Pitchfork’s Adam Krefman Discusses New Event At Art Institute Of Chicago

Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago
– The Art Institute of Chicago
Pitchfork’s inaugural Midwinter takes place this weekend at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Tomorrow, the inaugural edition of Midwinter debuts at the Art Institute of Chicago. Curated by Pitchfork, the three-day event will host artists including Deerhunter, Kamasi Washington, Laurie Anderson, Perfume Genius and Oneohtrix Point Never for performances across multiple venues within the world-class museum.

Adam Krefman, Senior Director, Festivals & Activations at Pitchfork, who also programs the brand’s well-known summer music festival,  tells Pollstar that booking Midwinter has been refreshing. “It’s somewhat liberating,” he says. “It’s nice to not be thinking about headliners for six months and just be booking really interesting shit.”

That so-called “interesting shit” extends beyond the names of the event’s bill. Several of the artists performing at Midwinter designed “soundscapes,” unique music inspired by specific pieces in the Art Institute’s collection. Krefman says he’s most excited for Nico Muhly, the classical composer who has collaborated with artists including Yoko Ono and Father John Misty. Muhly’s piece, titled “Étretat Cycles,” takes inspiration from two Claude Monet paintings in the museum’s “iconic” Impressionist gallery, which is where he will appear.

“The idea that we could commission original work, it’s a little bit of a dream,” Krefman says. “I think we’re lucky to be in this position that we’re in at Pitchfork, that the audience trusts us to put this together, that the artists trust us and are really into it.”

Courtesy of Midwinter
– Midwinter
The lineup for Pitchfork’s inaugural Midwinter event.

Still, even if Midwinter is poised for success, the event is the culmination of months of hard work. “Like with any of these things, it’s five minutes to come up with the idea and then five months to actually execute it,” says Krefman, praising Seth Dodson, Pitchfork’s Production Director, and Michael Green, the Art Institute’s Assistant Director of Lecture and Performance Programs, for helping to realize the Midwinter concept. “It doesn’t get any bigger or more iconic than the Art Institute.”

Krefman connected with Pollstar to discuss Midwinter’s origins, the nitty-gritty of staging a music event at the Art Institute and when fans might expect news about Pitchfork’s flagship summer event.

Pollstar: How did the idea for Midwinter originate?
Adam Krefman: It was not one big lightning bolt moment. We’ve done events in the winter in Chicago and they always do really well. The Chicago concert-going audience is just ready for things in the winter. They still want to go to shows. Arguably, they want to go to more indoor things or their options are more narrow. We don’t have regular one-off shows that we’re doing, we’re not like a normal promoter in that way, so when we do things like this, we try to have something else to them. They’ve either gotta be a little more conceptually ambitious or there has to be a storytelling narrative to it because we’re a media company.

[Midwinter has] been an idea that’s been floating around for a couple years, to look at doing a larger winter event. I don’t want to call it a festival just because I don’t think that’s what this is, but a larger winter event — because we do have such a loyal and dedicated audience in Chicago that comes to the summer festival. We looked at a bunch of different places. There aren’t a ton of venues that can hold several thousand people with multiple stages in Chicago indoors.

Midwinter has some unique, conceptually unique bookings — it’s not just artists routing their tours through Chicago and hitting this event. How did you go about booking and arranging these performances?
A lot of it is dictated by the Art Institute. Not necessarily them making the aesthetic choices, but the space and the work there. And we do work with the Art Institute and say, “Well, what do you think about so and so? What do you suggest for a pop-up performance?” They’ll say, “Well, this painting or this work has a lot of resonance with his or her music.”

Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
– Outside the Art Institute
The exterior of the Art Institute of Chicago.

For the most part it is dictated by the fact that the Art Institute is a really unique space. There’s no one space that can hold every single person that’s going to be at the event; it’s not like there’s going to be a space where everyone’s going to go. Part of the idea was to have a lot of programming to spread people out throughout the museum, because ultimately a museum is a museum. To fit everybody in, there has to be a flow to the crowd, where there are different things going on in different places. Some of it is just a practical reality of putting that many people in the museum. Those constraints create a lot of opportunities for interesting programming.

Practical question: Art museums are great, but the security around these works of art can be very tight. Accidents happen. What logistical planning happened to make sure nobody spills a beer on a beloved painting?
The staffing is really significant for a show this size. Then we do have restricted areas. You can’t bring a drink into the Impressionist gallery or many of the other galleries. That is an Art Institute rule, and I think it’s probably a good one. There are specific places where you will be able to drink and places where you won’t be able to. There is definitely significant crowd control and art protection staff on hand.

If certain galleries do get too full we will have to cut them off. We have tried to program the event in a way where there’s enough going on everywhere where there probably won’t happen. Well, I think it will happen more than once. Given that it’s a first year event, we don’t know yet. We also tried to cap attendance a little lower than we thought we could actually hit, just to make sure that we could provide a good experience for everybody. The level of planning and engineering on this thing has been really over the top. A show is a show, we’ll see what happens.

You’re focused on Midwinter, but can you share any updates about this summer’s Pitchfork Music Festival?
We’re going to have some announcements shortly after Midwinter. We have not at all, for what it’s worth, taken our eye off the ball on that. The summer festival world is super challenging, the bookings are so homogenous, so to continue to try to set ourselves apart from just booking what else is out there has been a challenge. But I look at our lineup and i’m really, really excited for the summer.