Art aficionados received an extra treat at Pleasant Home last night as pianist Reginald Robinson gave a short concert for those who attended the Oak Park Area Arts Council’s annual meeting. Attendance was high, likely because the Chicago Tribune last Friday mentioned that Robinson would be giving a concert, which wasn’t really true, but the Arts Council fielded 50 calls on Monday asking for more information and directions.

Robinson, who has been credited with “singlehandedly reviving Ragtime” (if you don’t count E.L. Doctorow), was on hand to play an original composition, commissioned by the council, to honor the late John Lukehart, former board president, who died in December. “Mary’s Joy” was dedicated to John’s wife, Mary Daly Lewis, who was on hand to hear it played for the first time on the Fazioli grand piano the council uses on such occasions. Afterward, Robinson presented her with an original score and a framed letter of commemoration.

New board President Garret Glass offered a toast to Lukehart, who once described himself as “a performance artist.” And certainly, Glass suggested, his life was a work of art.

Robinson’s story is pretty fascinating as well. He became interested in Ragtime because he kept hearing Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” playing on the neighborhood ice cream truck. When Urban Gateways, a city funded arts outreach program, sponsored a visit from a couple of professional musicians to Emmett Elementary School on the West Side, Robinson heard “The Entertainer” played by a real musician and was hooked. His mother bought him an electric piano, but they couldn’t afford lessons, so he taught himself. He eventually managed to record four CDs in the 1990s, but was basically broke in 2004 with the utilities threatening to cut off service when he got a call from the MacArthur Foundation telling him he was being awarded a “genius grant” of $100,000 a year for the next five years. As Glass put it, “That was $500,000 more than he had at the time.”

Robinson, who performed in Oak Park last year during the public library’s Jazz series, doesn’t just play old Ragtime. He composes his own and offered an impressive sample after the meeting concluded.

Among the awardees last night were OPALGA, MOMENTA dance troupe, and Village Players Theatre for Best in Class (three separate categories, the monetary awards funded by Community Bank of Oak Park-River Forest). OPALGA won for “Excellence in Community Engagement & Youth Outreach;” MOMENTA won for “Excellence in Dance Programming and Dedication to the Pursuit of Historical Dance;” and Village Players was honored for “Excellence in Management of Theatre Renovation & Outstanding New Productions.” The library won the Joseph Randall Shapiro Award, designed by local sculptor Geraldine McCullough, which has to be the heaviest award given out each year in this town. Doug Deuchler, Wednesday Journal’s theater critic, who often teaches film courses at the library, said the library should have a neon sign out in front that reads, “Arts ‘R’ Us,” because of the amazing array of arts programming they provide. In accepting the award, library board president Lane Hart thanked former director Ed Byers, “who made sure art had a very prominent role in the new building.” Current Director Dee Brennan thanked Debby Preiser for her tireless efforts to organize programming at the main library. And over $50,000 in ArtsFunds grants were awarded to various local arts agencies.

Two individuals who are always mentioned but never quite get the acclaim they deserve are Camille Wilson White, longtime executive director of the Arts Council, and her longtime assistant, Charity Piet.

The Arts Council’s annual meeting is as close as this village comes to a genuine arts convocation each year, and a number of village trustees, plus Village Manager Tom Barwin were on hand for the occasion.

Robinson’s contribution, however, was the highlight. His last number, commissioned by the MacArthur Foundation for one of their retiring staff members, was titled, “Footloose.” I don’t know about feet, but it was definitely fingerloose.

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