December 7, 2011

Workshops convene artists, researchers, and civic leader

The University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center has partnered with the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) to present a series of workshops on city cultural planning. The conversations, which began this fall and continue through spring 2012, provide valuable context and foster dialogue as DCASE leads the effort to create a new cultural plan for Chicago.

The ongoing series, which takes place at the Chicago Cultural Center downtown and at the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago, gathers artists and politicians, nonprofit administrators and academics. The goal, says Cultural Policy Center Executive Director Betty Farrell, is “to help provide a broader context for understanding the challenges and opportunities that Chicago faces in launching its new plan.”

The Chicago Cultural Plan, scheduled for completion in April 2012, will create a framework for the city’s cultural and economic growth. It will be the second such plan in Chicago’s history, the first Chicago Cultural Plan having been adopted in 1986.

Michelle T. Boone, Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, says that the workshops “have provided us with an opportunity to begin having a dialogue with our own constituents about what cultural planning is and how it’s been successfully used in other cities. Both lectures hosted at the Cultural Center had near-capacity crowds so we have been very happy to engage with a downtown audience who might not have had an opportunity to go to other workshops in Hyde Park.”

Workshops have been presented by Carl Grodach of the University of Texas at Arlington on urban cultural policy in Austin, Texas; Robert Bruegmann of the University of Illinois at Chicago on patterns and problems in the growth of cities; Alan Brown of the consulting firm WolfBrown on the concept of “creative capital”; cultural economist Alan Freeman on the evidence base for city cultural planning; and Michael C. Dorf, AB’73, the director of the first Chicago cultural plan in 1986, on the political realities of creating such a plan.

Mr. Dorf, currently of the law firm Adducci, Dorf, Lehner, Mitchell, & Blankenship, P.C., considers the relationship behind the workshops as important as the events themselves. “The planning workshops will have considerable value in providing both ideas and perspective as the new Cultural Plan develops,” Dorf says. “I am, however, even more intrigued and enthusiastic about the partnership established between the Cultural Policy Center and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to make these workshops possible. It was always our hope that these types of collaboration would develop, and would continue the marriage of policy and politics.”

A rich partnership “for the benefit of the entire city”

The workshops were inspired by another collaborative venture: The Future of the City: The Arts Symposium was a day-long gathering of researchers, arts leaders, and policymakers held at the Chicago Cultural Center on June 7, 2011. It was devoted to exploring the role of the arts in civic engagement, neighborhood rejuvenation, and creative entrepreneurship. The event, attended by over 230 people and featuring presenters from around the United States and abroad, was hosted by the Cultural Policy Center, the University’s Office of Civic Engagement, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“We wanted a way to continue the inspiring conversations that were started at the [symposium],” Farrell explains. “Bringing to Chicago some international researchers who have been studying what makes cities vibrant and creative places, for a series of public talks, seemed the best way to keep the conversation going.”

And it was clear that a partnership with DCASE would ensure the series had a practical impact. “Our current partnership in the workshop series on city cultural planning seemed a perfect fit,” Farrell says, “given DCASE's launch of the new Chicago Cultural Plan and the CPC's commitment to fostering public dialogue on important and timely cultural issues.”

“Our partnership with the Cultural Policy Center has provided a valuable opportunity to learn from cultural planning experts from around the country,” Boone says. “This partnership is a great example of leveraging the intellectual assets of the University of Chicago for the benefit of the entire city.”

A continuing collaboration

The Cultural Policy Center will continue its partnership with DCASE into the next year, both by continuing the workshop series and with a novel Harris School course in winter quarter, taught by Betty Farrell and supporting the city’s planning process.

Students enrolled in the course will research examples of policies internationally that have succeeded in enhancing neighborhood arts. They will then present their findings to the city’s planning team as Chicago’s plan is being formed, with the potential of influencing its development.

As for the workshops, they will continue, Boone notes, in the midst of the cultural planning process. “We look forward to hosting several other workshops/lectures in 2012 as the process for the cultural plan gets underway. These will help us to add different dimensions to the public dialogue by highlighting what kind of research is happening around the country and around the world.”

By William Comfort Anderson, AM‘09

The Cultural Policy Center’s workshops are free and open to the public. View the full schedule and sign up for announcements about next year’s workshops.