WBEZ | arts and culture http://www.wbez.org/tags/arts-and-culture Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Make no small cultural plans http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-24/make-no-small-cultural-plans-96704 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-24/2408912567_e2494c835b.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-24/2408912567_e2494c835b.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 303px;" title="The downtown Chicago Public Library, home to many special collections. (Flickr/Shawn Econo)">The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) has begun to fulfill Rahm Emmanuel’s campaign promise to draft a comprehensive cultural plan for the City of Chicago. We haven’t had a new one since 1986 when Mayor Harold Washington first established the Dept. of Cultural Affairs and ordered a cultural assessment.</p><p>The public is invited to participate in preparation of the plan—due to be published in the fall—through public forums and <a href="http://www.chicagoculturalplan2012.com">an interactive website</a>.</p><p>OK, so what should a cultural scheme for Chicago include?</p><p>On the one hand, it should obey the dictum attributed to Daniel Burnham to “make no small plans.” Let’s think big. As Danny Thomas used to say (and he knew whereof he spoke), “If you’re gonna’ have a nose, have a NOSE!” Let’s dream, let’s imagine. Let’s propose new cultural entities and facilities, just as long as we have programs first to fill buildings and not empty buildings waiting for programs to utilize them.</p><p>On the other hand, there’s economic reality. Despite the proven importance of arts and culture as a dynamic economic engine for the city (and state), one would be loco to think Chicago will substantially increase the dollars it puts into culture. The city will do everything it can . . . as long as “everything” costs little or nothing or generates revenue.</p><p>Where does that leave a cultural master plan? What should it include? What <em>can</em> it include? My thoughts are no more definitive than anyone else’s, but may be somewhat more informed or enlightened by virtue of my reporting on arts and culture for so many years. What I propose may seem vague, but for starters the City of Chicago Cultural Plan needs to address patrimony, places and partnerships.</p><p>By patrimony—as the United Nations uses the term—I mean the buildings, archives and collections that form the cultural heritage of Chicago. The plan needs to identify these things and catalog them. Some are obvious, such as our architectural heritage, with regard to which the City has a smudged and spotty record, best summed up by saying our aldermen never met a developer they didn’t like. Also obviously, we have significant public and private art collections which should be identified, in part so we can do what we can to keep them in Chicago.</p><div class="inset"><div class="insetContent"><p><span style="font-size:10px;">Listen to the Dueling Critics debate Porchlight's <em>A Catered Affair </em>on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em></span></p><p><span class="filefield_audio_insert_player" href="/sites/default/files/120224 Onstage Backstage.mp3" id="filefield_audio_insert_player-126376" player="null">120224 Onstage Backstage.mp3</span></p></div></div><p>But some of our patrimony is less obvious. Our cultural archives and records, for example, are haphazard and scattered, with some papers, photos and clippings at the Newberry Library, some at the Chicago Public Library Special Collections, others at the Chicago History Museum or various universities, etc. A cultural plan might make an effort to cross catalog holdings and to establish a central archive for things not yet collected, such as theater reviews and articles that chronicle the rise of Chicago Off-Loop Theater over the last 45-50 years. DCASE and a cultural plan could be the catalysts for inter-agency and inter-institution cooperation.&nbsp;</p><p>By places, I mean the physical facilities at which cultural events can occur. Again, many of these are obvious and already in use but not all of them. For example, several Chicago Park District field houses are utilized for theater, dance and musical performances, but not all the field houses that might be suitable. The cultural plan could engage the Park District in identifying additional locations and, perhaps, finding ways to finance small capital improvements to make more spaces available.</p><p>On another front, several aldermen have assisted performing arts organizations in locating suitable spaces to serve as permanent homes (the most recent example being James Cappleman’s assist in relocating the National Pastime Theater to the Preston Bradley Center), and DCASE itself has brokered such deals. But there isn’t a consistent program or policy to do this sort of thing. Here is another opportunity for DCASE and a cultural plan to serve as catalyst and facilitator at little or no cost.</p><p>Finally, the master cultural document needs to address partnerships, meaning public-private partnerships and naming rights. In the current economic climate, such partnerships are among the few ways that arts and culture might generate an infusion of new dollars. The City and the Park District already have created such partnerships in the development of Millennium Park and in corporate support for the Grant Park Music Festival among other examples. I’ve already used this blog space to promote (twice) the idea that DCASE’s CityArts (sic) Grants program should be underwritten by a corporate sponsor with dollars coming 50-50 from the City and the sponsor.</p><p>There are, of course, numerous other funding possibilities, the most obvious of which are the huge aldermanic slush fund boondoggles known as TIF Districts, which directly siphon off property tax money that <em>should</em> be going to education, the parks and so on. Our City Council never will give up TIFs voluntarily, but they just might mandate that a certain percentage of each TIF be earmarked for arts and culture in support of specifics in the cultural plan or, better yet, in support of arts in education which has all but disappeared from our public schools (which also must be addressed by the cultural plan).</p><p>So there are my ideas for the City of Chicago Cultural Plan. Meanwhile, I have copies of long-deceased magazines and newspapers for which I wrote over the years, and I have my collection of Off-Loop Theater t-shirts and coffee cups all waiting for an appropriate home. Clearly, the Plan’s first recommendation should be a call for the Jonathan Abarbanel Theater Archive, to which my bones can be added not-too-many years from now.