DCASE do-over, part II

November 8, 2011

A spokesperson for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) contacted me after I wrote last week’s blog post to provide some additional information and to correct some inaccuracies.

The chief inaccuracy—one which I’ve been guilty of perpetuating—is the notion that the former Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and the Mayor’s Office of Special Events were merged last autumn in order to protect the jobs of the Special Events staff, which I (and other writers) characterized as political hires. The spokesperson—who commented off-the-record—said that only six of the jobs at Special Events were political hires and the rest—approximately two dozen—were protected positions. As is typical in such situations, the political appointees were in top-ranking positions.

The DCASE representative also insisted that the decision to merge DCA and Special Events was separate from the decision to outsource day-to-day cultural programming to the Office of Tourism. Indeed, that move was made as a result of a third action in which the Office of Tourism separated from the DCA, of which it was a part, to become an independent and separately-funded entity. This led to the loss of nearly 30 DCA jobs, some being Tourism staffers who kept their jobs but under a different set of books, and others being the DCA’s cultural programmers who were let go.

The DCASE rep acknowledged that the timing of these moves meant that one action compounded the other, giving the appearance that Special Events staff was displacing DCA staff. The rep also noted that changes were long-contemplated although never publicly discussed (then again, the City rarely offers public discussion about administrative restructuring), and acknowledged that the full ramifications of these actions was not understood, especially the decision to outsource cultural programming to the Office of Tourism. On the other hand, former DCA Commissioner Lois Weisberg made public statements in which she said she had not been consulted about the changes.

In a minor correction, DCASE last year had only 73 full-time employees vs. the 79 I reported in my column. I got my number from the published City of Chicago budget, but the DCASE spokesperson observed that there had been some staff consolidations after the 2011 budget was published. However, the Department WILL have 79 full-time employees in 2012, thereby adding six jobs even though the DCASE 2012 budget is down 9.5%. Of course, by not renewing its contract with the Office of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, DCASE will be able to finance the new jobs with change left over. Additionally, as I wrote last week, DCASE is consolidating the separate bureaus of Special Events and Cultural Affairs, which will free up an additional 11 positions.

So, that’s 17 new or reconceived jobs at DCASE and 14 of them will be in a new cultural programming division, or perhaps a reconstituted cultural programming division would be a better way to describe it.

The shifts may be tough on some of the old DCA employees who were bounced out of jobs a year ago, and then were hired to do essentially the same work at the Office of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, and now will find themselves once again bounced out of their jobs. Of course, they can re-apply to DCASE, which is mounting an open application process to fill the positions, and which hopes to have everyone hired during the first quarter of 2012.

The contract between DCASE and Tourism was only for one year. To state what may be obvious, it will be better for the Department’s cultural programming, and for Chicago’s arts community, to have planning and execution handled by individuals with long-term job prospects, rather than those dependent on renewal of an annual contract.