Chicago’s cultural community reacts to Pritzker nomination

How will Pritzker’s philanthropy shape a potential gig as U.S. Secretary of Commerce?

May 3, 2013

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

In Chicago, signs of the Pritzker family’s cultural influence are hard to miss.

There is the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park and the Children’s Zoo in Lincoln Park. At the Art Institute of Chicago, there’s both a garden and a gallery named for them. And the leader of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is actually known as the Pritzker Director.

Penny Pritzker was on the MCA board for 10 years, three of them as chair.

Helyn Goldenberg, who at one time chaired the MCA board herself, is also a good friend of Pritzker’s. She says President Obama made a fine choice in nominating Pritzker for U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

“She was a fine leader,” said Goldenberg, adding, “She listened to people. She was generous with her time and her financial contributions and with her judgment.”

Goldenberg, who is the Midwest chairman and Director of Fine Arts at Sotheby’s in Chicago, also thinks Penny Pritzker’s fundraising skills will be an asset if she is confirmed.

“She brought a lot of economic stability to the museum. And wouldn’t that be nice, she could bring a lot of economic stability to the United States also.”

Other members of the cultural community hope having Pritzker in Washington might eventually serve artists living in Chicago.

Beyond “traditional philanthropy,” Chicago Artists Coalition head Carolina Jayaram thinks Pritzker invested “in the people of the city and the creative sector of Chicago” and “that’s given artists a reason to stay and thrive here.”

Jayaram thinks Pritzker might bring that mindset to the White House. If so, that could have an impact on small issues like making it easier for artists to get business licenses, or larger policies like revenue limitations on non-profits.

“I’m not sure these are direct things she could have an influence in,” said Jayaram, “But to have someone at that level have a background as strong as she had in arts and culture, I would think it’s because she sort of connected the dots between the investments she’s made and the advantages that can come to a city by way of that.”

NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, Pritzker’s husband, Bryan Traubert, serves on the Chicago Public Media board. The couple, along with Pritzker’s brother, were the drivers behind a donation to CPM’s capital fund from one of their family’s foundations.

Alison Cuddy is WBEZ’s Arts and Culture reporter. Follow her @wbezacuddy, on Facebook and Instagram.