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Sculpture, Wine, and Dine Benefits Celebrates Lewis Manilow, Continues Legacy

If art is a verb, as Lewis Manilow believed, then he was the action that inspired the masterpiece today known as the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University.

The Sculpture Park, named for Lewis “Lew” Manilow’s father, has grown from one lone piece in 1968 to 30 unique and purposeful pieces that beckon visitors to the 100-acre “museum in the prairie” from throughout Chicagoland and beyond. It has been cited as one of the top 10 best sculpture parks in the world.

On Saturday, during the university’s annual Sculpture, Wine, & Dine benefit, park and university officials vowed to continue Lew Manilow’s work by launching the Lewis Manilow Common Ground Initiative to bring communities together through arts education.

Standing beneath a star-filled sky and surrounded by the warmth of hundreds of supporters, an emotional Susan Manilow said her late husband’s vision of bringing people together with art has been realized.

“This is such a wonderful experience for people who haven’t been here before to see this extraordinary art in this extraordinary setting. He wanted this to be a focal point for people who lived here as well as people who came from the city and anyplace else in the world,’’ said Susan Manilow, honorary chairwoman of the university’s premier fundraiser and the signature event for Governors State’s 50th anniversary celebration.

GSU President Elaine Maimon said the Lewis Manilow Common Ground fund is the perfect way to extend the family legacy, which began with a monumental sculpture, “Yes! For Lady Day” created by Mark di Suvero on the Manilow farm from 1968 to 69, followed by the donation of that land for the brand new university. The Manilow family also owned the building where early classes were taught while the university was being built.

To acknowledge the family’s deep connection to Governors State during the 25th anniversary celebration, Lew Manilow was awarded an honorary degree. More than two decades later, the university is thanking the visionary again for his contributions to Governors State.

“Tonight’s special 50th anniversary Sculpture, Wine, & Dine is in honor of Lew Manilow, and his presence is everywhere this evening,’’ Dr. Maimon said during the benefit. “Manilow family, this is definitely your university.’’

Joining more than 300 guests for an elegant dinner under the soft lights of a party tent were members and friends of the Manilow family, including daughter-in-law Lynn Manilow, who served on the Sculpture, Wine, & Dine Planning Committee.

Following Nathan Manilow’s death in 1971, Lew Manilow picked up the mantel to establish art in the Southland. He named the Sculpture Park after his father with the di Suvero piece set as the seminal piece.

A major player on the Chicago arts scene, Lew Manilow was a lifetime trustee at the storied Art Institute of Chicago, a founding member of the Museum of Contemporary Art, and honorary president of the Goodman Theatre.

Some 25 miles south at Governors State University, Lew Manilow would host artists, many of them went on to create art there.

Today, a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions dot the landscape of wild grasses and butterfly habitats, reflecting the evolution of time and taste from the massive 50-foot frame of “Yes, For Lady Day,” made of re-purposed materials, to a brightly colored 30-foot fiberglass “Paul” by Tony Tasset, proudly standing in full view of the residence center Prairie Place, delighting staff and students.

“Lew Manilow reportedly said that the collection varied with time, location, and in juxtaposition to our own changing lives. He said that in other words, art was essentially a verb,’’ Development Committee Chair Patricia Mell Ragland told supporters.

Now, almost two years after Lew Manilow’s death, park officials are continuing the work he thought of as an organizing principle for human thought.

“We have to take this one step further to share his vision to bring together those things he was passionate about—arts, conservation, and social justice,’’ Ragland said.

The Common Ground Initiative was conceived with that idea in mind, said Jeff Stevenson, Director of the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park, affectionately known as The Nate.

He called the Sculpture Park “neutral ground” where new relationships and projects are conceived to improve the divisive world. The initiative will make it possible for additional school children and youth groups to make regular visits to The Nate and to learn from the experience.

“Here at The Nate, new friendships are born and new projects are imagined,’’ he said. “The Nathan Manilow Common Ground Initiative will serve as a dedicated program and fund at the park to bring community together through arts education.’’

Earlier in the evening, artists whose works are featured in The Nate mingled with guests and accompanied tours throughout the park where live musicians rendered art of their own.

Richard Hunt, whose Large Planar Hybrid and Outgrown Pyramid II are nestled in a grassy lawn near the athletic center, has visited campus before. In fact, he was an early Governors State lecturer.

On Saturday, he returned to help fellow artists and the university celebrate.

“It’s a pleasure to be here and see my sculptures once again, and to experience new pieces and my old favorites.’’

Other artists attending were Mike Baur, Michael Dunbar, Ted Sitting Crow Garner, Terrence Karpowicz, Richard Rezac, Christine Tarkowski, Tasset, and Barry Tinsley.

State lawmakers also attended. State Senate President John Cullerton accompanied his wife to the event.

“I knew nothing about the incredible connection between the Sculpture Park and the Manilow family—the synergy of the different communities and how this place brings everybody together. I’m so inspired,” Cullerton said.

To learn more about the Lewis Manilow Common Ground Initiative, and the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park, click here.