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Interview Article on the Upcoming Chicago Cultural Plan

There was a recent interview with the new top dog regarding the upcoming Cultural Plan for the city.  I’m not too keen on her idea to make a Cultural Center a convergence site for college students. I’m OK if this is added to the agenda to increase student participation but definitely not as a dominant focus. The different schools and universities are competitors with each other and there are active divisive cultures among them. Ms. Boone refers to art students as future art consumers in the article rather than art creators, and a substantial number to a majority of the art students leave Chicago once they finish school anyway. They come here to attend school and leave. The Cultural Center should offer the maximum programming as a resource to the entire city and not overly focus on a target youth group.  THE BOTTOM LINE: College kids work for free and cheap, look hip and trendy and are young artists that want attention with little or no compensation.  They will probably paint, sculpt, print, photograph and install their little hearts out for some pizza.  There’s a whole bunch of those college kids around just going to waste getting an education.

The move to put half of the annual Gospel festival on the South Side, exact area un-named, is curious.  It may help the area in the sense of “gentrification arts”.  They gonna sing away the crime.  If you live in the city, you should be well aware that whole sections of the South Side have -for years- asked for placement of the National Guard and requested martial law. THE BOTTOM LINE: Public safety is going to be an issue; police officers got some overtime pay coming.  Extra bonus for Christian police officers that can sing along, amen!

Then the whole point of the process is revealed.

THE BOTTOM LINE: ATTRACT TOURISTS!  This sums up the whole focus at the end of the interview, set goals for tourist visits: 50 Million visitors by 2020.  They put a huge tax on bottled water thinking we were going to host the Olympics.  Come to Chicago and bring your money!  Chicago is not ghetto because we haz culture!!1!  Hollywood, come and make your films here because we love you!  If I try and sell a painting on the streets, the Gestapo will slap me in cuffs right away.  The street vending license is still being challenged as inaccessible and incomprehensible, with something like 80 pages of restrictions.  I’m not seeing the lack of street culture being addressed directly.  Our openly accessible street art is graffiti painters and sticker bombers running illegally.  This is typical of Chicago; they want the benefits of the arts but only through controlled, monolithic power structures.

Miami is way ahead of us on using the arts to attract people to their city, years ahead of us; and Miami has great winters and a whole ocean right there.  Miami has stuff more like NYC or Venice Beach, California where taggers can tag and not get hassled.  There are arenas for professional artists to weekend watercolourists to vend their work.  Why aren’t we taking a closer look at cities that have more direct public access for participation?

The city does a lot of great stuff for the public.  I especially attend the gallery shows and open air free music concerts, especially because I am poor.  I am just concerned that cultural enrichment can and will take a back seat to an agenda to attract tourists; dialogues and art that could be complicated or messy will get censored, anything that challenges the power structure or questions authority will not be supported.  I was hoping the new Cultural Plan would address the lack of art education in the public schools, but that is not a part of it at all.  I was hoping the plan would make access to commerce for artists more democratic.

Chicago Tribune [source]

Commissioner Michelle Boone lays out her dreams for Chicago’s cultural future

  • Michelle Boone, Commissioner Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, in her office at the Cultural Center.
Michelle Boone, Commissioner Department of Cultural Affairs and Special… (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune)
March 30, 2012|Howard Reich | Arts critic

Michelle Boone became the city’s cultural commissioner at a turbulent time.

A few months before she took office in June, then-MayorRichard M. Daleyhad decided to merge the Department of Cultural Affairs with the Mayor’s Office of Special Events.

This prompted Lois Weisberg — commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs since Daley took power in 1989 — to quit in February 2011 while publicly deriding the merger.

Meanwhile, a bureaucratic shuffle had moved programmers from Cultural Affairs to the nonprofit Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture — but those people were laid off in December.

And along the way, the city’s culture budget was cut from $32.8 million in 2011 to $29.2 million in 2012.

Despite the turmoil, Boone — who before Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her had served as senior program officer for culture at the Joyce Foundation in Chicago — has plunged into her task. This was apparent from citywide town hall meetings she held in February and the neighborhood meetings she has initiated since then. Determined to create a new Cultural Plan for Chicago, and to build it on civic dialogue, Boone and her colleagues have solicited input from arts professionals and everyday Chicagoans.

In her first extended interview since taking office, Boone, 50, recently shared her own vision of Chicago’s cultural future.

She trumpeted a dramatically re-envisioned Chicago Gospel Music Festival that will unfold both downtown and on the South Side. She emphasized the return of the World Music Festival, Chicago SummerDance, Downtown Sound and other programs that some have feared would be eliminated in this year’s budget crunch (the Music Without Borders series will not be returning).

Looking into a more distant future, she expressed hopes for a citywide arts festival; a Chicago Cultural Center that emerges as a hub for college students; a plethora of cultural events unfolding in city parks and libraries; and a tally of 50 million visitors annually by 2020, the tourists drawn — at least in part — by a burgeoning culture scene.

Inside are excerpts of our conversation.

