The new year has barely started, but things are already bustling in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, where the Old Town School of Folk Music opened a major addition, right, this week. The Old Town School East Building at 4545 N. Lincoln Ave. is a 27,000-square-foot, $16 million, three-story facility with a performance space that will double Old Town's annual concert bookings to 400. The focus in the new 150-capacity hall will be on world music and dance concerts, which shouldn't put too much pressure on similarly sized venues such as Schubas and Empty Bottle that typically host rock concerts. But the musical benefits should be immediately apparent in many of the underserved ethnic communities in Chicago. While Old Town is expanding, one of Chicago's formerly elite summer institutions -- Taste of Chicago -- is shrinking. Originally focused on food and area restaurants, Taste started drawing even bigger crowds when it beefed up its musical offerings decades ago. Now, with a budget crisis in City Hall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trimming Taste in half this summer, from 10 days to five, and will move it to July 11-15 instead of anchoring it around the Fourth of July. No musical or culinary lineups have been announced for this summer's shortened Taste, but changes needed to be made. Attendance has been falling and the annual deficit mounting. Now under the auspices of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Taste will be shorter, but the hope is it might actually offer a stronger musical lineup than it has in years.
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