CHICAGO — The draft of the new Chicago Cultural Plan was officially released a week ago. It’s the penultimate step in a process that began in February, and which will end in the fall of 2012 with the release of the final recommendations.

As reported here earlier in the year, the plan is the first comprehensive arts strategy for Chicago since the 1980s. The various city organizations and consultants that have steered the process have tried to involve the public as much as they can through public meetings and brain-storming sessions. The draft plan that results from this is in fact two documents: one containing the bullet points (warning: it’s still 64 pages long), and the other containing the specific funding mechanisms for the proposals.

The specific proposals, as several people have already pointed out, are exciting, comprehensive, and pretty unlikely to see the light of day in their entirety. They include: increased grants for artists; low-cost health insurance programs for artists; making it easier for artists and artists’ communities to set up in vacant properties; the creation of a “cultural corps” of artists to teach in schools, community centers, etc.; lots of initiatives for arts in education; beefing up access to the arts via park district programming, after-school programs, public residencies; the creation of a new festival site in the city; the creation of a new museum campus on the south side, which basically means linking the Du Sable Museum to the Museum of Science and Industry.

The funding document lists all the initiatives, next to an amusingly rendered estimate of the projected cost as a series of dollar signs, like a Zagat rating (a single $ = $50,000; $$$$ = more than $1 million). No one doubts that all of these estimates will change as the plan starts to be implemented.

It all sounds wonderful, but frankly, I am still at a loss as to how Chicago’s cultural scene will look different five or ten years from now. I keep thinking of what Pollock, De Kooning, Mitchell and Kline would have said if you had gone into the Cedar Tavern and asked them to participate in a cultural plan group session: if they didn’t beat you up, they would have laughed you out of the place. I wonder if I’m not the only person who is torn by these sorts of initiatives: of course cities should elevate the arts, but I’m always left with the feeling that ultimately the idea of “planning culture” ends up benefiting the large organization and the funding body at the sake of the drunken creative types in the local taverns.

I don’t want to be too cynical, though. If the Chicago Cultural Plan results in only modest changes, like a decent standard of living through increased opportunities for the city’s artists, then it will be a good thing.

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)...