New plan, cultural overhaul

By Alex Stedman

The first new Chicago Cultural Plan since 1986 was released Oct. 16 after six months of public outreach, four months of collaboration and more than 50 meetings.

The plan, published by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events as a 48-page document, seeks artistic and cultural growth of the city’s communities, as reported by The Chronicle Feb. 20. It is divided into four categories: Planning Culturally, Policies, Places and People. The document lists 36 recommendations for revitalizing the arts in Chicago, which range from identifying vacant walls that can be brightened with art to exploring the augmentation of an existing tax or fee for the arts.

“That first [1986] plan laid a great foundation,” said Mary May, public relations and media specialist at DCASE. “The arts and cultural community [in Chicago] is incredible, and we need to capitalize on that.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is dedicating $1 million to execute the plan, half of will be used for arts education, according to May. The other half has yet to be allocated.

May said every aspect of the plan came directly from town hall meetings, neighborhood meetings and public forums to allow the community to weigh in on the plan. Participants’ comments were integrated into the document as a photographed page of Post-it notes with scribbled suggestions.

Lord Cultural Resources, a Canadian consulting company specializing in cultural planning, helped DCASE organize meetings and draft the plan, May said.

Goals of the plan include bringing more cultural professionals to Chicago, making the city even more of a tourist destination, expanding the reach of cultural organizations and encouraging public arts projects, all of which relate to strengthening arts education,

May said.

“[Education] was the no. 1 thing we heard [about] from residents,” she said.

Education-based initiatives include an art job fair for high school graduates, appointing a Chief Creative Officer to every school and citywide school art exhibitions.

Linda DeGuzman, a music teacher at Manuel Perez Jr. Elementary, a fine and performing arts school, said she’s happy with the plan because she believes professional development for arts teachers has been neglected since the 1986 plan.

“I think they finally realized when they had the town hall meetings that they never asked the parents before about [arts education],” DeGuzman said. “The parents overwhelmingly [asked] what happened to the arts in the schools.”

Although the initiative is broad, Chris Jabin, the director of intuitional giving at the Lyric Opera who also served as a plan consultant, said it’s because of the volume of public input.

“Now the challenge is trying to prioritize [the recommendations],” Jabin said. “The trick will be how to harness and focus the energy that’s out there in the community.”

May admitted that some of the plan’s recommendations, such as developing a Museum Campus South, are big-picture ideas that could be difficult to implement and finance. However, she said 34 percent of the initiatives can be carried out at little or no cost. More than 50 percent of the initiatives will be implemented in the next 18 months, according to the plan.

May said making the regulatory process easier for artists is one of the low-cost projects that can be carried out soon.

“We don’t want [artists] to leave Chicago,” she said. “We want to find ways that we can encourage them and nurture them to stay here and have their life here.”

She emphasized the importance of both public and private organizations and art institutions reaching out to neighborhoods.

May said the majority of the plan is “merely laying a foundation and planting the seeds.”

Much of Jabin’s hope for the plan comes from the support he saw for past cultural initiatives and for this huge project.

“There exists [a desire] to be part of something bigger, to make [Chicago] better place,” he said. “I think there’s just that civic pride that’s tied to the cultural fabric of the community, and people want it to thrive and grow.”

The full Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 is available for free download at