Q: What are your plans?

A: Most immediately is to complete the Cultural Plan process. So we’ve begun the information process. We hope to have the State of Culture report done this May and ultimately have a plan with a set of recommendations presented this fall. That’s top of mind.

Two, we’re in the process of rebuilding our team here. So the merger (of the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Office of Special Events) happened last year. There’s been a lot of work, a lot of good work at making the department whole.

We are in the process now of re-integrating much of the programming that had been outsourced to the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture back under our umbrella, and that will require bringing on additional staff.

So by the end of this year, the main priorities we’re going to have are: staff in place, the department merger complete and the Cultural Plan — have this document with a real clear blueprint about where we need to direct our focus and work.

Q: Is that harder to do on a smaller budget?

A: Not really. I guess there’s a feeling that we’re actually doing more (since) the merger, because we now have the festival work under this umbrella. So it doesn’t feel like we’re doing any less with the budget.

I think people are really accepting the challenge of having to do more with less. But it’s a creative bunch, so we’ve managed to figure it out.

Q: How hard was it to merge two departments?

A: Well, it wasn’t hard to do because it was done (before Boone took office), right? I mean, you had two sets of staff that were involved in developing and presenting cultural programs. They didn’t necessarily do them together.

So what we’ve spent a lot of time over this past year doing is trying to find opportunities to really integrate the teams.

So there’s no more of this separation of: “Oh, I only do the Jazz Festival.” But now the people that are part of the Jazz Festival are also talking to the people that program and are responsible for the “Made in Chicago” jazz series (at Millennium Park). So we have a really solid jazz team. And it’s this shared expertise across the program boundaries that I think is really going to benefit the city at large in the end.

Q: Are there still programmer positions to be filled?

A: Yes. Our goal is by June 1 to have all of those positions filled.

Q: Have you been able to start booking performers while you’re still hiring programmers?

A: We brought Angel Ysaguirre on board to be over our arts programming. We have great programmers on staff in Jennifer Johnson Washington and Jeneene Brown-Mosley.

Things like the “Made in Chicago” jazz series, those programs were done in collaboration with the Jazz Institute of Chicago. We’re continuing to work with Lauren Deutsch and the staff of the Jazz Institute. So the “Made in Chicago” jazz series is pretty much in place with the staff that’s already there.

The department worked with independent music producers and presenters for “Downtown Sound.” A lot of that is already kind of in place.

So SummerDance, people have lots of ideas. I have ideas. I started out in programming, so I’m kind of sticking my finger in the pie too.

So we’re filling in the gaps, and as the new staff comes on board, there certainly will be room for them to make a contribution.

Q: Do you miss the input of music programmers such as Michael Orlove who were laid off?

A: I don’t miss it, because I didn’t have the benefit of having it. They were never really under my direction.

I certainly can appreciate the contributions that those guys made. But as I said, I think they would be the first ones to admit they didn’t do it alone.

So we’re continuing those collaborations to fill those programs, fill that programming space.

So, no, we’ve got great folks. There are a lot of good, smart programmers out there.

Those guys are great. But, you know, we’re moving forward.

Q: Can your department help bring arts education to the schools?

A: I think it’s something that the department can look to address through the Cultural Plan. So we can’t be the deliverer of arts education programming in CPS. But what we can do is, for example, I know CPS recently filled the arts education director position. And that person has been to a number of our Cultural Plan town halls and community meetings and has reached out and said: “Wow, we’re really interested to see what comes out of the Cultural Plan, and how these strategies might align with the work we’re trying to do here.”

So I think the timing is good in that this Cultural Plan and community engagement process is happening this spring (with further neighborhood and town hall meetings). As we get more refined kinds of recommendations and a clear picture unfolds about what it is that is achievable, that then can be a foundation for them as they begin the next academic school year.

And maybe have a strategy that they can then build on for addressing some of the education, arts education deficiencies in this city.

Q: How can your department increase support for the Chicago International Film Festival?

A: We already partner with the film festival beyond just funding it. They do a film series that we make the space available for them to showcase films throughout the year. So it helps the International Film Festival continue to maintain the audience and keep an identity throughout the year, beyond that two-week crunch time when they have the big festival.

The other thing we’re doing, the (Chicago) Film Office has expanded since I’ve been here. It was a department of one — Rich Moskal, who does a fantastic job — and now we have three people in the Film Office. And so we’re working to try and position the Film Office in a way that is it not just reacting to film projects that come to Chicago and we help process permits and find locations, but how do we really make that office more of a resource to strengthen the film worker community in Chicago?

We want to be more aggressive about getting films, TV shows. How do we support film companies, production companies? How do we really define what is the industry that we want Chicago film to represent?

So I’m not thinking about it in isolation of just the one International Film Festival but trying to think more holistically about what we can do for film through our Film Office.

Q: Can park district fieldhouses be used as cultural centers?

