Last call for Saturday’s Summer Gala Concert celebrating Muntu Dance Theatre’s 36th season of presenting authentic African dance, music and theater.

Last call for Saturday’s Summer Gala Concert celebrating Muntu Dance Theatre’s 36th season of presenting authentic African dance, music and theater.

Our Culture, Our Voice, co-chaired by icons Millie Cruzat and Audrey Bolling Cheeks and staged at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park, will feature the world premiere of N’Dage Mandingo by Senegalese choreographer Baracar N’Diaye, the highly acclaimed Ayo’s Dream by Tosha Alston and Sweet Nina by Diedre Dawkins and Kwame Opare. A reception follows under a summer night sky on the Rooftop Terrace. Other spearheads of the annual benefit: Joan Gray, Muntu president; Amaniyea Payne, artistic director; and Leana Flowers, board chair. Sponsors: Kraft Foods, Collins King Family Fund, Black United Fund of Illinois, ShoreBank, Bank of New York, Blackwell Consulting, Holland Capital Management, Illinois Arts Council, Chicago Dept. of Cultural Affairs and City Arts III. For $25-$175 tickets, call Barbara Pace-Moody, (773) 241-6080.

Benin Art–A once-in-a-lifetime exhibit, Benin–Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria, featuring the royal arts of the Benin kingdom in south-central Nigeria, opens July 10 and runs through Sept. 21 in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Regenstein Hall. On view: spectacular works in brass and ivory from the 15th through the 20th century, including palace plaques, altar sculpture, ritual objects and courtly regalia. The Art Institute will be the only North American venue for this landmark showcase that features some 220 of the greatest works of Benin art. Honored guests at Tuesday’s Royal Gala, co-hosted by ABC 7’s Leah Hope along with the Art Institute of Chicago’s Leadership Advisory Council, included representatives from the Court of Benin and the Nigerian Commission on Museums and Monuments. Proceeds will support a professional development exchange between Art Institute of Chicago and Nigerian cultural institutions as well as local programs for the Benin exhibit and future LAC initiatives. (LAC, chaired by Joan Small, is a volunteer committee committed to encouraging diversity at the Art Institute.)

Dana Rice was gala chair and Sen. and Mrs. Barack Obama served as honorary chairs. Among other LAC members: Lerone Bennett Jr., Isabel Stewart, Amina Dickerson, Les Coney, Rita Fry, Peggy Montes, Maxine Duster, Murrell Higgins Duster, Denise Gardner, Audrey Tuggle, Hilton Clark, Audrey Peoples, Edward Williams, Graham Grady, Vernon Williams, Lisa Lenoir, Patricia Langhart, Lynn Taylor.

The Art Institute’s Benin—Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria features some 220 works of art from collections in Europe, Nigeria and the U.S. The royal arts of the Benin kingdom affirm the centrality of the oba (or divine king) and portray his divine nature. They recount the kingdom’s significant historical events, activate the oba’s interactions with the supernatural and honor his deified ancestors, forging a continuity that is vital to the kingdom’s well being.

Our Congrats–to Jimmy Collins, the “winningest” basketball coach in the history of the University of Illinois-Chicago, who will continue to lead the Flames beyond the 2008-09 season with his three-year contract extension. Collins, the longest tenured NCAA Division I men’s basketball coach in the state was named head coach in March ’97 and has guided UIC to three NCAA Tournament appearances (‘98, ‘02, ‘04) and one NIT bid (‘03) while topping the 20-win plateau on four occasions, including a school record of 24 victories in 2003-04. Owning a career record of 194-171, he enters the 2008-09 season just six wins shy of 200 career victories. Whoa!

