Arts Alliance Illinois to Honor Renée Fleming, Celebrate 35 Years at Fifth Annual Benefit Luncheon


Internationally acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming with Chicago High School for the Arts students at the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Chicago Voices School Slam. Photo © Jaclyn Simpson.

For immediate release May 9, 2017
Media contact Zachary Whittenburg, Communications and Engagement Director, 312-855-3105 ext. 11

CHICAGO — Arts Alliance Illinois, under the leadership of Executive Director Claire Rice and Board Chair Brooke Flanagan, Director of Institutional Advancement at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, welcome artistic, business, creative, and philanthropic leaders from across Illinois to the organization’s Fifth Annual Benefit Luncheon, Thursday, June 8, 2017 at the Palmer House Hilton, located at 17 East Monroe Street in Chicago. Guest check-in and a reception begin at 11:15am, with the seated luncheon following promptly at noon.

Internationally acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming, Creative Consultant at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, will attend and accept the Alliance’s inaugural Creative Voice Award for her innumerable contributions to music, arts education, and audience development for classical music and opera. Chicago-based cultural leaders Janet Carl Smith and Mel Smith will receive the Alliance’s 2017 Citizen Advocate Award. Ms. Fleming and Mr. and Mrs. Smith join an esteemed list of past Benefit Luncheon honorees including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, actor John C. Reilly, David Hawkanson and Martha Lavey of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and philanthropists Richard P. and Susan R. Kiphart, and Jim and Kay Mabie.

The Alliance’s Fifth Annual Benefit Luncheon will also feature special presentations by diverse Chicago arts organizations including youth poetry and performance group Kuumba Lynx; Natya Dance Theatre, which both preserves and innovates within the classical Indian form of Bharata Natyam; and musicians from the Chicago Academy for the Arts. The sculptural awards being presented to Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Ms. Fleming are being created by participants in the downtown mosaic program of After School Matters, founded more than two decades ago by then–Chicago First Lady Maggie Daley and former Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lois Weisberg, in order to provide cultural activities for the city’s teenagers.

Arts Alliance Illinois will also take the occasion of its Fifth Annual Benefit Luncheon to share conclusions from its Forward Visioning, an in-depth strategic planning process engaging more than 250 arts stakeholders from across the state, convened within eight regions in spring 2017. Comprising more than 40 hours of in-person conversation with arts advocates, educators, funders, professionals, and regional leaders, the Alliance’s Forward Visioning process was initiated in order to ensure for the organization a deep comprehension of the state of the creative state of Illinois, and to thereby determine how the Alliance can best support arts and culture in a dynamic environment.

Says Claire Rice, Executive Director of Arts Alliance Illinois: “Since joining the Alliance team in August 2016, I have immersed myself in hearing about the challenges, realities, and opportunities facing Illinoisans working in, and passionate about, arts and culture. I feel we are in a unique moment in our state’s history, and one of my goals for the Alliance is to seize every moment I can on behalf of the arts sector. Our recent successes in advocating for new arts learning standards is cause for celebration, and our honorees Renée Fleming, Janet Carl Smith and Mel Smith exemplify the kind of leadership our field needs. I’m especially excited about the amount of creative expression by young people we’ll have in the room with us at our Benefit Luncheon, as so much of what drives us all is working to ensure a bright future for the next generation.”

Individual tickets to the Fifth Annual Benefit Luncheon are available now at $350–$500, with tables of ten available at $3,500 and up. A limited number of individual tickets are available at $150, reserved for artists, arts administrators, and students. Reservations are requested by Friday, May 26, 2017 and Monday, May 22 is the deadline for inclusion in the printed program.

For more information regarding the Fifth Annual Benefit Luncheon, including sponsorship and visibility opportunities, please visit or contact Kristy Johnson, Development Director at or by phone at 312-855-3105 ext. 13.

Arts Alliance Illinois thanks its Fifth Annual Benefit Luncheon’s Benefit Sponsor, Allstate; the members of its Benefit Committee, Cheryl Cooke, Ginger Farley, Brooke Flanagan, DeNalda Guice Gay, Peter Handler, Joan Harris, Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim, Sylvia Neil and Dan Fischel, Steve Solomon, and Paul Sznewajs; Event Planning Committee Co-Chairs DeNalda Guice Gay and Cayenne Harris, Kassie Davis, Jim Ferolo, Meredith Mack, Teresa Samala de Guzman, Julie Schmidt, and Scott Silberstein; Patron Sponsors Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Columbia College Chicago, Exelon Corporation, Ginger Farley, the Irving Harris Foundation, Ingenuity, The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Sylvia Neil and Dan Fischel, and Northern Trust; Partner Sponsors the Chicago Zoological Society / Brookfield Zoo, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Janet Carl Smith and Mel Smith, Diane Spradlin, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and Helen Zell; and Media Sponsor CS Modern Luxury.

About Renée Fleming
One of the most acclaimed singers of our time, Renée Fleming received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2013. She brought her voice to a vast new audience the following year, as the first classical artist ever to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. The recipient of 14 Grammy Award nominations to date, she has recorded everything from complete operas and song recitals to indie rock, jazz, and the soundtrack for the 2003 blockbuster film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Fleming won her fourth Grammy in 2013 for Poèmes and her most recent album, Distant Light, was recorded with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and released in January 2017 by Decca. She has sung at such momentous occasions as the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and the Diamond Jubilee Concert for Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and, in 2008, became the first woman to solo headline an opening-night gala in the 125-year history of the Metropolitan Opera.

