ComEd and the League of Chicago Theaters, have teamed up to award 17 grants to nonprofit arts organizations throughout northern Illinois. One of the recipients was Hermosa/Logan Square’s The Miracle Center, (2311 N. Pulaski Rd.).
In an effort to help expand access to the arts to underserved audiences, the grant targeted a wide range of projects, programs, and initiatives, particularly from small to midsize organizations.
“We really kept our focus on programs that didn’t have as many fundraising options as some of the larger institutions,” said Paula Conrad, senior manager for corporate relations at ComEd.
While operational support was the main objective of the grant, ComEd and the League wanted to be able to support a diverse lineup of programs, each with their own unique mission and story serving several different demographics.
Conrad said diversity is an important factor for ComEd. They focused on making sure this grant reached diverse audiences and organizations.
“Priority was given to projects that demonstrated the ability to reach significant numbers of underserved audiences and a commitment to retaining the underserved audiences after the funding period ends,” said Deb Clapp from the League of Chicago Theaters.
The eight Chicago theaters chosen will create unique projects and target specific audiences through the grant. Lakeview’s About Face Theatre’s grant went to providing free tickets and transportation for LGBTQ senior citizens who are economically disadvantaged, while Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston used their grant to support theatre workshops and performances for female inmates at Cook County Jail.
For the Miracle Center, the grant meant taking their latest performance, “There’s a Coqui in My Shoe,” to a whole new level and audience size.
The play itself is based off Mar’sa de Jesus Paolicelli’s children’s book of the same name. It’s a story steeped in Puerto Rican culture, revolving around Puerto Rico’s national mascot, the Coqui (little tree fog).
The story is about a young boy named Armando who discovers a coqui in his red shoe one day. The coqui, named Carlito, is lost and cannot find his way home to the rainforest. The two befriend each other, and accompany Armando’s mom as she shells piraguas (snow cones) from her push cart. The tale unfolds as the duo’s friendship blossoms and Armando tries to get his new friend home.
The grant awarded the Miracle Center $10,000, and the team at the Miracle Center were able to bring the show, based off an award-winning children’s book, to elementary classes and elderly groups in the communities.
The grant also allowed the Miracle Center to fully realize their vision of the Puerto Rican children’s tale, incoporating a nine-piece band and vividly bringing to life scenes of El Morro, El Yunque National Forest, Old San Juan, and other iconic locations from the island country.
“This really took our production to a whole new level of quality,” said Vanessa Torres, communications manager at The Miracle Center.
The production opened just one day after the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria touching down in Puerto Rico—Sept. 16, 2017—a moment not lost on the folks at The Miracle Center.
“It was great for our community to experience what was happening at The Miracle Center,” said Mary Santana, founder of The Miracle Center.
The production truly was a moment for the entire Puerto Rican community, with one of The Miracle Center’s theater halls decked out as San Juan and the other as a rainforest, Santana said.
“It wasn’t just a show, it was a Puerto Rican experience,” she said.
Torres said getting the community together to put on the production was a special experience for local families.
“There just aren’t a lot of Latino children’s stories out there to the community,” Torres said.
Closing night of There’s a Cohqui in My Shoe was Oct. 13, but you can check the Miracle Center’s future schedule here.
The grant comes at a time when funding for the arts is at an all-time low. Funding is always an issue, she said.
“To put on a high level of performance you need a great team behind you, and that requires getting a lighting designer, costume designer, stage manager, and so many other roles,” she said. “But unfortunately, everything has been cut so much.”
Funding the arts proves that theaters and organizations can thrive. The Miracle Center will expand into the neighboring property by 2021, serving as a “one-stop shop” for arts in its neighborhood.
“It will really allow us to be an arts incubator in Logan Square, for children and emerging artists,” Torres said. “We’ll have accountants, graphic designers, and other resources that they can take advantage of.”