The Windy City is Blowing Up: Rahm Emanuel Releases Detailed Plan to Turn Chicago Into Art Oasis

The Windy City is Blowing Up: Rahm Emanuel Releases Detailed Plan to Turn Chicago Into Art Oasis
Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" (commonly known as "The Bean") in Chicago
(Courtesy rmlowe via Flickr)

CHICAGO — For the first time in 25 years, the City of Chicago has entered the final stages of renewing their Cultural Plan, an early edition of which was released this week. Including bold intitiatives and recommendations for several branches of city services — some of them quite novel — the Plan was researched and drafted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Arts and Culture Transition Team, and is a central point of Emanuel's efforts to build a legacy early in his second year in office.

Some of the most noticeable initiatives outlined by the Plan have to do with making the city an easier place for artists to live and work. Besides recommendations for increased grants from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Plan proposes a curiously named "BuildYear School-to-Work" program that would help artists find appropriate work in their first year after graduating from college, as well as an "Artist360" fellowship that would put artists to work incorporating their skills in city planning and social services. Another initiative would improve zoning for affordable artist housing and create a comprehensive system to make foreclosed properties available for "cultural use."

Given the wealth of the city's museums, galleries, concert halls, libraries, and universities, it's not surprising the Chicagoans may occasionally feel undervalued. The Plan points out that though it is the country's third biggest city, Chicago ranked seventh for international visitors received in 2011, and cites a report by the statistics agency 2think now, which ranked Chicago behind Strasbourg, Seattle, and Singapore as an "innovation destination." As part of efforts to improve Chicago's standing "as a global destination for creativity, innovation and excellence in the arts," the Plan recommends a series of as "pop-up" installations in collaboration with international artists, designers, and architects, as well as a "Cultural Laureate Program" to endorse Chicago-based arts organizations that tour around the world.

What does the city's creative community think of such initiatives? Joyce Fernandes, who has extensive experience in repurposing underused public spaces for the arts as director of the non-profit architreasures, takes non-binding recommendations like these with cautious optimism. Though lamenting a chronically uneven distribution of resources between downtown Chicago and less affluent communities in the South and West sides, she sees potential everywhere. "If you just took a little bit of the resources that are being devoted to making the downtown area a tourist destination," she told ARTINFO, "and gave that to arts organizations, and set them up to be able to do performances and cultural events in communities, it would be incredible."