The draft of Chicago's cultural plans reflects some of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s oft-stated priorities, such as making Chicago a more internationally-prominent city. But the plan, released yesterday, also includes recommendations that could greatly benefit Chicago artists and public school students.
Emanuel announced in February that the city would create a comprehensive cultural plan, the first since the Harold Washington administration released one in 1986. The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) held more than 30 community meetings this winter on the plan.
The city will hold four more public meetings next week, and will release a final plan this fall.
Portions of the glossy, 64-page draft sound like they could have been written by World Business Chicago, the non-profit Emanuel chairs and looks to for drawing business to the city. Culture is worthwhile partly because it “revitalizes and sustains property values. Culture attracts visitors regionally and globally, directly contributing to the local economy.”
The plan recommends that in order to become a more global city, Chicago must develop a “comprehensive branding strategy” at the “local, national, and international level.”
The draft laments that despite being the third most populous city in the U.S., Chicago ranks sixth nationally in international tourism, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. And Chicago ranks 34th internationally in “innovation economies,” loosely defined as economies of digital technology, arts and design.
Interestingly, though, a main solution to having a better innovation economy proposed in the draft is equal access to arts education in the Chicago Public Schools. “Chicago has some of the nation’s leading higher education programs in the arts, but arts education continues to be limited in Chicago public schools,” the report reads.
Recommendations include a district-wide plan for arts education, “non-negotiable” guaranteed arts education resources at all public schools, and adoption of new state standards for arts education. These recommendations actually align with the Chicago Teachers Union, which has pushed for more arts funding in its current collective bargaining negotiations.
Besides more robust public arts education, other provocative recommendations include increased DCASE grants for artists, low-cost health insurance programs for self-employed artists, and a one-year job entry program for recent college graduates with fine arts degrees.
One recommendation has the city rehabbing vacant, foreclosed properties and transforming them into artist spaces.
Some of the ideas listed in the preliminary plan could make taxpayer watchdogs groan, like having a dedicated portion of the recently enacted Infrastructure Trust go to arts projects, and allocating Tax Increment Finance property tax money toward affordable artist housing.
It bears watching how many of these public investment ideas see the light of day in ensuing citywide budgets, as deficit-wracked Chicago is looking more at cuts than new programs. The first public meeting regarding the draft plan is July 24 at Malcolm X College.