Gospel Fest to return and move to South Side

Chicago Cultural Affairs Department takes back arts programming

October 27, 2011

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(Flickr/John W. Iswanski)
Members of Tony Tidwell and Favor, as part of a preview performance for the 2010 Chicago Gospel Music Festival.

Chicago's Gospel Fest is returning next year, and it's moving to the South Side.

This past summer, like several other music festivals, the Gospel Fest got folded into Taste of Chicago due to budget cuts and was shrunk so it was only a day long.

But the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) plans to revive Gospel Fest and make it a full festival again.

Commissioner Michelle Boone testified in budget hearings today.

"We're looking to use Gospel Fest as a possible model to re-engage our audiences with that festival work, taking this festival in particular into a neighborhood on the South Side, but also looking to explore other resources across the city that also have these deep gospel roots and history we can also take advantage of," Boone said.

She said it's a high priority to ensure all residents have access to "high-quality arts." So the department plans to work with arts groups like Chicago Dancing Festival to extend programing into neighborhoods.

Boone also announced she's restructuring the department.

In the waning days of Mayor Daley's administration, Daley essentially dismantled the Department of Cultural Affairs. He merged it with the Mayor's Office of Special Events, laid off a bunch of staff, and transferred much of the arts programming to the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture. There was a storm of criticism, and long-time and influential Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lois Weisberg resigned in protest of the merger.

"Those decisions were made without any regard to the merger or the impact to the Department of Cultural Affairs joining forces with the Mayor's Office of Special Events," Boone said.

Boone said she came in with the charge to reexamine those decisions and make the department "whole." She ordered an audit to look at all of the programming. She plans to have the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events take back arts programming, exhibitions, grants, and most programming related to Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center.

Boone said tourism-related functions will stay with the tourism office. DCASE will significantly reduce the city's grant to the tourism office.

Next year, DCASE plans to expand farmers' markets to food deserts.

It's already been reported the city plans to cut back the number of days of Taste of Chicago because the festival is losing money. Boone says she'd like the festival to give more neighborhood restaurants the opportunity to participate. DCASE is working with architects and designers to improve the festival's layout.