Chicago artist captures the ‘sound’ of MusicNOW in a series of posters

Chicago artist Donovan Foote has designed a series of collage-based posters for this season's CSO MusicNOW series. The first poster, for the Oct. 24 program titled Perspectives, is shown here.

Vivid. Bold. Playful. Bright. 

Adjectives like these are frequently used to describe the sounds that fill a theater during CSO MusicNOW concerts. These descriptions are not limited to music; elements of visual art are often expressed through the same shared language. Donovan Foote, a Chicago-based artist, was given the ambitious task of translating the music featured in the 25th MusicNOW season into poster designs. He has created a set of limited-edition prints for each of the four 2022-23 MusicNOW concerts; all of the prints are available for purchase (online only) at

The first MusicNOW concert of the season, Perspectives on Oct. 24 at Symphony Center, features works by Alvin Singleton, Carlos Simon and Jessie Montgomery, the CSO's Mead Composer-in-Residence. Foote found the works on the program to be hauntingly beautiful and ethereal, and the perfect starting point to develop the visual language he would carry through all four poster designs. He used ink splatters, brushstrokes, coin rubbings and instrument shapes to convey “the sound of a memory existing somewhere between historical fact and a feeling. The assembled [image of a violin exists more like the memory of a violin.”

In spring 2022, Foote met with Montgomery, who curates the MusicNOW series, to discuss how the concerts should be represented visually. Foote believes his own background in music provided a shared language as he worked with Montgomery to develop his designs. “I felt like I totally understood where she was coming from when she described things,” he said. “I talk about visual art a bit musically, and a lot of descriptions are interchangeable to me.”

While Montgomery had suggestions, she gave him ample freedom to create. “It’s more interesting to try to capture a tone than a specific thing,” he said. “She provided these guideposts that were specific but allowed for creative wiggle room.”

Montgomery designed the 2022-23 MusicNOW series to celebrate mentor/mentee relationships and the influence of the past on the present; Foote saw this as a natural opportunity to use the technique of collage. “By taking something already in existence and then reshaping it into a new idea, collage is in many regards the perfect visual metaphor for the concept of lineage,” he said.

Foote noted that although each element within the collages is a physical artifact, the posters were assembled digitally, which means that the images could be endlessly manipulated into new designs. “I appreciate how that process echoes music and its ability to take on new meaning as it is performed by new musicians over time.”

To create each poster, Foote used an eclectic mix of sketches, clippings from magazines and found objects. In a filing cabinet passed down from his grandfather, Foote maintains a collection of drawings, papers and items he finds interesting to be used in his art someday — sometimes many years later. The poster he created for Common Ground, the second concert of this season’s series, on Nov. 21, includes a map of the Appalachians that he picked up more than 20 years ago. It serves as a nod to the program’s folk and bluegrass influences. “It was fun being able to use these pieces of ephemera that have been with me for decades, for them to finally make it out in the world,” Foote said.

To purchase learn more about the 2022-23 CSO MusicNOW series, please visit

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