Cultural Affairs update: Music out in the cold (for now)

January 26, 2012

As reported here on Halloween, for the second time in less than a year, some of the city’s hardest working and most talented cultural affairs staffers have landed on the unemployment line—not because of budget cuts, but thanks to political shuffling and departmental consolidation during the turnover of mayoral administrations.

The takeaway for music fans: As of New Year’s Eve, Michael Orlove and the three staffers who’ve done such a great job programming popular and hugely successful free events such as Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays, SummerDance, Music Without Borders, and Summer Opera at Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center are out of their jobs. And at the moment, no one is booking music for those events in 2012.

Michael OrloveDuring the waning days of the Daley administration, more than two dozen cultural staffers responsible not only for music but for theater and visual arts were shifted for reasons that no one ever clearly explained from city jobs to identical positions at the independent Office of Tourism and Culture. Mayor Emanuel’s new Commissioner of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Michelle Boone decided those jobs should be back in her department. Hence the second round of pink slips.

Sources say other cultural staffers for visual arts and theater remain at Tourism, though their jobs also will be eliminated there and the roles brought back under city control by June. The music staffers were supposed to stay on at Tourism to help oversee the transition through March. Instead, they were told to clean out their offices on Dec. 31.

The jobs were posted by the city for about 10 days in early December, but it is uncertain whether Orlove, who declined comment, or his team members will reapply—you can only get kicked to the curb so many times before you move on to another sidewalk—or if others will be hired to fill those roles. And whoever takes the jobs will be hustling to pull together music programming by the summer.

Cindy Gatziolis, the spokeswoman for Cultural Affairs and Special Events, says dates are being held for all of the music programs Chicagoans have embraced, including New Music Mondays. But she confirms that no one is working on those events at the moment—and, in general, that the roster of programs booked at the Cultural Center in coming weeks is exceedingly light—and she says the city has no date for when the jobs will be filled.

“We’re working through the process,” Gatziolis says. “It’s ongoing.”

Meanwhile, the department is programming the other big free music events in Grant Park, including the Blues Festival, and the lower-key music that will be part of the shortened and rescheduled Taste of Chicago. But Gatziolis would not say who at the department is booking Taste. “We’ll be making an announcement about music there down the line,” she says.

As noted here in early January, the biggest loss for music lovers with the shortened Taste and its diminished focus on music is the big Fourth of July concert, which was booked for the last 23 years by WXRT-FM. Gatziolis says there are no plans to replace the concert with any other Independence Day event in the lakefront park.