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Chicago 2012 Cultural Plan

Mon, Aug 20, 2012

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) are giving a second look at a plan for arts and culture with the intention of increasing accessibility and economic impact.

At a meeting July 18 to discuss the Draft Chicago Cultural Plan 2012, Mayor Emanuel and National Endowment for the Arts Chair Rocco Landesman, among others, spoke about the major goals outlined in the plan and benefits to the people of Chicago. Emanuel said expansion of the arts would benefit the city economically, by bringing in more tourist dollars, and spiritually, by allowing all Chicagoans to enjoy the city’s vibrant culture.

Calling Chicago the “most American of American cities,” the mayor proclaimed that Chicago is the place where immigrants come, spreading culture and looking for jobs. One way to both reap the benefits of their experiences and give them an economic toe hold? More art, says Mayor Emanuel.

Landesman believes Chicago is exactly the kind of city where this plan could work. “I’m not in Chicago by accident,” he said at the meeting. “Chicago is the best arts city in the country.” He specifically referred to theatre and compared it to New York, where he lived for 31 years.

The first Chicago Cultural Plan was drafted in 1986 when Harold Washington was mayor. A committee met again in 1995 to revisit the plan and place an emphasis on Chicago’s place in the international community. Until now, there have not been any more major discussions about culture and policy in Chicago.

“After 25 years, we needed another set of North Stars to guide us,” Emanuel said after first praising the original 1986 plan. Recommendations from the original plan that have been realized include the Randolph Street theatre district and the Navy Pier redevelopment, according to the Draft Plan.

Other guest speakers at the meeting included Gabe Klein, commissioner at the Department of Transportation; Joe Iacobucci, manager of strategic planning and policy at the Chicago Transit Authority; Beth Swanson, chief of staff of education in the mayor’s office; Michelle Boone, commissioner at DCASE; and Julie Burros, director of cultural planning at DCASE.

“People” Places
All speakers emphasized the big picture when discussing plans, asking themselves what Chicago should look like in 2030.

“We want to take the public space out there and take it to another level,” Klein said. “We don’t want it to just be a place for cars. We want it to be a place to be.”

To liven up public spaces, the plan calls for a program called “Make Way for People.” This program will create “people” places – streets, parking spots, alleys and plazas – to be used as performance and arts spaces or as markets for local businesses.

A few templates for these spaces already exist. One is Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square, which promotes culture every Thursday night in the summer for live band performances. Another was the temporary “people street” on the block of Kenmore Avenue between Fullerton and Belden, near DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus. The space was used for block parties, music performances and even a how-to session about fixing your bike.

A plan to convert a triangular space at Woodard, Kimball and Milwaukee in Logan Square into a “people plaza” is also in the works. A small section of Woodard will be closed off to make the space bigger and allow for a visually pleasing performance space.

While the current templates represent different neighborhoods of the city, they do not represent all areas of Chicago. The South and West Sides, in particular, were left out of the discussion at the meeting. However, there are two proposed “people spots” on the South Side at E. 47th Street and S. Greenwood Avenue and E. 47th Street and S. Champlain Avenue. These two spots have the potential to transform the area, says Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, the executive director of the Quad Communities Development Corporation that sponsored the “people spots.”

“We don’t have as many opportunities on the South Side as we do the North Side, so we believe it can provide an economic jolt and a nice stimulus for the businesses where these ‘people spots’ will be located,” Johnson-Gabriel said.

The “people spots’ there will also support local musicians and give them a place to perform and draw a crowd. Johnson-Gabriel hopes they will bring positive activity to the area and encourage more pedestrian traffic on the busy, vehicle-heavy East 47th Street.

The simple installation of “people spots” in this South Side neighborhood could bring people from all over the city to that part of town as well as showcase the culture that already exists there.

“I’m hoping that the Culture Plan will highlight the assets that we do have,” Johnson-Gabriel said, “and then allow for opportunity for collaboration across communities to enhance those opportunities.”
Art in Academics

Accessibility should start early in school, said Swanson, the mayor’s chief of staff for education. She spoke about integrating art into all of Chicago’s public schools, including the city colleges but with an emphasis on pre-K – 12 classrooms.

“There’s been a renewed commitment to arts in this new administration,” Swanson said.

The plan outlines three major goals regarding incorporation of an art curriculum in the classroom, an increase in art teacher capacity in the school system, and access to art, according to Swanson. “Schools are 12 times less likely to have a community arts partner if there is not a certified or endorsed art instructor on staff,” she said. The plan does not outline specific schools, but rather includes every public school in the city.

“The goal is to make that vision possible for every student in the city, regardless of where that school is in the city,” Swanson said.

Art on the Move
New cultural and arts spaces in the city do not mean anything unless Chicagoans can get there. In other words, public transportation is integral.

“We’re there to be connectors,” Iacobucci said at the meeting. “We’re there to make culture accessible to the masses.”

The Chicago Transit Authority is a large part of the Cultural Plan. Iacobucci discussed how art already has a place in the CTA, referring to the sculptures and mosaics in select “L” stations. The pieces liven up the stations and turn a routine commute into a reflection of culture.

“Without the artwork, this is a blank wall,” Iacobucci said.

He also drew on Mayor Emanuel’s remark that culture and art is good for a city spiritually. Artwork brings a sense of community and identity to a place, something of pride in this city of neighborhoods.

There are currently 41 CTA stations with public art. The newly renovated Brown Line houses the most pieces. There is art at four North Side and most South Side Red Line stations and at all Pink Line stations, starting in Pilsen.

There is one piece of art at the Garfield Conservatory stop and another at Roosevelt on the Green Line; two pieces on the Blue Line and one at Howard Street on the Purple Line.

Is there potential for more art on these routes, StreetWise asked the CTA.

“CTA values the role of public art and commissions original artwork in new and newly rehabilitated transit stations,” CTA spokesperson Lambrini Lukidis said in an email. “Art improves the transit experience for residents and visitors.”

CTA started the Arts in Transit program in 2004 to showcase permanent works of art in conjunction with the City of Chicago Public Art Program, which Emanuel supports. Artwork is chosen through community-based selection and funded by the CTA and the Federal Transit Administration.

“The CTA is always looking for opportunities to expand the Arts in Transit Program. The Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 will help the CTA do that,” Lukidis said.

Colleen Connolly, StreetWise Editorial Intern

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