&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 24 Feb 2012 16:20:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-24/make-no-small-cultural-plans-96704 A case for government funding of the arts, part 1 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-08-16/case-government-funding-arts-part-1-90649 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-August/2011-08-17/Edward Hopper Project_Flickr_Sarah Ji.JPG" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-17/Edward Hopper Project_Flickr_Sarah Ji.JPG" title="(Flickr/Sarah Ji)" width="500" height="332"></p><p>Those familiar with my postings may know that I am a proponent of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). I endorse its mission and its work, and I firmly believe that the federal government (not to mention state and local governments) should support the arts in a material way.</p><p>There are people of intelligence and goodwill who hold the opposite view; who believe government at all levels should withdraw its direct and indirect support for the arts, minimal as that support is. For them—and perhaps for you—I offer this rationale:</p><p>Governments, nations and societies are not remembered for their leaders, or for battles lost or won. For better or for worse, they are remembered for the culture they create and leave as a legacy for the world.</p><p>Everyone knows who Aristotle and Plato and Sophocles were, but few could tell you who headed the government of Athens when those great thinkers and writers lived and worked.</p><p>Everyone knows Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, but few could tell you what Pope commissioned the work.</p><p>Everyone knows Mozart, but few can name the Austrian emperors who reigned during his lifetime.</p><p>And practically every American teen can tell you who Lucille Ball and Elvis Presley were, but very few can tell you who Dwight Eisenhower was.</p><p>Given the fact that artists and works of art achieve iconic status far more often than political leaders, it's astonishing that so little attention is paid to the arts and culture, at least in the United States. Of course, many artists and their supporters probably prefer it that way, arguing that coercion and outright censorship are inevitable when government supports the arts.</p><p>Indeed, the track record of smothering intellectual and expressive freedom is nearly as old as expression itself. When Athens was in decline, it began to censor theater.</p><p>Shakespeare's history plays indirectly flatter the Tudor dynasty of Queen Elizabeth I. King Louis XIV prohibited public performances of Moliere's Tartuffe until Moliere rewrote the ending. Stalinism crushed Shostakovich. In the Untied States, the tremendously influential (still) Federal Theater Project of the 1930's lasted only 18 months before conservatives in Congress killed it.</p><p>But there is a big, big difference between the USA and the examples I've cited of other eras and other nations, and that difference is this: First Amendment protections mean the government in the United States does not have the power or the legal authority to censor art (at least not at present).&nbsp; The only constitutionally approved means through which government can limit art is by limiting - or withdrawing - government funding. The Federal Theater Project could not be censored, so it was murdered.</p><p>When the National Endowment for the Arts was established in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson, it was set up to be free of programmatic oversight by Congress precisely to avoid the threat of political coercion, and that policy has worked every bit as well as had been hoped. Still, just as with the Federal Theater Project, Congress could vote to kill the National Endowment for the Arts outright. Over the last 20 years, the NEA has survived a dozen conservative onslaughts in Congress attempting to dissolve it completely, although the NEA has had to endure huge funding cuts of more than 50 percent.</p><p>It seems that some members of Congress fear the marketplace of ideas, artistic expression and creative innovation precisely because they can't control them. At worst that's a form of fascistic thinking, and reason enough in my mind to support the NEA. At very best, it's using personal values to assess the arts, by which some members of Congress confuse personal morality with public policy.</p><p>There are plenty of other reasons to favor the NEA, beginning with the fact that it's a tremendously efficient and modestly-run agency; a model for a federal bureaucracy. Even in its fattest days, back in the 1980s and very early 1990s, the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts was only 1/10,000 of annual Federal expenditures.&nbsp; Today it's far less than that.</p><p>Even more, the NEA funnels 50 percent of its money directly to state arts agencies (by congressional mandate), thereby allowing local standards and selection criteria to prevail (I'm not sure everyone in Congress understands this part). Also, the NEA primes the pump for private giving to the arts by individuals, foundations and corporations in amounts which dwarf the NEA's own budget by thousands of times. I doubt that can be said of any other federal agency.</p><p>More about how the NEA works — from an insider's perspective — next week.</p></p> Tue, 16 Aug 2011 15:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-08-16/case-government-funding-arts-part-1-90649 Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel says he won't spare the arts http://www.wbez.org/story/mayor-elect-rahm-emanuel-says-he-wont-spare-arts-85764 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//rahm getty john gress.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel says no group is immune from the changes he plans -- and that includes the arts.<br> <br> Emanuel took the stage at the Goodman Theatre before a crowd that included prominent members of the arts community. He told them how much he loves the arts. He said they're vital to the city because they enrich the soul and boost economic development.<br> <br> But he said cultural organizations are not in a "sacrifice-free zone."</p><p>"I'm going to make sure everybody feels there was equal participation in both change and sacrifice so the whole city benefits." Emanuel said. "And I say that as somebody who thinks what happens here and the people participating here are essential to the city."<br> <br> For instance, Emanuel said he wants to end the way charitable groups and non-profits get out of paying for water. He was asked if non-profits should pay property taxes and said he'd investigate that issue.</p><p>He spoke before a panel discussion that included Rocco Landesman, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts; an official with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and well-known local artists, organizers and a businessperson. In full disclosure, WBEZ's Steve Edwards moderated the panel.<br> <br> &nbsp;&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 27 Apr 2011 20:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/mayor-elect-rahm-emanuel-says-he-wont-spare-arts-85764