Cultural Advisory Council Tuesday, June 6, 2023 Meeting Minutes

Meeting minutes were approved at the Cultural Advisory Council Meeting on Tuesday, September 12, 2023 at the Chicago Cultural Center, Millennium Park Room, 5th Floor North, 3pm.



Cultural Advisory Council ("CAC") Members:

Present: Chair; Coya Paz, Vice-Chair; Blake-Anthony Johnson, Alison Cuddy, Amina Dickerson, Juan Díes, Brooke Flanagan, Robert Gomez, Esther Grimm, Tracie Hall, Kevin Iega Jeff, William Michel, Cesáreo Moreno, Silvia Rivera, Vivian Teng, Kaoru Watanabe, Debra Yepa-Pappan, Claire Rice

Absent: Robert Faust, Josephine Lee, Margaret Murphy-Webb, Akilah Halley, Omar Torres-Kortright, Paul Sznewajs, Tanner Woodford, Tonika Lewis Johnson

Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events ("DCASE") Staff: Commissioner Erin Harkey, First Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Johnson Washington, Deputy Commissioner Nancy Villafranca, Nina Melendez, Tenisha Wilkins, Tara Vock



I. Welcome and Introduction

Coya Paz, Chair of the Cultural Advisory Council (CAC) at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), welcomed attendees to the virtual meeting held on June 6th, 2023. She introduced herself and the purpose of the meeting, ensuring compliance with open meetings regulations. Despite no public comments received, the meeting proceeded as planned. Coya acknowledged key DCASE staff members and Co-Chair Blake Anthony Johnson, as well as Nina Melendez and Tenisha Wilkins for their hosting and liaison support.

The agenda for the meeting was outlined, including discussions about the mayoral transition team, DCASE leadership updates, Q&A on prereading materials, summer programming, and post-meeting action items. A quorum of 15 members was established, and the minutes of the previous meeting on March 7th, 2023 were approved with minor corrections.


II. Arts and Culture Transition Subcommittee Updates

Members of the Cultural Advisory Council provided insights into their involvement with the arts and culture transition subcommittee for the new mayor. This subcommittee comprised Coya Paz, Amina Dickerson, Claire Rice, and Omar Torres. The subcommittee's role included participating in transition team meetings to address arts and culture policy under the new administration. Stakeholder ideas were discussed, emphasizing the importance of educating stakeholders about DCASE's challenges and achievements. Campaign platform goals were highlighted, with reference to a draft plan shared by the transition team.

The discussion turned to the significance of preserving DCASE's progress. The Cultural Bill of Rights was mentioned as a potential framework for enhancing arts access and support citywide. Claire Rice and Amina Dickerson shared insights into the subcommittee's focus and discussed key aspects of the mayoral campaign's arts platform goals, including supporting artists and ensuring arts education.

Attendees discussed the integration of arts and culture into various sectors like housing and transportation. The importance of embedding arts and culture within different areas of the city's development was emphasized. It was noted that while new ideas are welcome, existing efforts and achievements shouldn't be disregarded.

The importance of documenting new infrastructure projects related to arts and culture was highlighted. Attendees pointed to investments made in facilities and projects, indicating their potential impact on achieving arts-related goals. Erin Harkey, Commissioner, offered to share information on investments and projects.

Advisory members covered a range of topics including the role of the arts and culture transition subcommittee, the significance of preserving achievements, the integration of arts into various sectors, and infrastructure investments that support the city's arts and culture initiatives. They expressed insights and concerns about the future of arts and culture in Chicago.

Several participants shared their perspectives on arts education and its integration into Chicago's schools. Brooke Flanagan from Steppenwolf Theater emphasized the need for improved collaboration between DCASE and the artist networks hubbed within Ingenuity Inc. She pointed out challenges with integrating arts into schools and the allocation of resources away from arts and culture programming towards academic scaffolding due to pandemic-related academic slide. Erin Harkey, Commissioner, suggested establishing an arts education division within DCASE, hiring arts and education experts to support CPS, and providing strategic support, accountability, and additional funding to strengthen arts education.

Amina Dickerson highlighted the potential impact of leadership changes in CPS and the school board on arts education. She also mentioned the loss of experienced teaching artists during the pandemic and the need for training, recruitment, and elevation of teaching artists. Blake Anthony Johnson addressed the complexities of arts education's structural issues within CPS, highlighting the need for broader reform to maximize the impact of arts education. Attendees discussed the challenges of creating a universal calendar of arts events and the importance of addressing neighborhood-based economies to ensure equitable access to arts-related opportunities.

