The news was sent to participating artists in an email five weeks before the American Craft Exhibition (ACE) would take place at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The first two sentences of the second paragraph delivered the message concisely: 

“After much discussion, it was announced last week that the difficult decision was reached to formally sunset The Auxiliary and its associated activities, including ACE as a NorthShore sponsored event, effective as of January 1, 2023.”

NorthShore statement

On Sunday, Oct. 2, the closing day of the ACE show, the RoundTable contacted the Media department at NorthShore University HealthSystem, and late Monday afternoon received a statement from Kate Beckering, Assistant Vice President for Operations at the NorthShore Foundation. It reads:

“The Auxiliary and NorthShore Foundation leadership came to the difficult decision that this will be the last ACE show sponsored by NorthShore, given the rapidly changing healthcare landscape, volunteer sector and artist community, all amid the continually complex and demanding times in our world. We are grateful for the 38 years of the incredible talent of ACE artists and ACE’s philanthropic impact. We look forward to continuing to work with volunteers and event partners in other capacities, including through NorthShore’s Community Partner activities.”

The Auxiliary is a powerhouse fundraising organization whose primary function is to benefit NorthShore. Since 1936, The Auxiliary has raised more than $23 million for NorthShore, funding special projects like the SAVE MOMS effort targeting postpartum health, as well as distributing free diapers to local families in need and providing scholarships to selected high school seniors pursuing nursing careers. Membership in The Auxiliary, with $75 per year dues, is open to anyone willing to serve on committees and help with fundraising projects like ACE, its signature event, and the annual diaper drive.

ACE Co-Chair ‘disappointed’

Leslie Sevcik, one of the Co-Chairs of the 2022 ACE Show, was one of three names included at the end of the letter sent to the artists.

Leslie Sevcik, right, Co-Chair of this year’s American Craft Exposition, smiles at the event with fellow Co-Chair Gayle Stellas, left, and Ann Burnstine, a longtime volunteer who was an ACE Co-Chair in 2004. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Sevick, who was also an ACE Co-Chair in 2013 and 2018, has volunteered for 20 years for The Auxiliary.

“The hospital has made a decision to disband us at the end of this calendar year,” Sevcik told the RoundTable. “They have shifting priorities. And, you know, I’m a big supporter of NorthShore. They’ve always made great decisions for the communities that they serve – and you saw it during the Highland Park shooting most recently – and so while I’m disappointed, I trust their judgment for them.

“Will there be another show with a different partner? Maybe.”

The ACE show is supported by hundreds of volunteers who do everything from selecting and inviting the artists who will exhibit to filling in for artists in their booths when they need to take a break. Sevcik even hosted an artist in her home this year. COVID-19 was financially devastating to many artists and they appreciate saving on expenses. 

Sevcik noted that opinions among Auxiliary members are varied. She declined to get into specifics, but said, “There are other dynamics, like the age of the volunteers and the age of the customers, that are difficult to deal with. And that’s just one example.”

Time of change for nonprofits

Allison Henry, Clinical Assistant Professor in Kellogg School of Management’s Social Impact Program and Director of the Golub Capital Board Fellows Program at Northwestern University, observed that nearly all nonprofit groups are going through tremendous changes. 

“The pandemic has forced a lot of changes on nonprofit organizations, especially in the health care sector,” Henry said. “It’s forced these organizations to reexamine how they do business, and that has meant they have to ask hard questions and make difficult decisions.

“I’m not privy to any of the particulars here, so of course I can’t comment specifically, but in my experience, change in the nonprofit sector is particularly difficult. People often care deeply about the organizations they support, especially when they have supported an organization for many years.”

Sevcik admitted “it was a difficult year.” She also noted that what distinguished the ACE show, “one of the top shows in the country,” is “that our show is always very much for a medical research cause.” 

Helping postpartum mothers

This year’s beneficiary of The Auxiliary’s work, a continuation of the past two years, is the SAVE MOMS program designed to “protect and preserve the health of pregnant women at NorthShore before, during and after childbirth” and prevent maternal postpartum deaths. 

