DCASE does a do-over

November 3, 2011

Just a year after former Mayor Daley did a gut job on the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) over the strenuous objections of long-time Cultural Commish Lois Weisberg, the new mayor and his new Commish, Michelle T. Boone, are reversing those actions as much as they can.

As first reported last week by WBEZ's Lynette Kalsnes, Commissioner Boone revealed in budget hearings that the 2012 plan for her department calls for taking back responsibilities for planning and day-to-day execution of cultural programs, which had been contracted out to the Chicago Office of Tourism (renamed the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture in recognition of its expanded responsibilities).

What Boone and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel can’t do, or won’t do, is detach the Special Events function from the department, which has been called the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) since last January in recognition of the forced merger of DCA with the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. It was that merger, dictated by Mayor Daley and rubber-stamped by the City Council without hearings or public scrutiny, which led to the dismissal of 30 DCA employees including the DCA’s program directors for theater, music and visual arts. They were replaced by the Special Events employees, all of whom were political hires reporting to the mayor. Safely ensconced within DCASE, their jobs are protected from political firings.

The work done by the dismissed DCA staff was taken up by the expanded Office of Tourism and Culture (OTC), which hired several of the dismissed DCA folks, their salaries covered by a service contract between, you guessed it, OTC and DCASE. In robbing Peter to pay Paul, Mayor Daley could claim he was saving money by reducing staff and merging agencies, but it all was smoke and mirrors.

In any case, the 2012 City of Chicago budget document notes that DCASE “plans to restructure its agreement with the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, returning critical functions to City management, including the cultural grants program, cultural performing arts programming in Millennium Park, the Chicago Cultural Center, and visual arts programs.”

DCASE will have $29.2 million to do it, down not quite 10% from $32.3 million in Fiscal 2011. That amount includes funding for six new positions, according to DCASE spokesperson Karen Vaughan. Even with six new hires, the total DCASE roster of full-time employees will be the same as last year, 79, which means there will be internal consolidation. Indeed, that’s the plan. We’re not sure how it will work, given their different agendas, but moving into 2012 the Department no longer will be split between a Bureau of Special Events and a Bureau of Cultural Affairs. Somehow, Commish Boone is gonna’ make a single entity out of the two bureaus, thereby freeing-up an additional 11 positions for new people with different job descriptions. Of the total of 17 new people, 14 will be in a new arts programming division, reports Vaughan.

Last year, the lion’s share of DCASE’s budget went to Special Events ($22.5 million) vs. Cultural Affairs ($12.3 million). [Yes, I know that’s more than the $32.3 million reported above for Fiscal 2011, but DCASE received $2.5 in grants in addition to its City appropriation.] Now, with only a single money pot, perhaps DCASE will find clever ways to blur distinctions between Special Events and Cultural Affairs, perhaps to the advantage of the latter.

According to Vaughan, the changes should be in place by January 1, or very shortly thereafter. The contract between DCASE and OTC was for 12 months.

The other major item of news coming out of the budget documents is the announcement that DCASE will “start the process of developing a new Cultural Plan for the City” which will “chart a roadmap for Chicago’s cultural and economic growth” in order to enhance “Chicago’s reputation as a destination for creativity, innovation, and the arts.” This fulfills a campaign pledge made by candidate Emmanuel and repeated by him as Mayor-Elect. Chicago’s last cultural plan was drawn up in 1985 under Mayor Harold Washington.