June 2021: Alene Valkanas

Alene Valkanas is our June Vickers patron. Alene has been a national leader in the arts advocacy and arts education movement throughout her lifetime. She began her art education advocacy as a Roman Catholic Sister in Pennsylvania teaching English and Art to high school students. Alene holds a master’s degree in arts education from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts in English from La Roche University.

After graduating from the University of Chicago, Alene took a position at the three-year old Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago as their Public Relations Director, where she “learned the skills of public relations while on the job.” According to Alene, “We needed to get more people into the museum, and saw the performing arts as a way for our guests to further enjoy and enrich their lives.” She brought music, leading avant-garde composers and theater directors, jazz and performance artists to the art galleries of the museum. During her tenure, she produced more than 500 multidisciplinary cultural events .

She later served for twenty years as the executive director of the Illinois Arts Alliance, the state wide advocacy organization. Her extraordinary contributions to national arts advocacy have been recognized with the initiation of The Alene Valkanas State Arts Advocacy Award. Specifically, she was recognized for her innovative programs and research projects, and her tireless advocacy on behalf of organizations that bring the arts to all of us. This award created by Americans for the Arts is given to one individual each year who exemplifies Alene’s spirit and advocacy.

One innovative program she inspired was bringing John Cage to the Museum of Contemporary Art to speak. Cage, American composer, artist, and philosopher, was lured by promise of a mushroom hunt in a state he said had no good hunting grounds for mushrooms. She introduced him to distant relatives in suburban Illinois and they set out on a day-long quest, picking mushrooms, dandelions and other types of plants. They cooked all, placed in containers and shared with guests who came to hear him speak the following night.

Alene was married to Jim McComb, a self-taught water colorist, well- known nationally and throughout Harbor Country. Jim passed in 2015 and was the “love” of Alene’s life. She resides in Union Pier in her home “Evergreen,” with her numerous dogs and cats.
Alene is a loyal patron of the Vickers who loves the staff, the trivia, and of course, the popcorn. She loves sharing her movie experience with other Harbor Country moviegoers like herself, often made broader by folks sitting next to her from deeper Indiana and farther north Michigan. According to Alene, “We are all there for the same reason – quality films on the Big Screen.” If you find yourself sitting next to Alene at a Vickers movie, introduce yourself. She loves to share movies and movie experiences with fellow film advocates.