Newsy Names–Jerline Lambert celebrates her 40_year anniversary as founder and president of Lambert Realty Inc. on Sunday afternoon and evening with family, special friends and colleagues “dining and dancing” at the South Shore Cultural Center . . . Happy b’day to a longtime fave friend, Mel Hopson, Rat Pack prez, who celebrated at a RPWednesday “meeting” at Room 43. Cheers! . . . Larry Huggins, Tim and Everett Rand have signed Central State and West Virginia State for their annual College Football Classic on Sept. 6 at Soldier Field . . . Melody Spann-Cooper, the brains and driving force behind the success of WVON-AM/1690, a 10,000-watt signal station broadcasting 24/7, is profiled in the summer issue of Uptown, a slick quarterly mag that focuses on “luxury, lifestyle and living.” Myiti Sengstacke is a partner in its parent company, Uptown Media Group, LLC as well as its veep for brand development.

Artists’ Confab–An awards dinner and special tribute to the late artist, Murry N. DePillars, culminates The Art of Renewal, the 2008 conference of the National Conference of Artists, hosted by Third World Press Foundation at the new South Loop Hotel, 11 W. 26th St., July 10-12. Workshops include The Pedagogy of Hip Hop, a discussion on how Hip Hop culture impacts visual arts; The Business of Art, an art world insider’s perspective or artists and strategies for placing work in collections; Art and Technology, a discussion on the fusion of art and technology and approaches by which technology can be used to make art more accessible; Using Art to Teach Science,” a demonstration of an interactive teaching module that utilizes the visual arts to teach the sciences; and Art Education in An Urban Setting, exploring the role and function of arts education for the holistic development of the urban youth and community. Other events: a kickoff reception at Bronzeville’s Gallery Guichard and a tour of homes of members of Diaspora Rhythms, an art collecting organization that supports contemporary works by artists of African descent. Call (773) 651-0700 or log on

But Never Forgotten–Condolences to the family of Calvin Ashford Jr., principal and design director of Gilmore-Ashford-Powers who passed peacefully in his home last week after a valiant bout with cancer. At his bedside: his brother and sister-in-law Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson of Ashford & Simpson fame.

Born in Ypsilanti, Mich., Cal received a fine arts degree from Columbia Univ. in New York; a master’s in microbiology from the University of Michigan and a doctorate (also in microbiology) from the University of Illinois. When the wife of one of his professors needed help decorating her home, the professor mentioned he had a student interested in interior design. The finished product convinced Cal that interior design could be a successful career, and he was off and running, achieving notable fame in private residences in Chicago, New York, Palm Springs and other cities throughout the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. His work has been showcased on TV as well as recognized in leading international publications, i.e., Architectural Digest, London Designs & Interiors, House & Garden, Better Homes & Gardens and Chicago Tribune, among others.

Cal is also survived by his mom, Alice Ashford; brothers, Albert (Elaine), Paul (Denise) and Henry (Juanita); as well as many cousins, nieces and nephews. Services were private. What a loss!

Dance Divas & Dudes–Line dancing and free steppin’ lessons are on tap at Chi-Town’s newest After-Work Networking Set every Thursday, 5:30 p.m.–11 p.m., at Marmon Grand, 2230 S. Michigan. Hosts: Ken Bedford, Janet Conner, Lisa Rollins, Charmaine Jackson, Andr%uFFFD Parham, Ramon Brooks, Clarence Jenkins, Bill “Dock” Walls, Greg Minniefield and John Muhammad. Call (312) 608-6358 for info. Sunday Ceremony–Micheline Barber (“Mo Money Mitch”), an international educator for one of the leading hair care companies, keynotes Sunday’s 4 p.m. 2008 commencement when 60-plus grads of Dudley Beauty College/Chicago receive certificates in cosmetology, nail technology, esthetics and instructor training at a ceremony at God’s House of All Nations, 8409 S. Stony Island. Barber’s 13 years of teaching in Jamaica, Martinique, Brazil, Bahamas and the U.S. has drawn massive audiences with her highspirited common-sense philosophy on being a success in the cosmetology industry. Betty Clawson, director, says the theme, Higher, Higher, Closer to Our Dreams, is synonymous with this enterprising group of grads who’re guaranteed to make a difference in the cosmetology industry. We’re all invited!

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