The Lithuanian World Center (LWC) is located at 14911 W. 127th Street in Lemont. It is a 120,000 square foot building located on approximately 18 acres. LWC was established in 1988, as a nonprofit organization that houses and serves the social, cultural, spiritual, and educational needs of people of ethnic Lithuanian descent and for service to the general publicin the Chicago Metropolitan Area and throughout the world. LWC’s mission is to attend to the needs of ethnic Lithuanians and to care for the preservation of ethnic identity and heritage as well as advancing the integration of Lithuanians into local communities.
The Center offers educational programs to the wider community about the history and important cultural contributions of Lithuanians to the Chicago Metropolitan Area, in addition to providing cultural and sports opportunities for the entire community of the Lemont Heritage Corridor. LWC seeks donations and conducts fund raising events throughout the year that enable it to provide space and operate the Center for the benefit of a variety of American-Lithuanian nonprofit organizations that teach and present Lithuanian traditions in art, dance, music and language, including: three folk dance groups (“Grandis”, “Spindulys” and “Knights of Lithuania”); the Lithuanian Museum of Art, featuring a permanent collection of traditional Lithuanian wood sculptures as well as temporary exhibitions of art by Lithuanian and other artists; the Lithuanian choral society, “Dainava”; and several schools for youth and children that transmit Lithuanian language and cultural traditions.
The Center’s facilities are also used by other Lithuanian organizations, including Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis Catholic Mission, sports teams, the Lithuanian Foundation and Scout troops. LWC regularly presents major educational and cultural events, such as the 2008 three-day International Symposium on Science, Literature and the Arts, which featured over 50 speakers and attracted hundreds of attendees.
Recently, LWC constructed a new gymnasium at the Center. The new space, which has a dual function as concert hall with stage, is widely used by many groups in the community.
The immigrant community has changed significantly since the founding of the Center, as has the Lemont community in which the Center is located. The Center seeks new ways of connecting not only to the new immigrants but also to residents of the entire metropolitan region.
In 2008, Lemont’s Lithuanian World Center (LWC) celebrated its twentieth anniversary serving the social, cultural and spiritual needs of people of ethnic Lithuanian descent in the Chicago region, as well as all residents of the surrounding Lemont Heritage Corridor. This historic milestone has been marked by a revitalization of the organization’s volunteer leadership and the birth of a plan to bring LWC to a new and higher level of activity in the area of public arts programming. Heretofore, LWC has served as an umbrella organization that assisted a variety of groups (including art museum, folk music and dance groups, Lithuanian language and culture schools), primarily by providing a suitable facility and promoting interaction among all these organizations.
Lithuanian immigrants in the Chicago Metropolitan Area constitute a unique and growing constituency that is estimated to number over 100,000 people. Lithuanian immigrants have been coming to the Chicago area throughout the 20th Century with a substantial influx after the end of World War Two, when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. Since the re-establishment of Lithuanian independence in 1991, a new wave of immigration has occurred. This influx of new immigrants brings great strengths as well as challenges to LWC, and it is one of the reasons for LWC’s decision to re-examine its mission and to develop new programming.
Recognizing that traditional as well as contemporary ethnic art forms in the visual arts, dance, music and literary arts are at the heart of Lithuanian identity, LWC’s Board of Directors is exploring ways that the organization can draw upon its many constituent groups to create a cultural whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Such a goal seems especially meaningful in today’s global environment in which ethnic cultures and art traditions are increasingly seen as transcending traditional geographic boundaries.Dance, Song and Art
Lithuanian immigrants have brought with them to North America a rich traditional culture, expressed in music, dance, crafts, fine art and literary arts. These ethnic traditions are practiced and passed on to the next generation by a variety of arts groups associated with the LWC. In recognition of this concentration of cultural resources in one location at the LWC in Lemont, the organization’s leadership embarked on a plan to develop a public arts program that would offer an overview of this rich culture, beginning with a new annual event, “Lithuanian Days”. As its initial large-scale effort to bring together a number of folk art traditions in one public art event, LWC launched its first “Lithuanian Days” in June 2009. This program seeks to present a rich overview of Lithuanian culture to the entire community, drawing upon the ethnic and folk art resources and skills of a variety of arts groups.
