To Be Determined

1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s Chicago Avenue Founders Future Joe Shapiro Ontario Street

For the opening ceremony of the museum's 50th birthday weekend, Cheryl Lynn Bruce researched, wrote, and presented a "praise poem for the MCA."


TO BE DETERMINED by Cheryl Lynn Bruce
on the occasion of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
October 21, 2017


The Wall of Respect. Bill Walker’s righteous mural demanded it.

The Blizzard of ’67 stopped this city cold in its snowy tracks.

McCormick Place. The behemoth burned down, then rose up from its ashes.  A Phoenix on the Lake.

Picasso’s rusty "wonder woman" was publicly unveiled and shocked a few.

DuSable Museum muscled in, proclaimed, "Black Lives have always mattered!” then promptly hung the Proof on all the walls.

The Dan Ryan plowed through neighborhoods and twisted on out to the southern regions.

Robert Taylor Homes yawned open and swallowed generations whole.

Hate and Bullets felled a King
and two Kennedys.

The University of Illinois decamped from its Navy Pier digs and welcomed seekers of all stripes—myself included—to its bright, shiny “Circle” of a campus.

The whole world was watching as the lid blew off the Windy City and streets and heads ran red from furious “Blues.”

A whole lot was goin’ on.
You could see our city
growin’ through
goin’ through
Pain and Promise.

A whole lot was goin’ on
you couldn’t see our city
growin’ through
goin’ through.
Pain and Promise.
Growin’ up.


Some years ago a professor friend quietly declared over the dinner dishes, “Thought animates vessels.”
I thought, "Simple yet profound.”
It stayed with me.
It played with me.
It made me think.
It makes me think.
It makes me think about a fellow
a fellow I met while gleaning this and that
from the Museum’s fat and fabulous archives, getting ready for this Big Day.

There I met one Joseph Randall Shapiro, philanthropist, collector,
lover of people and ideas,
a Thinker and, best of all, a Doer.

Way back in ’64 Joe thought.
(Remember, “Thought animates vessels.”)
Joe thought about a space,
a special space for a special place,
a smallish, fast-forward-thinking museum
in the city, for the city,
a wake-‘em-up, shake-‘em-up kinda place
for those turbulent times.
A museum for the Now.
A museum for the New.

Now, Joseph looked around and gathered unto himself "a small band of conspirators,” as he called his like-minded warriors whom, he said, had four essential ingredients:
The capacity to part with it!

They set to work.
They pow-wowed loud
and vowed
to hustle and
find a space
to make their place.

From the archives Joe told me, "The time was fertile for it.  You know, there’s always a “zeitgeist”—that’s when an intellectual and emotional climate comes about, when the season, the time it just reaches its fruition, just the right time for something to come into being."

Three years later, those Conspirators were ready to make their move.

By 1967 the Museum of Contemporary Art, thank you very much, had elected four Officers from its sturdy fleet of 33 Trustees (Lewis Manilow and a Mr. H.M.H. among them).

The Women’s Board, 29-members strong, rode shotgun.

But where to set up shop?

Well, Joe had spied a spot
but 237 East Ontario already had a tenant:
HMH Enterprises,
but Mr. H.M.H. (as in Hugh Marston Hefner) graciously worked things out
and the MCA was in.

$200,000—raised thanks to a party hosted by “Buddy” Mayer (sitting right in front of me) bought The Little Museum That Could
a handsome upper gallery,
a handsome lower gallery,
5 offices tricked out with furniture by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe,
and an inviting reception area.

The place was wired for sound—and fire and theft detection.

Staff?  A loyal handful.
1 Curator
1 Security Guard
1 Secretary

Maybe $100,000.

Pre-Opening Festivities were a full-on, gala weekend blow out!
Press Preview and Luncheon
Black-tie cocktails and dinner for 600
A Sunday discotheque at the Cheetah Club
Monday night performances by John Cage, Allison Knowles, and John Higgins
at Second City, courtesy of Bernie Sahlins.


On Tuesday, October 24, 1967 Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art opened to the world.
Its inaugural exhibition, Pictures To Be Read/Poetry To Be Seen, featured 68 works by 12 artists from 6 countries including the U.S. of A,
30 of Claes Oldenburg’s Monuments drawings, playful propositions to enliven our nation’s cities.

With 2,200 fellow thrill-seekers (a.k.a. “Members") in tow, the MCA set sail.

But where was this upstart outfit headed?
Where would it go?
No tellin’.
Yes, To Be Determined
Its course would be determined
by those plucky Trustees,
supported by a sterling Staff,
and ever-growing MCA family.

Within nine months of opening, they bought the building.



Museums house Art,
Art provokes Thought
Thought animates vessels.
Do the math.

Mark Bradford, the MCA’s very first Artist-in-Residence, Class of 2011, lectured at the Art Institute last Wednesday night, and I jotted down three thoughts that hit me:

You have to make the alternative.

A single cell = Possibility
Many cells = An entity

Where a thing starts does not necessarily determine where it will end up.

(Ain’t it the truth.)

And that made me think:
Look at us fifty years on.
Poised at the edge,
Looking over the ledge
locked and loaded
with Potential
with Promise
with Possibilities
Ready to take flight,
right to where those MCA pioneers were aiming--
into the Future.

Now, the next fifty years?
Kinda makes you think, don’t it?

Think about now things
like the Museum’s snazzy new re-do of the premises.
It promises
to open up this special space even more
to everyone who wants
to see
to feel
to hear
to taste things,
all things, new and now.

And years to come
will make this space
an even bolder place
where those who just must
and feel
and hear
and taste
all future things new and now
will have to gather.
And with that, I think I’ll leave you with
some words,
some words I fell upon in my archival travels,
some prescient words of Lewis Manilow,
discerning connoisseur and collector,
thoughtful philanthropist,
fierce citizen,
loyal friend,
proud Conspirator,
and one of the living founders of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

Lew’s reflections on “Why that brash new venture, the MCA?” were captured in a 1992 interview but
they seem just right to share this day.
Words to fly by.
A benediction.
Yes, a blessing
for our Museum of Contemporary Art.

“It was avant garde in the best possible sense.
That is to say, it expanded the vision of art.
We had a GRAND vision.
Grand by wrapping the whole Museum and exciting people to no end.
I think those are the real reasons . . ."

To that I say, “A-men.”


Cheryl Lynn Bruce speaks at the opening ceremony of MCA Hearts Chicago, Oct 21, 2017. Image © MCA Chicago.

Cheryl Lynn Bruce speaks at the opening ceremony of MCA Hearts Chicago, Oct 21, 2017. Image © MCA Chicago.

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