Weekender: Boot camp for art buyers!

Weekender: Boot camp for art buyers!

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(Flickr/Princess Stand In The Rain)
Chicago: city of tall buildings, amazing dining, and believe it or not, a rockin’ public arts scene. Everyone plays their part in making it happen – from private groups like the Chicago Loop Alliance (which will officially unveil Color Jam next week) to non-profits like the Chicago Public Art Group (which preserves and creates new murals, mosaics and sculptures), to government agencies including the Chicago Transit Authority and the city of Chicago. The latter has ushered in public art projects both historical (Ellen Lanyon’s Riverwalk Gateway) and hysterical (remember Cows on Parade?).
Now Chicago’s public arts may well be getting a boost: The City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events recently hired Daniel Schulman as Program Director of the Visual Arts – Exhibitions and Public Art Section. In that position, Schulman will program exhibitions at the Chicago Cultural Center and other city galleries. He’ll also be responsible for the city’s collection of public art and the Public Art Program.
Schulman’s name may ring a bell with many - he has a long history in Chicago art. He was a curator in the Department of Modern Art at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1993-2004 and as an independent curator put together an exhibit at the Spertus Institute. He grew up in Hyde Park and when we spoke earlier this week, he told me his formative art experiences included studio art classes at the Hyde Park Art Center and an internship at The Renaissance Society in 1977 while a high school senior.

Schulman’s art history interests reflect his hometown pride: He has tended to focus on African-American art in the 20th century, “so much of which revolves around Chicago” (read his essay on Chicago sculptor Marion Perkins here). He says he had “the good luck” to work with Charles Stuckey at the Art Institute, who was a “pioneer in addressing gaps in the museum’s coverage of African American artists.”
Chicagoans are likely also familiar with Chicago’s Public Art Program, if only because it has long been dogged by controversy. Starting in 1999, local attorney Scott Hodes launched a number of complaints against the program, including civil lawsuits charging financial mismanagement and a lack of transparency. (The city then turned around and sued Hodes, claiming fraud.)

And in a 2007 study Susan Anzia, then a graduate student at the University of Chicago, argued that the program had “run its useful life course.” Anzia also criticized the program’s governing body, the Public Art Committee (PAC), a group consisting of government officials and art community representatives. In Anzia’s view the committee, while having “formal authority to do a great deal,” more often “simply puts a stamp of approval on the decisions made by the program staff and the project-specific panels prior to PAC meetings.”

Daniel Schulman, who served on PAC from 1999-2007, disagreed with that assessment, calling it “not true.” On the matter of the future of the public arts program, Schulman had even less to say. Currently the program is overseen by the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, a department Schulman says is slated to “disappear” as of June 30. Until that date the program, like many of the city’s cultural initiatives, is “in transition.” And until the department comes under his leadership, Schulman said it was “not appropriate” to provide more specific details, including whether or not the program will survive.

He did say they’d be looking “very carefully” at the program, including the way it is funded. With public art programs the “results are unpredictable – so why make them predictable?” In other words he thinks the department needs to be open to different funding formulas and independent ideas – “suppose an artist comes in with an idea that is just phenomenal … how do you fit that into your bylaws or specific mission?”

The only project Schulman mentioned by name is the proposed Bloomingdale Trail development, which he hasn’t been involved in but he considers a project where public art can “really put a strong imprint on either a corner, a neighborhood, or a region of the city.”

City dwellers know that to already be the case – though they’ll have to wait until after June 30 to hear whether the city has new public art projects in the works. In the meantime, check out some of the public art in your neighborhood – and the rest of Weekender’s picks below!

Friday 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.

A multi-media exploration of individuals and communities at the breaking point.

Little Black Pearl Art & Design Center

1060 East 47th Street

Friday - Sunday
Rock out in the old stomping grounds of Nelson Algren.
Between Ashland Avenue & Leavitt Street
Saturday - Sunday
The Midwest’s oldest juried art fair - complete with an art-buying boot camp.
57th Street and South Kimbark Avenue
Saturday 5 p.m.
Women can tackle - hard! Find out how hard at the final regular season home game of the Force!
2285 Church Street   Evanston, IL

Please note: This show has been postponed to June 14

A blistering blend of math-rock, techno, and pop!

Bottom Lounge

1375 West Lake Street

Sunday 7 p.m.
The local band pays tribute to the legendary band who took punk far beyond hardcore.
Lincoln Hall   2424 North Lincoln Avenue

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What’re you up to this weekend? Let us know in the comments below or email weekender@wbez.org