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Here are two recent postings regarding the development of Chicago’s cultural plan for 2012.  One is by visual artist, arts educator & project manager Meg Peterson, whom i have been in thoughtful and engaging discussions aligned with the evolution of the plan. The other comes from lead consultant firm for Dept of Cultural Affairs  Special Events,  Lord Cultural Resources, whom have come up with a summary of findings based upon extensive research and data culled from conversations with Chicago’s diverse population.

Meg Peterson’s article Creative City: Chicago’s Plan For Encouraging Cultural Participation(from  This Big City ):

“Chicago, a diverse and vibrant city located in the mid-western region of the United States, has a rich history of culture and creativity. Though Chicago is home to many artists and it has many influential cultural icons such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago artists often have difficulty making a living wage. Artists, once they reach a certain caliber of recognition or ambition, migrate to more culturally known cities of New York, or L.A., even to international cities like London or Paris. Despite Chicago’s cultural icons, it has a hard time retaining artists, quite possibly because it does not have the same opportunities for artists or does not have the reputation on a global scale of its counterparts.

Most of Chicago’s wealth is concentrated on the north side of the city, which is evident even by assessing the route of Chicago’s public rail line, the “L”, who’s access is highly concentrated towards the north side of the city. While the city is extremely diverse, with almost equal thirds of black, white and Latino populations, the city is notoriously segregated. This segregation leads to a huge disparity of access and even awareness to cultural opportunities, often making it quite difficult for someone living in a south side neighborhood to attend an event on the north side and vice versa, granted they even know about it at all. Arts education in schools and community centers is also affected greatly by this segregation, with intense difference from school to school. Many schools have cut arts programming all together.

The Chicago Cultural Plan

The Chicago Cultural Plan aims to tackle many of these issues, building upon the ideals of the initial Chicago Cultural Plan, which began in 1986, in its grassroots structure and large amount of involvement from the community to make a Plan which does in fact reflect and serve the needs of its citizens. Meetings were held during the winter and spring of 2012 in community centers, art centers, heritage sites, universities, park districts and schools in areas accessible to all Chicagoans, regardless of geography or the pre-existence of cultural resources. After hearing from its citizens through about 30 community meetings throughout the city, the city’s government will then by compile its Plan of action, a living document that will attempt to find practical solutions through the broad augmentation of culture to address the needs expressed by communities across the city.  The underlying understanding behind the plan is that by improving cultural capital in the city, it will also improve the local economies and increase a sense of community and wellbeing, thereby decreasing crime, joblessness and many other larger issues facing the city’s residents.

Each meeting outlined and built upon these six initiatives:

  1. Increase cultural participation by increasing accessibility.
  2. K-12 arts education.
  3. Cross-pollinate culture across the city.
  4. Strengthen the capacity within the cultural sector.
  5. Ensure vibrant cultural spaces for cultural organizations, groups, artists, and neighborhoods.
  6. Attract and retain artists through a priority on sustainability.

What does this mean for Chicago?

Despite the optimism of many of Chicagoans, the questions remain on many people’s minds- how will the city actually implement the Plan? Will the Plan directly relate to Chicago’s communities or simply improve the city’s image and put even more money into areas that appeal to tourists and outsiders, without providing improvements to neighborhoods across the city?  The answer to these questions is complex and will take ample time to address, though it is evident that there needs to be put in place a structure beyond the top down approach of implementing the Plan directly from the city government.

Community leaders, artists and activists across the city are pushing towards the creation of an intermediary force, or community cultural liaison of sorts, who will connect the initiatives and tools in the Plan with the communities themselves. These liaisons will be working on the ground level in each community to make sure that the Plan is being implemented in a way that is appropriate to each place.  Each liaison is proposed to work within one neighborhood or small group of neighborhoods in the city. The broader context for the success, in relation to many other successful plans is not to necessarily bring in outside resources to each neighborhood but to find creative ways to highlight the rich cultural resources already present in each community, through innovative concepts like cultural mapping.  This view assumes a broad definition of culture, beyond the arts, to encompass the things that describe the daily lives of people in each place.

Now that the initial community meetings have been held, the city has amassed a pool of data about how the above initiatives can be put into action.  The city will be releasing a draft of the Chicago Cultural Plan in early summer of 2012, followed by four ‘ground-truthing’ meetings which aim to get more feedback from Chicago’s people in order to fine-tune the Plan to greater accommodate the needs of the city.  The Plan is set for release in the fall of 2012.

Follow the plan here, give your feedback, and stay tuned.”

