VDB looks at the Chicago Cultural Plan

Lindsay Bosch
VDB looks at the Chicago Cultural Plan

VDB was excited to take part Tuesday July 31st in the final Town Hall Meeting for the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan. Distribution Manager, Lindsay Bosch, discusses the event: 

Upon my arrival I was impressed at the sheer number of artists, educators and arts professionals that had come out on a Tuesday evening to discuss Chicago’s cultural future. A choir serenaded us with soul hits as over three hundred of us filed in under the Cultural Center’s Tiffany dome. We were introduced to Joy Bailey from Lord Cultural Resources a consulting firm with whom the Department of Cultural Affairs has partnered to draft a unifying mission for the city’s cultural endeavors.  The goals of the plan were described to us :

• Increase cultural participation – in numbers and in depth
• Leverage the benefits of culture on broad civic goals like economic impact, quality of life and community development
• Strengthen Chicago’s cultural sector 

Each participant was issued a response buzzer and we got a quick sense of demographics (17% of us were artists and 28% arts administrators...the majority of us were North or West Siders.) We then voted on our level support of each of the ten major priorities that have been identified as part of the plan.

• 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 to continually strengthen our quality of life.
• 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, nonprofit, and private sectors.

To me these goals all seem to have merit, certainly I found myself largely in support. My worry was that these extremely broad and high level goals seemed somewhat set apart from the day-to-day realities of our cultural community. I took heart, however, from the final stage of our meeting in which the whole audience broke into work groups, each devoted to one of these ten priorities.

I joined “Strengthen capacity of arts providers” as it is a goal near to my heart (and much needed.) I was glad to find that each goal has been paired with actionable Recommendations, and each recommendation was served by five to eight fairly practical Initiatives. Laid out to this level of detail, the plan offers a true road map to enact actual change for the arts and culture of Chicago. I was impressed by the level of organization of the event, and the enthusiasm of the Department of Cultural Affairs staffers who lead our discussions. Our workgroups were tasked to identify questions, problems or omissions from the initiatives as well as to locate the “low hanging fruit” --actions that could be achieved relatively quickly.

Some initiatives in this group that caught my eye included: Longer grantmaking cycles, incentives to offer cultural institutions discounted insurance plans, expansion of grants to support operating expenses, a Shared Services Capacity Center serving multiple arts organizations, succinct funding guidelines that focus on clarity, and a 'Building New Audiences' citywide symposium.

The Cultural Plan is still in a draft version and will be launched in Fall 2012. I get the sense that the ten priorities are set in stone, but there is a lot of negotiation and editing to be done on the level of initiative points. It seems to be an exciting phase of the planning. The initiatives are actual changes that might happen – programs that could affect cultural work as early as next year. Our group talked about 25 possible initiatives – if each group had the same that’s about  250 plans for arts improvements.  It remains to be seen how the overall Cultural Plan will be executed (not to mention funded) but it does seem the city is taking it seriously...and so should we.

While town hall meetings have concluded, Chicago is actively soliciting more feedback this month through their Draft Plan Survey. Let them know what you’d like to see!