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Arts Alive Name Change Means New Citywide Focus in Chicago

 The name change was prompted by confusion about the group's mission.
Name Change Means New Citywide Focus for Arts Alive
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JEFFERSON PARK — Arts Alive 45 is dropping the 45 — and shifting its focus to public art projects throughout the city, officials with the nonprofit group said.

The name change was prompted by what Arts Alive Chicago President Cyd Smillie said was confusion about the group's mission — and whether it was restricted to projects in the 45th Ward.

"We're not exclusive to the 45th Ward," Smillie said. "We're trying to avoid confusion."

In addition, the name change will help battle the misperception that the organization has ties to Ald. John Arena (45th) and is funded with public money from the alderman's office, Smillie said.

Arts Alive, which has tax-exempt status, gets its funding from individuals, businesses and grants and, like any other non-profit group, is prohibited from engaging in political activity, Smillie said.

Arena, who owns a graphic design business with his wife, Jill, was one of the founders of the organization in 2012. Neither are on the group's board of directors.

Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff, said Arts Alive 45 always operated separately from the alderman's office.

"We're thrilled they are expanding their scope," Brugh said, adding that Arena had no input on the name change. "They've done great things."

Smillie, who also works as the 45th Ward art liaison, which is a part-time position in Arena's office, acknowledged that her two roles may have added to the confusion.

"I'm the same person, but that's about it," Smillie said.

The change could also shield Arena from criticism in the upcoming aldermanic election. Michelle Baert, who announced that she would run against Arena, has criticized Arena for what she says is his support for the arts over working to bring more jobs and businesses to the 45th Ward, which includes Jefferson Park, Forest Glen and Gladstone Park as well as parts of Portage Park and Old Irving Park.

"I think it would be a reach for someone to make it an issue in the election," Smillie said. "I don't think anyone dislikes art and music and festivals."

Anna Zolkowski Sobor, an Arts Alive board member, said wards are artificial boundaries that will change every 10 years.

Sobor said she was looking forward to working in other parts of the city to create murals as part of the group's anti-graffiti program.

"If we know what works, we should share it all over," Sobor said. "Why reinvent the wheel?"

Arts Alive has six projects in the work, including a mural near Ainslie Street and Lipps Avenue near the Jefferson Park Transit Center.

"The goal is to continue to grow Arts Alive as an organization with a clearer, stronger identity," Smillie said. "I'm excited about covering more territory."