Images courtesy of moaksey and anarchosyn on flickr



Dept of Cultural Affairs & Special Events/Lord Cultural Resources Summary of Findings from 2012 Public Engagement(with other acknowledged consultants):

“What would it be like to have not only
color vision but culture vision, the ability
to see the multiple worlds of others?”
– Mary Catherine Bateson,
Cultural Anthropologist

Cultural planning in the City of Chicago goes back over 40 years, to the
first effort, in 1966, by the Mayor’s Committee for Cultural and Economic
Development to create a composite voice for the direction of culture in the
city. A second planning effort was completed two decades later under the
administration of Mayor Harold Washington. That plan set the stage for
the direction of growth of the city’s cultural resources and resulted in many
downtown and loop cultural developments; including the redevelopment
of Randolph Street as the Theater District; renovation of Navy Pier; and the
creation of the Chicago Cultural Center as a center for visual and performing
experiences in the city.

Chicago – and the world – has changed significantly in the quarter century
since the 1986 plan was written and even since its update in 1995. In one of
his first acts as Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel directed the Department of
Cultural Affairs and Special Events to revisit the Chicago Cultural Plan. Through a competitive process, the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) led by Commissioner Michelle T. Boone, selected an integrated local and global team headed by the international consulting firm Lord Cultural Resources, with partners Research Explorers, Inc; Dickerson Global Advisors; cultural policy expert Nick Rabkin; and graphic communications firm Weetu, to guide the planning effort. The city also created a 32-member Advisory Committee of local arts, government and community members, specifically for the cultural plan. With this team in place, in February, the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 was launched to identify opportunities for arts and cultural growth for the city.

The Planning Process
There are four legs on which this cultural plan stands: public engagement,
a broad and deep wealth of up-to-date research, an emphasis on creativity
and innovation, and, finally, buy-in from the citizens of Chicago, government
and the business community. The planning process is unfolding in three phases,
with Phase 1: planning, research, and development, and Phase 2: outreach,
interviews, and information collection, occurring concurrently. The final phase, 3: information compilation and report generation will utilize all of the research and data gathering, along with insight from those inside and outside of city to make recommendations and an implementation plan to move the Cultural Plan forward.

To reach the broadest spectrum of participants, potential funders, and citizens at large, the planning team worked with partners from the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development and the Chicago Community Trust to create resource maps for the town hall meetings and the neighborhood cultural conversations.

Technology has reshaped the way many citizens engage with culture and
participate in the arts; a National Endowment for the Arts finding shows that
people who participate in the arts through electronic media are nearly three
times as likely to attend live arts events as non-media participants. So to further the conversation on Chicago’s cultural future, and to allow an even greater voice for citizens, the team launched an interactive website, where Chicagoans were asked to submit ideas and participate in the discussion.

The public phase of the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan kicked off in February 2012 with a series of large public meetings in four locations throughout the city within a short public transit, walk, and car ride from over 90% of Chicago citizens. Those locations were; Columbia College’s Stage Two in central Chicago, Nicholas Senn High School on the North side, DuSable Museum of African American History on the South side, National Museum of Mexican Art on the West side.
This report explains what happened at the public meetings, what the public said, how the information was captured and how it will be used moving forward.

The Big Picture: Town Hall Meetings

Town Halls
Columbia College 315
Nicholas Senn High School 161
DuSable Museum of African American History 158
National Museum of Mexican Art 201

The town hall meeting discussions were as spirited as the locations in which
they were held. In breakout groups, participants were asked about their view
of cultural Chicago, and how we get from here to there. At the conclusion of
the meeting, each group was given three minutes to report back the highlights of their conversations. Reportbacks from all the groups allowed them to hear each other’s challenges, priorities, and best practices in sharing their vision for Chicago and its neighborhoods. Participants were also given the opportunity to ask questions of city officials and the consulting team.
• Increase cultural participation by increasing accessibility. Throughout
the city, Chicagoans are looking for greater access to culture. This point
addresses many sectors: safety, zoning and policy, physical distribution, and,
in some areas far south and west, transportation.
• Secure K-12 arts education. At every town hall meeting, arts education was
a major topic. Conversation often became more intense when discussing
the desire to provide arts education opportunities for school-age children.
These include arts in schools of all types -public, charter, private, etc. – as
well as opportunities outside of school, such as after school and during the
summer, weekend, and breaks.
• Downtown and beyond – cross-pollinate culture citywide.  

Chicago culture is not only downtown or in the loop. Culture thrives throughout the city, and participants came equipped with examples of culture from their communities – we even had poetic and dance performances at some of the meetings.