Lithuanian folk dancers, wearing beautiful ethnic costumes of embroidered and woven textiles and jewelry, performed dances originating centuries ago in Lithuania. This tradition continues to be practiced throughout the world among Lithuanians of all age groups, from grade-school to adult. As an art form, dance is so highly prized among Lithuanians that regular large-scale dance festivals (for example, the XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival that took place in Los Angeles in 2008) drew thousands of participants. Smaller groups, such as “Grandis”, “Spindulys”, and “Knights of Lithuania” rehearse regularly throughout the year at LWC and prepare for such performances.
Lithuania’s rich tradition of folk music parallels the development of the dance tradition, and, like dance, is celebrated in regular large-scale folk song festivals, such as the Lithuanian Song Festival in Chicago in 2006. Folk songs accompany all of life’s activities in traditional Lithuanian culture and today are an important teaching tool to help transmit the language to younger generations living outside Lithuania. The special strength of Lithuania’s folk music tradition has also evolved into a contemporary tradition of high quality choral singing, and Lithuanian choirs are famous throughout Europe and North America. The noted choral ensemble “Dainava”, which practices at LWC, performed at the “Lithuanian Days” event. In March of 2009, “Dainava” performed at the Harris Theater in Chicago celebrating Lithuania’s 1000-year anniversary. That same summer, “Dainava” traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania to sing in the Millennium celebration Lithuanian World Song Festival. This season “Dainava” presented its annual concert, featuring guest reed-pipe player Darius Klisys from Lithuania, and will be participating in the 9th North American Lithuanian Song Festival in Toronto.
In addition to these performing arts, participants had the opportunity to view the exhibits housed in 10,000 square feet within the LWC managed by the Lithuanian Museum of Art. The Museum is comprised of several collections, including the extensive collection of textiles, looms, wood carvings, ceramics and other folk art of the Lithuanian Folk Art Institute, and hundreds of works by native and émigré Lithuanian artists managed by the Art Society Daile, the Ciurlionis Gallery and the Lithuanian Institute of Fine Arts. This concentration of traditional and contemporary art in one venue at LWC demonstrates, especially to the younger generation of Lithuanians living outside of Lithuania, as well as to the non-Lithuanian public, the important connection between modern Lithuanian art and the ethnic traditions from which it evolved.
Among the most popular of Lithuanian folk arts are wood-carving, jewelry-making, in particular utilizing silver and amber, and the tradition of painting Easter eggs.Sports
In 2006, a 15,000 space feet gymnasium was added that is also used for religious services, cultural and other events. This structure is also offered for use by residents of the wider Lemont area as an excellent performance facility and gymnasium for sports events.Community Involvement
LWC is accessible and convenient to the surrounding Lemont community and within easy reach of Lithuanians in the Chicago region. Lithuanian families use the Center to help transmit their ethnic culture to children and grandchildren, to attend mass and other religious functions in their native language, to enjoy the companionship of friends and relatives, and to attend performances, seminars, lectures, art exhibits, discussions and traditional celebrations. The Saturday culture and language schools have a current enrollment of 500 students and there is a waiting list for additional students who would like to attend. Senior condominium apartments within the complex provide housing for older Lithuanians who desire to spend their senior years connected to their wider community, with easy access to cultural and religious events.
LWC is one of the largest cultural centers in the Lemont Heritage Corridor with the capacity to serve many other cultural and educational groups in the area.Serving Illinois Artists
LWC programs, in particular a program like “Lithuanian Days”, serve Lithuanian traditional as well as contemporary artists by providing opportunities for exhibition, performance and public exposure and sale of work.