Arts Council honors Circle Theatre with Shapiro Award

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Circle Theatre was the big winner at the Oak Park Area Arts Council's annual meeting, held March 16 at Pleasant Home. Plenty of candidates and elected officials were on hand to press flesh and assure representatives of the arts community that they get the message OPAAC has been pitching for years: A thriving, vital arts scene is an essential element in the success of the continuing Oak Park experiment?#34;everything from development to diversity.

Indeed, the diverse arts community comes together rarely in one location like this. At the OPAAC annual meeting, awards are presented, Artsfund grants are bestowed, and the full range of artistic endeavor is on display.

"We are rich, deep and growing in the arts in Oak Park," said John Lukehart, president of OPAAC. "It has been said that art is never necessary?#34;merely indispensable. It takes us to places we never thought to visit. The arts add great value to our community."

Noting that the state was proposing significant cuts in funding for the arts, Lukehart urged members to make themselves heard with legislators and the governor's office.

Lukehart took note of the good news as well: The annual Artful Object fundraiser netted $25,000 last fall. The upcoming third annual Jazzin' Oak Park scholarship concert (May 7) will feature acclaimed jazz vocalist Kurt Elling.

OPAAC conducted an arts center feasibility study this past year and found considerable support for the prospect in a subscriber survey. And this summer, OPAAC will offer its first-ever summer arts teen employment program, called "Off the Wall," modeled on the City of Chicago's successful Gallery 37 project. Starting small, they hope to offer spots to about 16 local youth. The program is partly funded by the Village of Oak Park.

Then it was time for the awards. In the Business Leadership class, Winberie's restaurant and Whole Foods Market were cited for their culinary support at special arts events throughout the year. And WEDNESDAY JOURNAL was honored for its "aggressive arts coverage."

Community Bank of Oak Park-River Forest added a new twist to the Best in Class category by sponsoring the $1,000 awards that went to each of three groups?#34;the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, Wonder Works children's museum, and the Oak Park and River Forest High School Student Music Volunteers mentoring program, an offshoot of PING!.

The highest honor of the evening, The Joseph Randall Shapiro Award, went to Forest Park's Circle Theatre, which is celebrating its 20th season, during which the non-equity theater company has managed to survive thanks to a dedicated corps of volunteers and young talent. In spite of a shoestring budget, they've racked up 28 Jeff citations and 40 After Dark awards.

Co-artistic Director Kevin Bellie accepted the award, then introduced two members of the cast from Circle's recent production of the musical Jane Eyre, which brought the evening to a close.

?#34;Ken Trainor

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