A: One of the first things I did when I started was to convene a meeting with people from the park districts and the libraries. The parks and the libraries have the best resources in terms of spaces in the neighborhoods. The mayor has been really vocal about his desire to extend cultural programming into our neighborhoods, and these are city facilities that are there.

And so we have already met numerous times. We — at the very beginning of the year — went through the calendar and said, “What are the opportunities for synergy? How can we collaborate?”

So I’m really anxious for when the new commissioner of Chicago Public Library comes on board to continue that conversation. I think the department has, and Special Events has, a long history of working with parks. We are going to use the parks for a lot of our festival work.

Q: What’s your vision for the Chicago Cultural Center?

A: It’s the people’s palace. I think many arts organizations always talk about, or wrestle with the notion of audience development. And the reality is many of our audiences can’t afford some of the fees.

The programming that’s here in the Cultural Center is free. I think we become the best audience-development tool citywide. So, for example, our galleries are free. How can we become this conduit to introduce contemporary art to audiences that then might inspire people when they have the means to go and explore the Museum of Contemporary Art, or The Modern Wing at the Art Institute, or the Renaissance Society in Hyde Park?

How do we use traditional concerts, like the Dame Myra Hess (Memorial) Concerts, here in Preston Bradley Hall, to cultivate new young audiences for classical music?

So I still see the Cultural Center as being this hub of creative activity.

I’m really interested in trying to develop programming and create spaces that will be attractive and appeal to the 65,000 young people we have in the Loop who are students at the School of the Art Institute, Columbia College, Roosevelt, DePaul, Robert Morris, Harold Washington. There’s no communal gathering space for these students. These are our future art audiences.

How then can I position the work that we do in the Cultural Center to really tap into that demographic, that built-in audience and make this a gathering communal place for all those young people? I mean, each one of these schools will have their own collective communal meeting places. But there isn’t a place where they all can kind of come together.

I absolutely want the Cultural Center to be that.

Q: Is your department involved in development of cultural districts?

A: Our department is, as are many other city agency departments. The Department of Housing and Economic Development certainly will play a key role in that, and is playing a key role, with Uptown (music district) or with the Motor Row (jazz and blues district) and Cermak (Road) Creative Industries area.

The Department of Transportation is involved in some streetscaping initiatives that also will play a role in how you identify these districts. So it’s not just DCASE (Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events) solely. Which I think is one of the things that I’m excited about. It’s: “How do I position this department as a part of the work of other city agencies?”

We can’t do it by ourselves. We have to do this work in tandem with other city agencies that really play a critical role. So how do I make sure that our work is in alignment with the goals of the libraries, the parks, CTA, CDOT (Chicago Department of Transportation) and Housing and Economic Development, as well as public safety — the Police Department.

To me, that’s what a healthy community represents. And so to just stick arts in a community that doesn’t have a more holistic support system is doomed to fail. But collectively, when we’re leveraging our resources and when we’re all talking together, that’s when you see change happen.

Q: How would you characterize your relationship with the mayor?

A: It’s great. Surprisingly, so, right? He’s been tremendously supportive to the department. We communicate on a very regular basis. I meet with him in person. We communicate via reports.

He is very much aware of the work that we do. He has lots of ideas about work that we can do, should do. So it’s been fantastic.

Q: What do you go out to see and hear at night?

A: Oh God, what don’t I go to? Like last night, I was at a reception kickoff for an Ida B. Wells monument committee. So there are descendants here in Chicago from Ida B. Wells, the great pioneer, civil rights pioneer, suffragette movement.

And at the site of where the former Ida B. Wells housing development was, the great Chicago-based sculptor Richard Hunt is creating a piece to commemorate and honor Ida B. Wells. That’s fantastic.

This weekend I’ll be at the Vic Theatre, going to the Louder Than a Bomb competition. You know, I go to everything.

Q: Is there a citywide event from another town that you’d like to bring here?

A: Last year I had the opportunity to travel to two international theater festivals. It would be great to see something like that happen here.

Q: Bernie and Jane Sahlins produced a Chicago International Theatre Festival in the 1980s and ’90s.

A: I’ve heard about it. I’ve had a chance to speak to Jane (Sahlins) briefly about it.

But we have such a rich and diverse theater community here, lots of cutting edge, innovative work. Chicago is a place where you can try new things onstage. And if it works, great. And if it doesn’t work, you don’t kill your career in the process.

So I’d love to see something like that on a large scale happen that would invite the world to come and experience, not just our theater, but our whole performance scene is so fantastic.

Could there be a big major arts festival that the city would just be onstage for the world’s view? I’d like to see that.

Q: Do people outside Chicago realize what we have here culturally?

 A: I don’t think they know as much as they should, no. So I think having some kind of arts festival would be a great platform to let the rest of the world know what we already do, that this is a great arts town.
Q: Overall, what big things are you trying to get done in this job?
A: I want a successful Cultural Plan. I want it to be a living document that is referred back to over and over and over, and that we begin to check, check, check, and in the process, we are helping the mayor achieve his goal of 50 million visitors by 2020.
Categories: Chicago, Rant, Uncategorized
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