Before I start, I just want to say that all of our thoughts and prayers go out to Martha Lavey for a speedy and full recovery. No one in the City has been a greater advocate for the arts and for the humanities.
I want to begin by thanking the Illinois Humanities Council for this great honor and the leadership and staff of the IHC for doing all of the hard work that it takes to pull off something as challenging as this program. I’m also thankful for the work the IHC does every day because - in my life - art isn’t optional or nice to have – it’s essential. A culture is measured by its aspirations and its dreams and those dreams are dreamed by its artists.
I also want to say how grateful I am to the 3 co-chairmen for today’s event – Joel Henning, Murray Peretz and Richard Price – whose support, commitment and generosity are unparalleled and who ALWAYS answer the call whenever I ask for their help. They are good and steadfast friends and great humanitarians as well as consistent supporters of the arts in their own right. I also want to thank Marie Tillman and Joe Shenton for all their help with today’s luncheon and especially Marie for agreeing to give a few closing remarks on the program today.
I want to thank my wife Judy for all her support, encouragement, patience and understanding for many decades now and for only occasionally saying: “Are you really going to buy THAT painting?” and only rarely saying: “Oh, no, not another business.”
I want to thank Kevin Coval and the crew from Louder than A Bomb for their participation in today’s event. We’ve been friends and supporters of Kevin’s work for many, many years and I continue to be amazed at the growth and the depth of his work and its impact on our city and on all of our citizens.
And finally, for our meals, my many friends at Lettuce (and especially our guest chef Andrew Shedden from Mon Ami Gabi) as well as my long-time pal Marc Schulman from Eli’s. Marc and I have worked together on many different things over the years starting when I moved Kendall College from Evanston to its new home on Goose Island.
I was reminded of that particular adventure most recently when I was proud to see (in connection with the recent hoopla here in the city) that more than a dozen of my chefs from Kendall have been honored over the years by the James Beard Foundation. I didn’t season the soup, but I like to think that I helped to set the table. And I didn’t do it alone – Barb Pollack who’s here with us today was an important partner in the creation and development of the “new” Kendall College and in all our major projects since then.
I had a similar flashback a few years ago when Christo’s wife, Jean-Claude passed away. We had worked together more than 40 years ago on a series of multiples for the Men’s Council of the Museum of Contemporary Art. I was also lucky enough to support and see the realization of their Central Park Gates project in 2005 (which was only 26 years in the making) and it was truly a dream come true.
In fact, Christo taught me a number of valuable lessons about passion, patience, persistence and perseverance that I reference and rely on every day in my writings and in my work with hundreds of entrepreneurs who are every bit as much dreamers as Christo.
He taught me three things in particular that I would share with you:
(1) that you should never agree to knowingly surrender your dreams;
(2) that it’s a good plan to always have more dreams than memories; and
(3) that a man isn’t really old until his regrets take the place of his dreams
I’m happy to report that I’m still dreaming every day. And that I’ve learned over the years that the development of dreams and their transition into concrete realities always follows the same path:
(a) initially, they seem impossible;
(b) eventually, they seem improbable; and then
(c) ultimately, they seem inevitable.
The most important trick - while you’re waiting for the world to catch up - is to always be drawn by your dreams rather than being pushed by your problems. The second crucial element is to have the support of talented people beside you because today no one accomplishes anything important all by themselves. Being an artist or an entrepreneur may seem lonely at times, but you’re never really alone.
One other important difference at 1871 is that our dreams come with deadlines and even the grandest ideas are soon obliged to generate invoices. Great companies start with art and end up with science. But actually I’ve found that there’s very little difference between artists and entrepreneurs which is what makes my present work so exciting.
Whether at Kendall, Experiencia, Flashpoint or 1871, it turns out that the demands that true art makes are really no different from what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Three basic things: sacrifice; discipline and integrity. While there are few things more intimidating than sitting before a blank canvas or an empty sheet of paper and waiting for the light bulb and the inspiration to strike; the truth is that the process of building a new business from scratch really isn’t that much different. Mostly it’s about getting started and putting one foot in front of the other. It’s a lot less about inspiration and a lot more about perspiration.
In fact, the most important thing that any good artist or entrepreneur will tell you is that ultimately it’s not even about creativity. Creativity is often necessary for great works, but it’s not sufficient. What ultimately gets the great work done is a great deal of work.
You’ve got to show up.
You’ve got to sit down and get started.
And you’ve got to have the strength to do that each and every day.
That’s the process. It never changes. You do what you have to do. You do it the best you can. You do it that way every time. And it’s funny how often things work out pretty well.
Because in the end, it all comes down to a simple truth:
YOU DON’T GET WHAT YOU WISH FOR,
YOU GET WHAT YOU WORK FOR.
Thank you again for this honor and for honoring me with your presence here today.