A story on NorthShore’s website about last year’s show confirmed “the net proceeds from the 2020 and 2021 ACE events raised more than $415,000 for SAVE MOMS.” Sevcik said in an email that the “total donation to SAVE MOMS will be $725,000 for a three year fundraising period, assuming our Show makes its goals.”

Over the past three years, including 2020 and 2021 when the ACE show was held virtually, The Auxiliary committed to raising funds for SAVE MOMS, a project run by lead investigators Dr. Beth Plunkett and Dr. Richard Silver, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

In online NorthShore article, Plunkett called the project’s concept “brand new in the field.”

“Since maternal death is often preceded by complications during pregnancy,” Plunkett continued, “SAVE MOMS is creating prediction models to generate automated alerts in our electronic health record to make sure each at-risk woman is recognized and treated with the appropriate care to keep our moms healthy and safe.”

Sevcik described the statistics for maternal postpartum death in Illinois as “shocking,” According to 2012-2016 data posted by the World Population Review, Illinois is 13th in the nation with an average of 14.7 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. California leads with four maternal deaths per 100,000 births; Louisiana ranks last with 58.1 maternal deaths per 100,000 births, more than double the national average of 21.97 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. Data was not available for a few states.

Changing environment for artists, buyers

Artist Holly Anne Mitchell wears handmade earrings of newspaper jewelry. Credit: Wendi Kromash

“It’s very hard to think about it [ACE] not continuing, but the craft world is evolving,” Sevcik said. “Every cultural institution is undergoing change. And I feel that the pandemic – not to get too deep, but times of duress make organizations and the people who run them want to rethink everything. And the craft world is doing that.

“So art museums and every nonprofit I know in a lot of businesses are struggling and rethinking things. I think that we will have a time after this where things go back to normal. But change can bring some exciting evolutions.”

She observed that while it was very tough financially for many artists, “the pandemic brought out a lot of creativity, and our artists, they had time to work.”

A necklace by Holly Anne Mitchell inspired by the murder of George Floyd. Credit: Wendi Kromash

“They couldn’t travel around because shows were canceled,” she said. “It’s a really fun time to visit your favorite artists and see what’s new with them. Creative people have to make things. It’s not a choice, that’s the way they are made. And so they’re very grateful to have a live show and meet their customers.”

On the purchaser side, Sevcik said, “I feel that consumer behavior has been affected by the economy. People are more tentative. They’re thinking twice before buying, especially if it’s a major purchase or a luxury. It’s not that they don’t want it or that they won’t do it, but they might wait longer or save up for it.”

One of the many features Auxiliary volunteers appreciated about having the ACE show at the Chicago Botanic Garden – aside from its surroundings and staff – is that the buildings are fully accessible. The Auxiliary has made an effort to include artists who are diverse in every way. 

Friendship with artists

Kay Riley in front of some of her hand printed scarves, jackets and drapes on display at the 2022 American Craft Exposition show at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Sevcik feels protective of the artists she has come to know over the many years working on the ACE shows. They have become her friends.

“I can’t separate the person from the work anymore. I tend to buy from people that I love and I think that many of the customers would say the same thing,” Sevcik said.

One of the artists Sevcik has known for years is Kay Riley, an artist who makes “wearable art” by combining her love of textiles, apparel design, illustration and costume history.

Using hand-carved linoleum blocks, she prints intricate designs on silks and other fine fabrics. She has exhibited at the ACE show for probably 20 years, she said, and regularly for the past 12 or 13 years.

Linoleum model used by Kay Riley in her printing process. Credit: Wendi Kromash

“I’m so thankful to the women of The Auxiliary,” Riley said. “They created a fine craft show with the highest standards in a great location for 38 years. It’s really one of the top three shows in the country. The show is juried, it’s competitive and acceptance for the artists is an honor. This is a huge loss to the fine crafts world.

“The women who organize the show, the artists, the customers who support us, we’re like a family, I will really miss all of it.” 

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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