Lincoln bicentennial director named

Galesburg mayor appointed to advisory committee

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Friday, September 22, 2006

WASHINGTON - Eileen R. Mackevich, co-founder and president of the Chicago Humanities Festival from 1989 to 2005, has been chosen to be executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.

Mackevich was selected from three finalists because of her high energy level and her fundraising abilities, Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, said Thursday. The commission is significantly behind in its plans to raise $100 million for events commemorating the 16th president's 200th birthday in 2009, he said. LaHood co-chairs the bicentennial commission along with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer.

"She's a very dynamic person and she's got a proven track record at knowing how to organize events, to organize media opportunities that highlight the importance of events and the other thing that she does - she knows how to raise money," LaHood said. "Almost everything that she did and the events that she conducted were big events and they required a sizable amount of money and she went out and raised the money, not just in Chicago and not just in Illinois."

Mackevich, who will start Oct. 10, will be paid an annual salary of $163,500 plus a $20,000 relocation fee to move from Chicago to Washington.

Diane Liesman, chief of staff for LaHood's congressional office, has served as acting executive director of the commission since May when the previous executive director, Michael Bishop, left. LaHood would not say if Bishop resigned or was fired. "It was a parting of the ways. It didn't work out," LaHood said. "I'll leave it at that."

However, asked if the commission was behind in its fundraising, LaHood said "very much so."

He said the commission still has time to get back on track with fundraising for a series of planned events culminating in 2009 with fireworks and a celebrity-studded event at the Lincoln Memorial. "All of us felt that she's the person who could really energize those people around the country that have a deep interest in Lincoln around those events that we need to fund," LaHood said.

Under Mackevich, the Chicago Humanities Festival grew from a one-day event involving four Chicago cultural institutions into a three-week, internationally recognized series of events that drew more than 50,000 people using the resources of more than 40 Chicago institutions.

Prior to that, Mackevich was a broadcast journalist and talk show host for 18 years at WBEZ, the Chicago affiliate of National Public Radio, and was deputy director of the Illinois Humanities Council.

"The bicentennial of the birth of our greatest president gives us an unprecedented opportunity to come together as a people in the exploration of Lincoln's life and values," Mackevich said. "We are challenged today to take up the 'unfinished work' of his presidency. It is our hope that the bicentennial moves us toward that goal."

Mackevich received a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree in British history from Northeastern Illinois University. She has completed additional graduate work in British history at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The commission also appointed Galesburg Mayor Gary Smith to its advisory committee.

"As mayor of Galesburg, one of the sites of the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates, he will provide a unique perspective and understanding of the history and legacy of Abraham Lincoln," Durbin said.

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