What Rahm Should Do For Chicago Arts

Published May 12, 2011

by Robert Kameczura

Spanish dancers in Chicago

Incoming Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has committed to helping the arts and artists of Chicago, a challenge in this era of fiscal restraint, limited city resources and big financial deficits. Still, now is the time to start discussing what can be done to help support Chicago arts, as the new mayoral administration considers its options and sets its priorities.

Finding Financing and Improving City Government

How to finance all of these projects is the big question that follows these suggestions. One idea for a service the mayor could do for the arts in Chicago is establishing good working relationships with corporations and philanthropists to work jointly to help promote the arts in Chicago. The construction of Millennium Park is an excellent recent example of this civic-private partnership.

The City also needs to work to improve some of its existing programs.

Following is a list of projects and initiatives which would help Chicago's arts scene and economy: not a complete list by any means, but these suggestions (with the exception of a Chicago-specific arts museum) should not be particularly expensive in terms of a big-city budget.

1) Establish Neighborhood Cultural Centers

The mayor-elect has expressed an interest in getting art out to the neighborhoods. A natural outgrowth of this could be neighborhood cultural centers, which would support local arts in a variety of ways. Larger cultural centers could reside in existing city structures like libraries, and storefront spaces could be employed for smaller centers. These centers could feature art exhibits, theater, movies, dance performance and education in many areas of art. Some events might be free, others, like performances and classes, might include a charge to defray expenses.

Neighborhood cultural centers could also help place resident arts groups. Many art collectives and theater companies struggle to find working spaces to perform, teach, rehearse and exhibit. The careful selection of resident groups based on specific criteria would be essential for their success. They would provide a significant share of the artists who would program the performances, classes and art to make the centers operate efficiently.

Music in the loftThese centers should offer a variety of programming that appeals to a variety of groups: children, teens and adults. Every effort should be made to involve the local community in the running of and the activities of the center. Local businesses may help defray expenses in consideration for sponsorship opportunities, naming rights,

A strong Chicago track record for this model can be found in the Hild Cultural Center Project of the 1990s, which eventually morphed into the Old Town School of Folk Music. This type of neighborhood-based, cultural center development could be viable in multiple parts of the city.