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Cultural Plan breakdown

Mon, Aug 20, 2012

If culture is the shared experience of a community, then Chicago is the Picasso and neighborhood murals, the setting for blockbuster movies and the birthplace of urban blues music, according to the draft of the City’s new Cultural Plan.

Chicago is the nation’s third largest creative economy, which generates $2 billion annually and employs 150,000 people, ac-cording to Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the foreward to the draft. Yet this draft says the arts must do more toward civic goals such as economic growth and quality of life. Capacity-building of the cultural sector – training, grant making, assistance in navigating governmental agencies – is also a concern.

The 52-page draft builds a case for culture, which it says can help build neighborhood pride as murals replace graffiti. Cultural districts are environmentally sustainable because they encourage the use of alternative transportation and the reuse of existing spaces. In the process, people walk to a destination – or dance when they get there – which leads to better public health. More people on the street break down anonymity in at-risk populations and improves public safety.

Released July 16, the draft followed research into Chicago’s heritage and cultural assets and then broad public engagement: four town hall meetings, 19 neighborhood cultural conversations, ongoing social media exchange, two forums of international culture experts and an implementation charrette. The final plan will be submitted to the Chicago City Council for use over the next 10 to 15 years.

The draft plan’s 10 priorities include:
• Attract and retain artists and creative professionals
• Reinvigorate arts education for all Chicago and create opportunities for lifelong learning
• Honor authentic Chicago culture in daily life
• Facilitate neighborhood planning of cultural activity
• Strengthen capacity of arts providers at critical stages of growth
• Optimize city policies and regulation so creative initiatives thrive
• Promote culture as a fundamental driver of prosperity
• Make Chicago a global cultural destination
• Place a priority on cultural innovation – what we do and how we do it
• Integrate culture into civic life, across public non-profit and private sectors.

Nearly two-thirds of the plan’s initiatives can be accomplished in the next 18 months and all but the remaining eight percent can be realized in less than five years, according to the draft.

Just over one-third (34 percent) of the initiatives would cost less than $50,000; another half would cost up to $1 million and 16 percent could cost over $1 million.

Regarding artist retention, for example, one low-cost, immediate suggestion is the zoning and permitting of artist live/work/retail incubator spaces. TIF (tax increment finance) funds could be used for affordable artist housing and foreclosed properties for the arts.

Also in line with artist retention is a recommendation for a “culture job corps.” This could include an immediate arts job fair for youth through college level and also a one-year job entry program to build experience for new arts graduates.

“Honoring authentic Chicago culture” includes a suggestion for a citywide association of neighborhood festival organizers in the near term and also a high pricetag Chicago River Festival in the longer term. Other immediate, low-cost suggestions are for youth-only exhibit space and neighborhood master classes by arts organizations’ visiting artists.

Initiatives focused on expanding the vitality of Chicago neighborhoods include three immediate low-cost proposals: zoning to permit street vendors and performance artists; art and food trucks; art walls with changing exhibitions on the sides of bridges, public buildings and transit structures.

“Neighborhood cultural councils” that could plan and budget programs were proposed in the 1986 Cultural Plan and were proposed again in this draft, for implementation in the next five years.

As part of a measure to include “vibrant cultural districts citywide,” the “Museum Campus South” would be developed to include the Museum of Science and Industry and the DuSable Museum of African American History over the next 10 to 20 years.

Still other proposals:
• A dedicated festival site to be used for large-scale City-sponsored events, with permanent vendor booths, indoor and out-door facilities and year-round programming
• A Peace Corps of Arts Administrators offering temporary service involving part-time, maternity leave and semi-retired arts teachers
• Dedicated funding for aldermanic arts initiatives
• Funding for culture within infrastructure projects citywide
• A “311 for Culture” interactive manual for cultural providers to navigate city processes
• A large-scale major cultural festival that attracts global attention
• A “Cultural Laureate Program” of touring artists
• Collaboration with international airlines and cultural institutions to offer packages around anchor events
• “Mash-up partnerships” regarding marketing, programming and facility use between cultural organizations and nonprofits in social services, environment, health and community development
• A “corporate think tank” of private sector leaders to offer advice to the cultural sector

Suzanne Hanney, StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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