Fleming’s 2016–17 tour schedule includes concerts in Boston, Budapest, Madrid, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Toronto. She also appeared this season as the Marschallin in a new production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier at London’s Royal Opera Covent Garden, a role she will reprise when the production premieres at the Met.

Known for engaging new audiences for classical music and opera, Fleming has sung not only with classical luminaries like Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and Andrea Bocelli, but also with pop artists such as Sir Elton John, Paul Simon, Sting, Lou Reed, Josh Groban, and Joan Baez. Her 2004 book The Inner Voice, published by Viking Penguin, is currently in its 14th paperback edition and, in 2013, she joined with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to present “American Voices” — a concert and three-day festival celebrating the best American singing across genres, also the subject of a Great Performances documentary on PBS.

Fleming currently serves as the first-ever Creative Consultant at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, was appointed Artistic Advisor-at-Large for the Kennedy Center in 2016, is a member of the board of trustees of the Carnegie Hall Corporation, a member of the board of directors of Sing for Hope, and a member of the artistic advisory board of the Polyphony Foundation. Among numerous additional honors and recognitions, Fleming has received a Lifetime Achievement Medal from the Fulbright Association, Sweden’s Polar Music Prize, and a Cross of the Order of Merit from Germany. She holds the rank of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in France, and honorary doctorates from Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, Carnegie Mellon University, the Eastman School of Music, and The Juilliard School. Visit to learn more.

About Janet Carl Smith and Mel Smith
Janet Carl Smith and Mel Smith are longtime supporters and passionate advocates for the arts in Chicago. As former Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Janet spent 32 years managing free public programs and exhibitions, promoting the city’s cultural resources, and supporting the development of local artists and arts organizations. She is a longtime board member for Arts Alliance Illinois, advises the Terra Foundation of American Art on Art Design Chicago 2018, and continues to mentor, advise, and connect arts managers and organizations. A former university administrator and investment consultant, Mel has strong interests in arts education and artist development, previously chairing the boards of Free Street Programs and Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education, and currently serving as Treasurer of the 3Arts board.

About After School Matters
After School Matters provides Chicago’s high school teens with high-quality, out-of-school-time opportunities to explore and develop their talents while gaining critical skills for work, college, and beyond. For more than 25 years, over 200,000 teens have participated in ASM’s hands-on, project-based after-school and summer programs in the arts, communications, science, sports, and technology. Programs take place at locations throughout the city including Chicago public high schools, Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Library locations, community organizations, and downtown at the Gallery 37 Center for the Arts. Visit to learn more.

About Kuumba Lynx
Founded in 1996, Kuumba Lynx is a youth-development artmaking organization dedicated to a liberatory practice, in which personal transformation, inclusion, and access are valued. Kuumba Lynx Performance Ensemble is an all-ages and all-elements performance group, while 1/2 Pint Poetics is a poetry slam program engaging young people ages eight to 14. The Chicago Hip-Hop Theatre Fest is a four-day festival featuring emerging and established works of hip-hop theatre. Visit to learn more.

About Natya Dance Theatre
Natya Dance Theatre, under the artistic leadership of Hema Rajagopalan, is among the most critically acclaimed and culturally treasured Indian dance companies in the United States, founded in Chicago in 1974. Rooted in Bharata Natyam, one of the great classical dance forms of India, Natya preserves and perpetuates Bharata Natyam in all its classical rigor, and moves the art form in innovative directions to foster cultural exchanges through dance. Natya’s contemporary interpretations incorporate dynamic body movement, rhythmic footwork, hand gestures, and facial expressions to convey meaning and emotion that create rasa — aesthetic experiences that spiritually transform audiences worldwide. Recent highlights include performances with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble before an audience of 13,000 in Chicago’s Millennium Park; Natya’s selection as the first American company ever to appear at the prestigious World Music Institute in New York City; and being the only dance company selected to create an original work for performance at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. Natya has been presented at some of the Chicago area’s most esteemed venues including the Ravinia Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, and the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage; national and international presentations include performances at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the Avignon Festival in France, and the Music and Dance Festival in Madras, India. Furthering the belief that cultural exchange and artistic collaboration are vital to expanding expression and understanding, Natya has created works with numerous partners, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lookingglass Theater Company, and the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Visit to learn more.

About the Chicago Academy for the Arts
Designated a National School of Distinction by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, the Chicago Academy for the Arts offers its students opportunities to engage in a unique co-curricular program: rigorous, college-preparatory academic classes and professional-level arts training in the context of an unparalleled school culture. The Academy’s school day consists of six 45-minute periods, followed by three-plus hours of immersion in a student’s chosen arts department: dance, media arts (filmmaking, animation, creative writing), music, musical theater, theater, and visual arts. Its young artists master the skills necessary for academic success, critical thought, and creative expression. Visit to learn more.

About Arts Alliance Illinois
In 1982, a small group of artists and arts administrators joined forces to combat the threatened elimination of state funding for the arts in Illinois. Out of these early advocacy efforts, Arts Alliance Illinois was born. Today, under the leadership of Executive Director Claire Rice, the Alliance is a statewide arts advocacy and service organization promoting the value of the arts to all Illinois residents. Through research, capacity-building and communication, the Alliance advances widespread support of all the arts, enhances the health of the state’s arts and cultural sectors, and fosters a climate in which the broadest spectrum of artistic expression can flourish. The Alliance envisions a world where the arts are central and indispensable to Illinois, where people acknowledge that the arts enhance their quality of life, fuel creativity and innovation, sharpen the state’s competitive edge, attract and retain talent, promote cross-cultural understanding, aid in solving civic and social issues, and keep Illinois nationally and globally connected. Visit to learn more.