Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 Town hall held at Columbia

By Heather Scroering

Imagine a Chicago where art classes are taught daily in public schools. Picture it as a European capital of culture, an even more robust and vivacious city. Ideas such as these are what the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 seeks to turn into reality.

The cultural plan is an initiative launched by the city to heighten public interest in art and culture around Chicago by developing communities and cultural leadership. Columbia kicked off the campaign by hosting the first in a planed series of town hall meetings Feb. 15 at Stage Two in the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building.

“We wanted to launch a new cultural plan because we think in the 21st century, it’s time for a fresh approach that will incorporate new advances, such as technology and the growth of the city’s arts sector, while we can identify additional and new opportunities for our future,” said Michelle Boone, commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, at the meeting.

The last cultural plan, developed in 1986 under former Mayor Harold Washington, re-established Chicago’s theater district and refurbished Navy Pier, according to a press release from DCASE.

Approximately 300 people attended the town hall meeting, with only standing room available. Among the attendees were students and art teachers from educational institutions, as well as patrons, funders and representatives of various artistic organizations.

Attendees were asked to break into groups and were given 25 minutes to brainstorm ideas for the cultural plan.

A theme common to all of the groups was making arts education in public schools a priority.

“Taking the arts out of the schools for me is akin to sabotaging the development of learning abilities,” said Patricia Blair, associate artistic director of Ballet Chicago. “[Arts education] changes and improves their ability to learn everything, not just the arts.”

One group noted how downtown Chicago is not connected to the surrounding neighborhoods and suggested that representatives from each neighborhood meet monthly to compile a list of community events.

It was also suggested that Chicago collaborate with its diverse cultural communities, such as Chinatown, Pilsen and other ethnic-based neighborhoods, to organize an international festival to educate groups on their own cultures and others.

Lynette Velazquez, junior art and design major, hopes to see sponsorship from nonprofit arts organizations to mentor youth culture groups in schools.

“If there was a lot more involvement from groups from the actual cultures that are in the neighborhood, and if they would get more involved with the schools, [they could] show students and young people that they are present and they aren’t dead organizations that are just a hobby,” Velazquez said.

According to Philippe Ravanas, chair of the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department, Columbia is making a point to be a major cultural player in the planning process noting the college’s historical connection to the last cultural strategy.

Fred Fine, founder of the AEMM program, was the first DCASE commissioner. Ravanas, who teaches Comparative Cultural Policy to graduate students, leapt at the opportunity to give his students a hands-on experience with cultural policy making because it is a rare phenomenon.

His students will be conducting a research project and constructing an application to propose that Chicago become a European capital of culture, a city designated by the European Union for one calendar year when it will organize several cultural events.

“Each time I’ve had the opportunity to grab a real project for a class, I’ve seized it because all of a sudden there’s a sense of heightened relevance of the subject,” Ravanas said. “It’s not just a class project, but it’s a project that will be presented and shared, so I think there’s also a sense of pride.”

The Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 will be drafted during spring and summer and submitted in the fall. Three more town hall meetings will be held in Chicago, and more neighborhood conversations are planned.

Ravanas stressed the importance of Columbia’s role in the cultural plan.

“It’s not just a laudable aspiration,” he said. “We have a responsibility as an institution because those are jobs for our students, those are jobs for artists and managers and so on. So playing a part in this planning effort to guarantee the robust cultural life of downtown for the generation to come is critical.”