A Gateway to Arts for the Deaf

Maybe it's the dramatic gilded theater curtains framing the Web site home page. Or maybe it's the stunning statistic you'll find in the history statement. But whatever grabs you when you visit Welcome to ICODA, you know you've come to a very special place.

The International Center on Deafness and the Arts in Northbrook, trains children and adults who are deaf and hard of hearing in the arts and art appreciation.

When it opened in 1973 as the Center on Deafness in a Waukegan Road storefront in Glenview, its windows probably lacked ornate curtains. As that center's arts programs expanded, a separate corporation was formed in 1997 to focus solely on the arts.

Today, the art center has much larger rented quarters at 614 Anthony Trail in Northbrook's Sky Harbor Industrial Park. Here you'll find the CenterLight Theatre, an art gallery, the ICODance studio, a Book and Gift Shoppe, the Children's Museum on Deafness and a print shop.

New building planned

"We are about to build a building in Northbrook," founder and President Dr. Patricia Scherer noted. "It's going to be on Techny and Waukegan Roads on 5 acres in a 40,000-square-foot building.

"We're in the process of opening the capital campaign to be conducted through May. After that, ground should be broken," she added.

Perhaps the most startling statistic posted on the Web site is that "99 percent of past ICODA kids are gainfully employed adults as compared to the 75 percent unemployment rate overall in the American deaf community."

"I think it has something to do with the manner in which we run the program, which includes not only the development of your talents, but the development of your personality and your character," Scherer said. "We require that they (the participants) keep their commitments ... and that they take care of the costumes and props, and always put forth their best effort to produce a quality performance."

Famous alumni

Since its inception, the center has touched hundreds of deaf and hard of hearing children, including Academy Award winning actress Marlee Matlin, formerly of Morton Grove. Matlin won the Best Actress Oscar for the 1986 film, "Children of a Lesser God."

Scherer remembers opening night in 1974 at Wheeling High School.

"The first activity for the children was the play 'The Wizard of Oz,' and featured Marlee Matlin, age 8, as Dorothy," she said. "She was wonderful. She got a standing ovation at the conclusion of her first performance.

"She was born for the stage and born to be a star," Scherer added.

Though busy raising four children and jetting to Canada for television work, Matlin "comes back and visits occasionally," Scherer said, adding, "I asked if she would write the letter for this year's annual appeal and she did."

Other center alumni include Emmy Award winning actress Liz Tannenbaum of Highland Park, co-founder of the Festival of Deaf Cinema, and Emmy winner Jonalee Folerzynski of Vernon Hills, who has recorded music with well-known composer and performer Gaia.

"We now have a creative arts camp, but in the former days we had a festival." Scherer recalled. "We had the first and I think only deaf teenager to be published professionally."

"I can go places and suddenly come upon an adult who has become a professional in the arts, only to find out they got their start at ICODA's art festival," she said. "Of course, you feel tremendously proud ... gratified, and justified, that the time that the child gave to the program at ICODA was well spent."

Center's future

ICODA's yearly budget is about $600,000. Endowment and capital funds will help pay for the new headquarters, she said.

"We've developed a partnership with Illinois State University, Oakton Community College and ourselves for the purpose of training professionals in the field of deafness in the Chicago metropolitan area," Scherer said. "The new building will house all of ICODA's arts program, as well as the new university center training program.

"My dream would be that it becomes a very large professional training center that brings a variety of skills to individuals wanting to work with the deaf."

According to Scherer, "there is a shortage of teachers of the deaf, and with the advent of the cochlear implants, there is a critical need to train current teachers with the new techniques to meet the children's needs."

A cochlear implant has surgically implanted parts that stimulate the auditory nerve. This summer, ICODA is celebrating a graduation related to this advanced technology.

"We just completed two graduate level courses in the area of education of children with cochlear implants," Scherer explained. "The graduates are currently-employed teachers interested in developing skills to meet the needs of the infant population in early intervention programs."

September gala

In September, the center will host a fall gala to honor actor Bernard Bragg, cofounder of the National Theatre of the Deaf in West Hartford, Conn.

"We're honoring him for all of the services he has provided for the past 25 years to ICODA and to its children, including mentoring students such as Marlee Matlin and Liz Tannenbaum," Scherer said. "We're also pleased to recognize his gift to ICODA in the form of the Bernard Bragg endowment," although she said she "doesn't know yet" how much the endowment will be.

The public is welcome to attend the gala, which will begin at 6 p.m. Sept. 9 at Oakton Community College's Performing Arts Center, 1600 E. Golf Road, Des Plaines. Tickets are $75 per person and include hors d'oeuvres, a silent auction and a performance. ICODA is still seeking silent auction donations.



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