“In Chicago, we may not think the Picasso presiding over the Richard J. Daley Center plaza is art, but we know it’s a big Picasso and it’s the city’s Picasso, and when the Cubs made the playoffs, the sculpture wore a baseball cap just like everything else,” Chicago journalist Pat Colander once wrote. Like most things in Chicago, art in the city has always become enmeshed with the city itself. The Art Institute of Chicago is known as much for being the Second City’s premier cultural institution as it is for its Impressionist holdings. The art is the city.

But what of the University of Chicago? A school for bookworms and bench scientists, the UofC has never gained a reputation for turning out groundbreaking artists. Part of the problem is obscurity: the school’s more famous academic luminaries have overshadowed people like Lorado Taft, Susan Sontag, Saul Bellow (himself a noted scholar), and Karl Wirsum (from the Hyde Park Art Center) in terms of the University’s cultural heritage. In recent years, however, the arts have exploded in terms of production and recognition at the UofC. The David and Reva Logan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts has broken ground. The Creative Writing Program has the power to attract personalities ranging from Denis Johnson to Zadie Smith, and now has a Guggenheim Fellowship winner in novelist Mark Slouka. This is where the Second City comedy troupe was formed and where Kurt Vonnegut was educated. It’s about time we had an artistic reputation to match the personalities that the University of Chicago has produced and continues to produce.

This Friday, in connection with MODA, Chicago Weekly will host REorientation 2007, our third annual celebration of the arts at the University of Chicago. Below are brief synopses of participating organizations, all of whom are changing the face of the school.

answers from MODA President Janet Hong

When was MODA founded?

What does MODA do?
MODA is a student organization at the University of Chicago that began in 2003 with the intention of showcasing fashion on campus, promoting the city’s fashion scene, and being a resource for students interested in fashion. After a successful launch, the publication of our magazines, a design program, two large Chicago-wide Trunk Shows, and very memorable and spectacular fashion shows, MODA has established itself as a prominent organization at the University of Chicago. Working with GenArt, the Chicago Fashion Foundation, and corporate sponsors, MODA is moving beyond the scope of the University campus and into the greater Chicago metropolis.

If MODA had to be represented by a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), which would it be and why?
Cosmopolitan: sophisticated, chic, and well-known.

What is the future of the arts at the University of Chicago and how does MODA fit in?
MODA envisions the fine arts scene at the University continuing to thrive. Not only have fine arts organizations made themselves outlets to students by presenting art within and beyond the University setting, but collaborations among these groups with other RSOs [Registered Student Organizations] have proved to be formidable in attracting students. In the past, MODA has seen great results working with the Wrens, FOTA, and HYPE, and expects a similar outcome with Chicago Weekly.

Festival of the Arts (FOTA)
answers from FOTA Executive Director Zoe Samels

When was FOTA founded?
FOTA was founded in 1963 and has experienced a few “rebirths” since then.

What does FOTA do?
FOTA is a student-run organization that funds the artistic endeavors of University students, faculty and staff. For ten days every spring during the Festival, the campus becomes an art gallery and performance space, showcasing over fifty projects–paintings, installations, films, plays, fashion design, music, dance and more. Its mission is to facilitate and promote the arts on campus by providing resources, support and publicity to artists and advocating on their behalf and to foster a vibrant arts community on campus by emphasizing creativity, collaboration, and mutual support between artists and student groups.

If FOTA had to be represented by a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), which would it be and why?
If FOTA was a beverage, I think we would be what is known as the Pop Rock Martini (a classic martini edged with Pop Rocks) because we like to mix more traditional art projects with some really crazy, over-the-top pieces during our spring festival.

What is the future of the arts at the University of Chicago and how does FOTA fit in?
I think the future of the arts at Chicago is extremely promising–the life of the arts will be moving to the forefront of student life with the construction of the new arts center in a few years, and I know that FOTA will play an important role in helping student artists take full advantage of all that resource has to offer. Hopefully, the center will also allow arts RSOs to work more closely together to create collaborative events. I’m really excited to come back in a few years and see what future student artists will have accomplished!

Occam’s Razor
answers from cast member Matt Howard

When were you founded?
1999 by two undergraduate students

What does Occam’s Razor do?
Occam’s Razor provides free improvisational comedy to the University of Chicago, allowing everyone to forget about their stress for at least an hour during every show.

If Occam’s Razor had to be represented by a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), which would it be and why?
Long Island Iced tea: You get a little mix of everything with a whole lot of kick in it.

What is the future of the arts at the University of Chicago and how does Occam’s Razor fit in?
Occam’s Razor allows for a diversity of theater and improvisation experiences on campus. In the future, we only hope to extend our horizons after the new Arts Building is finished being built and continue to provide free entertainment for the sole purpose of doing what we love to do: making people laugh.

University of Chicago Balle Bhangra Team
answers from team member Priya Nandapurkar

When were you founded?
Four years ago. (2003)

What does the Bhangra Team do?
Our group performs the Punjabi folk dance of bhangra, from India and Pakistan. We participate in events on campus as well as mainstream events in Chicago and the surrounding areas. We also compete once or twice a year in national competitions. In addition, we’ve held bhangra workshops in the past year and will be providing workshops to various organizations this year.

If the Bhangra Team had to be represented by a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), which would it be and why?
Mmm…Red Bull. Bhangra is all about energy.

What is the future of the arts at the University of Chicago and how does the Bhangra Team fit in?
We hope that organizations that promote the arts at UofC continue to expand and refine their talent. Our bhangra team hopes to present the UofC as a promoter of cultural diversity in the arts at events in the city of Chicago and around the country.

Gingarte Capoeira
answers provided by ensemble member Rafael Kuhn

When were you founded?

What does Gingarte Capoeira do?
We are a recognized student organization as well as the largest Capoeira Organization in the midwest. Our extended family, Grupo Cordao de Ouro, began in Brazil and has spread across 5 continents. The group’s mission is to promote African-Brazilian culture and provide instruction in capoeira, maculelê, samba and other arts. We hold classes year-round on the campus of the University of Chicago and at our academy on the North Side. Classes are open to students, community members, and visiting capoeiristas from around the world.

If your organization had to be represented by a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), which would it be and why?
Guaraná. High caffeine, great taste, totally Brazil.

What is the future of the arts at the University of Chicago and how does Gingarte Capoeira fit in?
The future is collaboration. We need more dance and martial arts spaces on campus for RSOs.

REorientation 2007, Ida Noyes Hall Cloister Club, 1212 E.59th St. October 19. Friday, 7:30pm (doors at 7pm).

Featuring MODA’s Fashion Show and Trunk Show. Live art from FOTA. Performances by Occam’s Razor, Gingarte Capoeira, the UofC Bhanga Team. Live music by Saturday Realism and STAR.