More on the affairs at Cultural Affairs

November 10, 2011

Michelle Boone, the new administration’s commissioner of the new Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, has told WBEZ’s Lynette Kalsnes that the 20 or so key arts programmers who are about to lose their jobs at the Office of Tourism and Culture—where they were shifted last year after losing their jobs at the old Department of Cultural Affairs—will be welcome to reapply for similar jobs (albeit with new titles and new job descriptions) back with the city once again, though those jobs will be open to the public and “we want the best possible people out there to guide us into the future.”

If all of that sounds absurdly confusing, you’re not the only left thoroughly befuddled by the shifts over the last year affecting some of the brightest and hardest working arts programmers in town, including Michael Orlove, whose team oversees the much-loved Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays, SummerDance, Music Without Borders, and Summer Opera at Millennium Park.

“We’ll see [what will happen],” Boone told Kalsnes when specifically asked about “music guru” Orlove. “I have not had conversations with Mike. I love Mike; he’s been a tremendous asset to the city with the programs that he delivers. But Mike works with a team. I know there’s a lot of focus on this one individual, but I think he would be the first one to say that he does not do it alone. So we’ll see what happens with Mike. That’s really up to him. I do not want to be in a position of speaking for Mike. I do not hold his fate in my hands. I don’t want to accept that burden. But I would certainly hope and welcome Michael if he was in fact inclined to join the team here at DCASE. It would be a tremendous asset. But I think that Mike will do a wonderful job wherever he lands.”

Orlove did not respond to requests for comment.

Whether or not the music programmer decides to reapply for a job with the city that eliminated that job 10 months ago, the vital series that he continued to run under the new auspices of the Tourism Office will return to city control, Boone said. And the same is true of the functions of other displaced culture staffers such as Elizabeth Kelley, Nathan Mason, Rob Lentz, Michelle Bibbs, and Eva Silverman.

Karen Vaughan, Director of Public Affairs for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, initially said that only six new positions would be open to the 20 former employees. She corrected that a few days later, writing: “We will be hiring a total of 17 new positions. This number includes the 6 new positions, plus 11 vacancies which will be filled.”

This blog first reported this second burst of turmoil at the city’s cultural offices last week, following the initial chaos and confusion last December. Back then, the justification city officials gave for the lay-offs and the shunting off of many of the best music and cultural programs to Tourism was that the so-called “Shakman Decrees” crafted by the courts to eliminate political hiring also had mandated that city employees could not supervise or work directly with employees of not-for-profit organizations.

But Shakman experts have since said that former mayor's decision in the waning days of his administration to shift all of the culture jobs to the not-for-profit Tourism Office simply “made no sense,” and that court-appointed Shakman monitors are responsible only for making sure officials do not hire or fire based on political loyalties. They do not tell the city how to manage its employees or programs.

Boone granted that last year’s moves were “confusing” and “curious,” though she added in her comments to Kalsnes that the relocated staffers still were able to provide a summer of top-rate cultural programming. The new commissioner insisted, however, that those jobs and those programs belong under city control, and she emphasized that she is trying to build the best department possible to move forward. She added that she regrets the disruption in the lives of the programmers who now have been caught up—twice—in the messy process.