Art Works Blog

Art Works in Chicago

Chicago radiates culture, from our art to our architecture, our food to our festivals, our music to our museums. That vibrancy of culture is Chicago’s great inheritance as a city, and it is the key to our future. That is why I was proud to unveil the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan this past October, the first new plan for strengthening the city’s arts and cultural sector in more than 25 years. The product of more than eight months of work, dozens of town hall meetings, and the input of thousands of residents, the plan contains a set of 10 initiatives with 36 recommendations and more than 200 ideas for enriching and ensuring a vibrant cultural future for Chicago.

Most importantly, it is a plan that puts our children first by improving access to arts education. The Chicago Public Schools’ Arts Education Plan, part of the larger Chicago Cultural Plan, will elevate the arts to a core subject in our children’s’ curriculum. By requiring 120 minutes of arts education per week, Chicago Public School (CPS) students will receive a comprehensive and sequential study of the four art forms---visual art, music, dance and drama---from preschool through high school graduation. This increased time for arts education will be matched by an increased number of teachers trained in the arts. While other cities across the country are cutting their school enrichment programs, here in Chicago we are increasing them for the betterment of our children’s futures. We could not have done it, however, without the 30 percent increase in educational time that CPS instituted this year, which will ultimately give our kindergartners two-and-a-half more years of educational time by the date they graduate from high school. Our teachers no longer have to choose between teaching either music or math due to an artificially short day, as they did in the past. Now, they have a full day and a full year so they can provide our kids the fully well-rounded education they deserve.

The cultural plan extends beyond our classrooms and into our communities, with a robust vision of the economic benefits that will result from a comprehensive and concerted focus on culture and the arts.

We will revitalize our neighborhoods by re-examining zoning, permitting, and licensing rules that most affect those individuals and groups in the city who produce art.

We will create a comprehensive citywide inventory of spaces that can be used for public cultural uses. There are hundreds of locations, such as bridges and side walls of public buildings, that could potentially accommodate either changing artistic exhibitions or permanent installations, becoming aesthetic treasures instead of eyesores.

Cultural grants will help implement new artistic projects, educational programs and festivals in our neighborhoods. Zoning, permitting, and licensing rules that most affect those who make art can be reformed in order to transform neighborhoods into dedicated arts districts.

I have seen firsthand how even a single cultural resource can transform the character and quality of life of a neighborhood for the better.

As a former dancer, I appreciate the revitalization of the downtown theatre district that took place the 1990s.

As a Congressman, I saw how the Lincoln Square neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago completely turned around when the Old Town School of Folk Music moved in nearby, bringing the community to life both economically and culturally---just as it brings to life the creativity and potential of so many talented Chicagoans. By attracting more than one thousand people into the area every day for performances and classes, the school benefits the entire community.

And, as mayor, I have seen how our culture and quality of life continues to attract the best workforce and companies to the city.

In this regard, I view our ambitious cultural plan as complementary to the city’s 10-year strategic plan for economic growth, which identified the key growth sectors of Chicago’s economy and the steps we need to take in order to realize our potential. From healthcare IT to advanced manufacturing, the cultural life of our city is just as important to Chicago’s future growth and competitiveness as any other sector of our economy. 53,603 jobs and 4.31 percent of businesses in Chicago are arts-related. This cultural plan can make Chicago not just the most exciting place in the country to make art, but to enjoy it as well.

For example, if we were to move up just one slot in the international rankings for tourism, it would mean 25,000 more jobs in the city of Chicago. My long-range goal is to reach 50 million visitors a year by 2020 and to move into the top five U.S. cities for international tourism.

While I believe our cultural vision is unique; Chicago is not alone in the opportunities that can come from a large-scale focus on culture and the arts. I hope that other cities will look to the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan as a model.

Interested in learning more about the arts in Chicago? Check out these NEA Art Talks with creative placemaker and artist Theaster Gates and with husband-and-wife poets Srikanth Reddy and Suzanne Buffam, and tune in to our NEA Arts interview with Old Town School of Folk Music director Bau Graves.

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