All images are from Wednesday night’s open forum for the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

CHICAGO — On Wednesday evening, nearly 300 people crammed into a small auditorium at Columbia College Chicago to participate in an open forum for the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012. You would think that every big city in the world has a cultural plan, but evidently the last time Chicago carried out this exercise was back in 1986 under Mayor Harold Washington. The aims for the new plan, which has been put into motion by former Obama hit man and new Mayor Rahm Emanuel, are par for the course. As outlined by Commissioner Michelle Boone, of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and Orit Sarfaty of Lord Cultural Resources (the consultancy that is developing the new plan), they are:

  • To bring new economic benefits to the city from the cultural sector;
  • Community development;
  • Neighborhood vitality;
  • Cultural leadership; and
  • Identify emerging initiatives.

No, I don’t know what half of that stuff means either.

After the various bureaucrats gave their speeches, the crowds were dispersed into break-out groups with the task of answering just three questions: What is your cultural Chicago? What is your vision for Chicago in 2030? How do we get there from here?

In the discussion that I sat in on, the answers that people gave were predictably vague and idealistic: “the arts should be inclusive,” “there should be more trees and plants” and “bring arts back into the schools.” One person suggested that by 2030 she would like to see flying cars around Chicago. An equally unrealistic aim, I’m sad to say, was voiced by one gentleman who wanted to see cultural funding reaching “as far as 169th Street” (on Chicago’s far south side). He was absolutely right, but even as he said it I think most people in the room knew that this planning process will almost certainly mean more of the same, which is: extra stuff for Millennium Park (home to Anish Kapoor’s bean), and not a lot for the neighborhoods.

Of course, it’s easy to mock this ponderous and highly bureaucratic approach to the arts. It’s clear by the turn-out that the consultants have one thing right: a lot of people are genuinely interested in cultural programming in Chicago, and in making sure the city continues to be a place where the arts and artists can thrive. This was the first of 30 meetings that will be held across the city in the coming months. It remains to be seen just how much that will affect the final plan. All will be revealed in September, after which the real work will begin: finding the money to pay for the various schemes that will emerge.

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Philip A Hartigan

Philip Hartigan is a UK-born artist and writer who now lives, works and teaches in Chicago. He also writes occasionally for Time Out-Chicago. Personal narratives (his own, other peoples', and invented)...