Approx. 30 people participated in a Neighborhood Cultural Conversation at Pritzker School (2009 W. Schiller) this past Saturday.
Facilitated by Amanda Carlson, an assistant to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Cultural Planning Team, the gathering was Humboldt Park, Near West Side and West Town’s chance to give its input on the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan, which has been making stops in ‘hoods all over the city.
Intending to get feedback from the front-lines on what our ‘city of big shoulders’ can do to help its cultural drivers, i.e. artists, cultural organizations, community groups and business owners, Carlson kicked off the second hour of the gathering by asking people where they were from and what grade they’d give the City of Chicago in terms of its friendliness for fostering arts and culture.
A jazz guitarist from Avondale gave the city a “C-,” and said that Chicago has the talent to be the live music capital of the country but it isn’t.
An artist who lives in the Bloomingdale Trail Arts Complex said, “I used to make a good living teaching artists, and now I’m lucky if I get any job. Grants are gutted, teaching jobs are gone. I would say that Chicago has gone from a B+ 10 years ago, to a D now.”
Another artist and Wicker Park gallery owner gave the city a D.
A jazz vocalist sitting next to this writer said D.
The owner of an independently owned theater in Wicker Park gave the city one of the best grades, of “B,” attributing this higher rating to the fact that her theater is a for-profit and not a not-for-pofit. “We aren’t reliant on city funding as much as we might be if we were a not-for-profit,” she shared. This writer and neighborhood newsletter publisher seconded these thoughts and weighed in with “B.”
Paul Natkin, founder of the Chicago Music Commission, a grassroots advocacy group for musicians and promoters, said that he’d give Mayor Emanuel a 9/10 on his friendliness toward music, and Daley a 1/10.
“Rahm understands the value of arts as an economic driver,” Natkin said, before pulling out his smartphone and mentioning that despite music being a $2 billion yearly industry in Chicago, music is not even mentioned on the Chicago Dept. of Tourism’s website.
Natkin cited numerous difficulties that music promoters face, like negotiating with the government on licensing and regulatory issues.
Other presumably grade-raising desires brought up by artists included more affordable housing, more live/work opportunities supported by the city, and a better publicizing of grants which “keep going to the same places.” One participant said, “Stop the nepotism. The city should be forced to give grants to smaller groups.”
One artist mentioned traveling abroad and cited other countries and cities which give traveling stipends to its artists. That almost made this writer spit up her coffee, not because it wasn’t a good idea, but it just seemed a bit unrealistic. Considering that he’s closing police stations, and shuttering six mental health clinics, displacing some 2,549 patients, sending our city’s artists to Amsterdam should be the least of Rahm’s concerns.
But for what it’s worth, it’s nice to know the city is listening.