Coya Paz stressed the importance of considering both arts education and the broader neighborhood-based economy. She also discussed the role of the transition committee, the subcommittees' work, and the need for continued communication and advocacy at the local level. The idea of organizing a town hall for committee members to discuss progress and recommendations was suggested. Overall, participants highlighted the importance of disseminating information, advocating for arts education, and addressing structural issues to ensure meaningful and lasting change in Chicago's arts and culture landscape. The possibility of inviting the mayor to future meetings was also suggested for effective communication and progress updates.


III. DCASE Leadership Updates

Commissioner Erin Harkey then provided DCASE leadership updates to the Council. She excitedly announced the appointment of Chicago's inaugural Poet Laureate, Avery R. Young. This appointment was celebrated as a significant achievement and a fitting choice for the inaugural poet laureate program. The process of working with the poet laureate on speaking engagements and community engagement plans was discussed, and there were plans to develop a comprehensive community engagement program over the next two years.

A new program is currently in progress called the Chicago Arts Health and Pilot for Creative Workers. This paid training program aims to support artists interested in health, healing, and wellness. The program was funded primarily through the American Rescue Plan, with additional support from other sources. The partnership with the Department of Public Health and City Colleges was emphasized, aiming to train artists as community health workers and place them in various public health sites across different neighborhoods.

Updates were given on public art initiatives, with the announcement of new DCASE Director of Public Art, James [Jimmy] Castillo. Several public art dedications were planned for the summer, including projects at O'Hare Airport and various locations on the south and west sides of the city.

Approximately $7 million in grant funding has been committed to funding various programs, including the Arts Recovery Program, Chicago Presents, and CityArts. Challenges were noted in terms of grant processing capacity and the need to balance increased resources with internal administrative capacity.

The discussion then shifted to future grant programs, including a Young Adult Internship Program, Creative Worker Assistance, and an Arts Education Program. These programs aimed to provide opportunities for young adults, support artists in emergencies, and enhance arts education in schools.

Commissioner Harkey provided updates on research and evaluation efforts, including studies focused on the music industry, financial and operational trends of applicant organizations, and a diversity and equity pilot program to track audience diversity in arts organizations.

She provided a staffing update, which highlighted open positions in the department. She explained DCASE plans to provide an overview of the department to newly elected aldermen to facilitate better communication and understanding of the department's work.


IV. 2023 Summer Programming

DCASE Deputy Commissioner of Programming, Nancy Villafranca provided an overview of upcoming summer programming while emphasizing the diversity of free public concerts, films, festivals, exhibitions, and performances taking place throughout the city. The efforts to align programming with the updated mission, and to connect with various neighborhoods were highlighted.

Deputy Villafranca began her overview with the Chicago Cultural Center Open House event, which will feature the entire cultural center opening its doors and showcasing resident artists' work. This event aims to provide a comprehensive view of different art forms and artists within the center. To enhance transparency, the exhibition guidelines and proposal process will be updated and worked on by a committee. Many artists who connect with the center feel supported, but efforts will be made to inform them about available resources. Six resident dancers, including Ramsey Lewis, Christopher Mad Dog Thomas, and Christopher Knowlton, will participate in the program. Various events and performances are scheduled throughout the summer, featuring artists such as Aquila Charleston, Buddy Store, and creative companies like Fortunate House from Bronzeville.

Collaborations with city departments and nonprofit organizations are underway for public art on the Riverwalk. A band roster featuring over 200 artists, musicians, and DJs is being utilized to fund events and programs across the city. The summer will see multiple festivals, including the Blues Festival, House Festival, Millennium Park Music Series, and more. Initiatives like the Millennium Park film series and Summer Dance will take place, engaging diverse neighborhoods and communities. Involvement with various organizations such as the Chicago Rhythm Project and the National Public Housing Museum will continue. The focus remains on access, inclusion, community engagement, and professional development for artists, while strengthening connections with presenters and organizations.

Deputy Villafranca finished her remarks by reminding the Council that the Cultural Center's programming was influenced by the recent audience engagement study completed by The Practice in April, 2023. In this study, 500 Chicagoans were asked to reimagine the Cultural Center as a vibrant hub of cultural activity. This effort’s main objective was to align the needs of Chicago’s creative community. As a result of the study, current plans include more artist residencies, support emerging artists, and foster connections with the local arts community and arts education.


V. Next Steps

Appreciation was expressed for the dedicated DCASE staff, and attendees were encouraged to watch Commissioner Harkey's informative City Club of Chicago appearance. Practical matters included completing ethics training and providing attendance feedback were discussed. There were updates on job openings and the opportunity to build relationships with aldermen through informal events. A social media campaign was launched to share the agency's work, and participants were reminded to engage with DCASE events and share the excitement.


VI. Adjourn

With no further questions or comments, the meeting was adjourned.