to showcase the power of creative collaboration.

The Logan Center was five years in the making. It was realized through a $35 million donation from alumnus David Logan, A.B. ’39, J.D. ’41, and his wife, Reva. The two are long-time supporters of the arts who have provided grants, collected works, and contributed their services to the community for years. David Logan served on the Illinois Arts Council for 29 years and chaired the Council’s Arts in Education panel for several years.

Their donation marks a new milestone, since it is both one of the largest single-donor gifts that the University has ever received and one of the largest donations to any university arts building in the United States.

The 11-story glass and stone building that now cuts through the Hyde Park skyline was designed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. The building contains rehearsal rooms, auditoriums, black box and proscenium theaters, studios, galleries, classrooms, workshops, screening rooms, terraces, gardens, and an extensive system of stairwells.

The building itself thus exemplifies a multidisciplinary arts center open to both campus and community. Bill Michel, executive director of the Logan Center, remarked that designing a “really welcoming and accessible” building was instrumental to its creation and revealed that there is meaning in the directions the doors face: while the main doors open north (towards campus) on East 60th Street, there is also a set of doors facing south, which is a marked invitation to the community surrounding campus. Michel hopes to further encourage student-community bonding through “monthly family programming [and] joint projects,” such as the Washington Park Arts incubator, a project under UChicago’s Arts and Public Life Initiative.

Angela Wang, a third-year in the College, elaborated on the idea of a collective. “First, the physical building [represents] the idea of exploration and collaboration,” she said. “[It] is structured so that something happening on one floor can be heard or seen from another, through a glass, over a balcony, down an area that echoes. You can easily follow your senses to other arts.”

In exploring the building, one discovers giant windows that open onto workshops and performance spaces, allowing for artistic transparency. Those who have explored the building may have been confounded by its structure: a jaunt through the building reveals that the stairs turn in disorienting ways.

Wang remarked that this confusion is intentional. “[The purpose is to] make you think about your experience, engage with the building rather than stumble up the stairs,” she said. “There is something here for everyone inside or outside the art world.”

The Center officially opened this past weekend, October 12–14, with the Logan Launch Festival. “It is [an opportunity] to both celebrate the opening of the Logan Center, highlight many of the types of programs, and showcase the work of [students, faculty, and community members],” Michel said.

One of the highlights of the festival was a performance of alumnus David Auburn’s Tony Award-winning play Proof on Friday night. Alumni also participated in the Hyde Park Jazz Society and Jazz X-tet reunion performances on Saturday.

Meanwhile, students convened at the Center that same night for the Student Launch Party, which featured several student bands. Third-year Aya Smith showed off her impressive vocals with soulful covers of singers such as Adele and Alicia Keys. Gutenberg and the Illuminators—a foot-stomping, head-nodding student group—followed Smith’s act with vivacious renditions of indie-folk classics. The evening concluded with Lakesigns, an atmospheric, full-of-heart-and-angst band.

From recitals and tours to poetry readings, plays, and panel discussions, the Festival showcased a variety of talents this weekend and encouraged participants to get a taste of all that the Logan Center has to offer.

“The Center is dedicated to its mission of combining the different artistic disciplines, and engaging students, staff, and community as one audience,” Wang said. “It may be cliché, but the arts reach some cross-cultural subconscious level of us.”