Linksomania: New cultural czarina, trouble at the Park District, Odd Future/Pitchfork fallout

May 9, 2011

Catching up with various and sundry of importance to the Chicago music scene: Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel named his cultural affairs team last week, and as with several of his decisions pertaining to the arts, it’s hard to read the tea leaves.

Boone, Daley Conroy, Halperin

Michelle Boone will lead the newly merged and therefore controversial Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, which oversees the big free summer music festivals, among other things. She’s been the senior program officer for culture at the Joyce Foundation and an adjunct professor in the marketing department at DePaul University (more on her background in the Trib, the Sun-Times, and Crain’s) and is plugged into the city’s monied cultural mafia in a big way.

However, sources say that Boone, who favors jazz and R&B, is energetic and no-nonsense; that she initially resisted Rahm Emanuel’s attempts to tap her for replacing the legendary Lois Weisberg as the city’s cultural czarina, and that she may have what it takes to clean house in the political patronage dumping ground that used to be the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. (She has 90 days to present her plan for cutting the fat.)

On the other hand, Emanuel also named outgoing Mayor Richard Daley’s daughter Nora Daley Conroy to chair the Chicago Cultural Affairs Advisory Committee, and she’s pals with former Special Events head Megan McDonald, who’s done a staggeringly mediocre job in the post, but whose employment status with the city remains uncertain. And Marj Halperin, who’s loved by some in the theater world and hated by others, will be the vice chair.

This team “will bring the fresh ideas needed to help new talent flourish and keep Chicago a world leader in the arts,” Emanuel promised. But nobody he’s named yet has any serious connections to Chicago’s grassroots music communities. (Earlier in this blog: Rahm names his arts and culture committee—with no voice for indie-rock or hip-hop; Lois Weisberg on the Cultural Affairs merger: “This is one of the worst things that ever has happened to the city.”)

Parks Chief Tim Mitchell

Meanwhile, the Chicago Park District has some serious troubles at the top, thanks to a story of profligate spending broken by Fox News Chicago and the Better Government Association. Park District Superintendent Tim Mitchell—who’s held the reigns as Lollapalooza struck a sweetheart deal with the city, Northerly Island was turned over to Ticketmaster/Live Nation, and Soldier Field made a deal with Texas promoters C3 Presents that so far has yielded almost none of the cultural events that had been promised—last week suspended his top aide, close confidante, and chief of staff Shawn Schmidt for living high on the hog on his city credit card.

Emanuel may have been eyeing a replacement for Mitchell before, but this certainly doesn’t help. And with the Park District having oversight of Lollapalooza, the Pitchfork Music Festival, and other big musical shindigs in the parks, as well as deciding the future of the musical venue on Northerly Island, this is a key post for music lovers to watch.

Finally, this blog’s interview with Pitchfork majordomos Ryan Schreiber and Chris Kaskie about booking Odd Future at this summer’s festival prompted several other local critics to consider the issue, including the ubiquitous Tankboy, Kim Bellware at Chicagoist, Andrew Hertzberg at Windy City Rock, and, most notably, Marah Eakin at the AV Club, who suggests the festivalgoers who oppose the rap crew’s attitude toward women take action in Union Park by wearing T-shirts or carrying signs voicing their views, renting a booth for a women’s charity, supporting conscious artists, and most importantly talking to one another.

But for me, the most moving comment came from Sharmili Majmudar, executive director of Rape Victim Advocates. In case you missed what she wrote in the post’s comments section, here it is again:

Thank you for having an extended conversation, and for really pushing Kaskie and Schreiber on this issue. I think it’s overly simplistic to say, “Hey, it’s good, interesting music” without taking responsibility for the fact that not only does this music glorify violence against women, Pitchfork is providing a platform for them to do so. Sure, they have every right to make the music—and obviously, they’re very talented musically. But as Jim says, shock value is cheap and lazy. And the fact they glorify violence against women just adds to the many messages that our society propagates that demean and dehumanize women—that atmosphere is what influences people’s beliefs and attitudes. Do their lyrics directly cause rape? Probably not. Do their lyrics, and the celebration of them as musicians despite those lyrics send a message about the value of women? Absolutely. Thanks Jim for taking this seriously, and for calling them out.

Is it too much to ask, Pitchfork, to provide Rape Victims Advocates a platform at the Union Park Festival? Their contact info is on the Web.