• Strengthen capacity within cultural sector. Participants think the cultural
sector in the city is strong when it comes to offering quality cultural
experiences; however, the sector is weak in infrastructure development
– training, resource development, assistance in navigating public and
governmental agencies.
• Ensure vibrant cultural space for artists, cultural groups, and
neighborhoods.  Chicagoans resoundingly requested the exploration of all types of places for culture.

• Attract and retain artists through priority on sustainability. Chicago’s
“artist drain” was acknowledged, with many people pointing out that the
universities and colleges in Chicago train some of the greatest cultural
practitioners, but these practitioners then leave for the East and West
Coasts, where they can make a living as artists.

Digging Deeper: Neighborhood Cultural Conversations


“If we could provide people with more
information on why where they live is special,
people would have more pride in their city and
take better care of their neighborhoods.”
– Caroline Stevens,
Town Hall participant


The vitality and diversity of Chicago’s neighborhoods
are one of its greatest assets and what differentiates it
from other cities. Chicago residents were engaged in 21
neighborhood meetings in 19 locations between the end of
February and beginning of April 2012. Neighborhood cultural
conversations were designed to use topics that dominated
town hall meetings to inspire residents to think critically
about their own neighborhood, and allow them to articulate
the potential for their community’s cultural vitality.
During the conversations, participants were encouraged to
celebrate their neighborhood, vote on the top three town
hall issues that resonated most with their personal and or
community desires. This followed facilitated discussions of
the top 2 to 3 themes where participants graded the success
or failures of their neighborhoods in addressing the issue as
well as suggested and prioritized solutions.

Of the six themes, “Secure K-12 art education” and “ensure
vibrant cultural spaces” consistently were the top themes
most pertinent to their neighborhoods. “Increase cultural
participation by increasing accessibility,” “cross-pollinate
culture citywide,” and “attract and retain artist through
priority on sustainability” were nearly tied in the second tier
but varied by conversation depending on the neighborhood
and audience. “Strengthen capacity within the cultural
sector” received the least amount of votes of the six themes.
To systematically evaluate the information gained through
the conversations, the team built a series of charts, like the
one below, summarizing the public input on the three key
questions by region and topic.

Four themes consistently surfaced in terms of understanding
residents’ desires to ensure Chicago’s future cultural vitality.
The themes are:

• Empower neighborhoods to plan and execute cultural initiatives.
Residents know their community and feel that they are best able to assess
and articulate their needs. In many cases, attendees were looking to these
conversations and the city to provide them with direction for improving their
own community. Many thought that the city could facilitate the initiative
by providing the steps, access, and tools to create cultural opportunities –
space, education, and experiences – by leveraging their existing assets and
identifying opportunities that can be realized in the future.
• Coordinate and centralize cultural communication. Access to information
and lack of communication between different parts of the city or sectors of
the community were often cited as reasons for neighborhood segregation,
ethnic polarity, and lack of exposure to culture. Many neighborhood
priorities focused on improved communication.
• Optimize existing resources citywide. The Chicago Park District is the
largest municipal park manager in the nation and owner of more than 8,100
acres of green space, 580 parks and 260 field houses. Nearly every Chicago
neighborhood has a park and field house. Additionally, Chicago is one of the
leading municipal library systems with more than 75 locations throughout
Chicago. In the minds of many participants these two existing institutions
can be the foundation for facilities on which the city can “build” since most
neighborhoods have both a library and park that are maintained and staffed.
Participants felt that this foundation exists in both public and privately held
facilities, green spaces, rooftops, lots and any number of potential cultural
• Distribute citywide resources equitably.  As groups focused on the needs of their communities, residents quickly seized on the opportunity to provide solutions for the issues of real and perceived inequalities in cultural opportunities – be they economic or geographic. First, the distribution of 

more and equitable arts education was a main theme at every conversation.
Many residents felt that the arts education opportunities currently on offer
for the majority of school-age children was inadequate and would benefit
from augmentation. Many attendees pointed out that creativity sparked by
arts education is crucial in innovation development.


Next Steps

This report represents the conclusion of the initial public engagement.
Following the approval of this report, the team will share the findings and
combine the results of the public engagement with the research, creativity and innovation studies, input from city and sector leaders, to identify and prioritize opportunities and needs. Finally a draft Cultural Plan will be distributed in late Summer.
The Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 plan is an invitation to explore and
shape Chicago’s cultural future so participants are encouraged to stay
connected to both the process – by continuing to dialogue online at
http://www.chicagoculturalplan2012.com and to each other by seeking opportunities for collaborations and partnerships with new contacts made through the public engagement process.



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