Antonia Contro, President and CEO of Marwen, Steps Down After 25 Years

Marwen was founded in 1987 by Steven Berkowitz, who had a dream to educate and inspire Chicago’s young people from under-resourced communities and schools through free visual arts programs.  Today, 30 years later Marwen offers a wide range of art courses and workshops that empower students to develop artistic skills, experiment with various media, and discover new interests and ideas. Students and families are also supported through counseling, workshops, and events as they transition to college and the workforce. To date more than 10,000 students have been served, and more than 93% are considered low-income. 

Antonia Contro, part of Marwen for 25 years, announced that she will be stepping down from leadership in the coming months. We share her letter to the Marwen community below. –CGN


Dear friend of Marwen,

It is with an immense amount of gratitude and a profound sense of fulfillment that I announce that I will be stepping down from my post as President and CEO of Marwen this spring.

For the past 25 years I have had the enormous privilege of helping to guide our organization's art education and youth development programs as they have evolved in artistically, educationally, socially, and politically powerful ways. During my time, Marwen has grown from a $300,000 organization attended by a handful of young people into a $3 million nationally heralded arts education institution that has served over 10,000 students from under-resourced communities and schools. Marwen opened its doors with a staff of two, a nascent arts curriculum, and two studios. Today, a staff of 25 oversees 150 studio, college planning, and career development programs in a Marwen-owned state of the art facility and arts campus.

It has been an honor to work with extraordinarily talented and inspiring colleagues and an exceptional Board of Directors; to oversee two capital campaigns and building expansion projects, to build a $9M investment portfolio, and to amplify Marwen's national reputation. Above all else, it has been a joy to witness the successes of our students as they have constructed and navigated their futures and become our next generation of arts leaders. Marwen is in an unequivocal position of strength and is poised to continue its relevant role as one of Chicago's most successful arts incubators.

Our recent 30th anniversary and my own 25-year tenure elegantly bookend a career and an avocation that has connected my conviction that the arts must be an integral part of every young person's life with my committed practice as a visual artist. Now, it is my time to reimagine my artistic life in ways that allow me to be as generative and creative as I have always aspired to be.

When I reflect upon my role in the world as an artist, I realize how much I have learned from and been inspired by everyone who has entered the doors of Marwen. I will always hold close Marwen's generative and creative spirit, and the students, staff, teaching artists, alumni, trustees, and donors who made this wonderful journey so meaningful and hopeful.

My last day at Marwen will be June 1. After that, you will find me in my studio, working collaboratively with other artists as well as scientists, musicians, and philosophers-and contemplating new opportunities to advance the arts.

Marwen's Board leadership will soon announce plans for my succession. I hope to see you at Paintbrush Ball on June 2, where I have the privilege of being honored, an appropriate venue in which to bid all of you adieu.

I thank you-each and every one of you who believes in Marwen, this magnificent experiment that proved itself invincible. I applaud all of you who celebrate diverse artistic voices and stand behind excellent education for a democratic whole.

- Antonia Contro