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The Soviet Arts Experience

Art, Dance, Music, Theater, Film, Lecture/Class

     The paradox of repression is that it sometimes fuels what it tries to prevent.
    The brutal restrictions of the populace and its artists under the Soviet Union ironically provided fertile conditions for the creation of new art forms and fostered the talents of now-famous musicians and artists. From the beautiful symphonies and string quartets of Dimitri Shostakovich to Sergei Prokofiev’s score of the ballet Romeo and Juliet, music from the period is regularly performed today.  Behind the mysterious Iron Curtain that so many Americans learned to fear, visual artists, choreographers, composers and dramatists were creating new forms of expression in response to the Politburo.
    These artists are being showcased in a huge, collaborative artistic festival with twenty-five of the city’s most prominent arts institutions that will join together over sixteen months starting in October to present The Soviet Arts Experience.
    This period of history remains compelling for many. Shauna Quill, the Executive Director of University of Chicago Presents, is heading the effort. “The Soviet era was not known for its freedoms, and yet artists found ways to express themselves despite the oppression
—inspiration despite everything, if you will. And in doing so, these artists bonded themselves together and secured their legacy in the arts,” she says.
    The genesis of the festival happened when the Grammy-Award winning Pacifica Quartet planned to perform the complete Shostakovich Quartet cycle. Quill was simply working on how to broaden the performance through other programming and educational opportunities. She heard of the Art Institute’s plans for the WWII propaganda poster exhibition and “it all snowballed from there,” she says. From March until August, it grew from 11 to 25 partners including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Opera Theater, Court Theatre and the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.       
    “The period in focus for this festival is one that many people can remember vividly, and when asked about participating, there was so much artistic output to choose from and become involved in. In addition, the power of collaborating in such an enormous project is one that arts organizations in Chicago are ripe to do. We all see the strength in pulling together to offer those who are culturally curious the most in-depth experience, says Quill.
    There will be plenty to experience for such a repressed era. More than 100 events will take place across Chicago through January 2012 including 7 art exhibitions, 9 dance performances, over 50 concerts, 
2 theater productions, plus numerous lectures and symposia.
    In addition to the Art Institute’s exhibit of war-time propaganda posters, The Block Museum of Art, Smart Museum of Art, and the Special Collections Research Center at the University of Chicago will exhibit special collections of iconic Soviet propaganda imagery, book art, children’s books, posters, cartoons, and more. The Smart Museum will explore some of the experimental creative processes used to make propaganda art and spread the Communist vision. For a full list of events go to www.SovietArtsExperience.org.   

Published: October 10, 2010
Issue: November 2010 Arts and Politics Issue