Cultural Advisory Council November 17, 2020 Meeting Minutes

Virtual Meeting


Cultural Advisory Council ("CAC") Members:

Present: Amina Dickerson, chair; Alison Cuddy, vice chair; Paola Aguirre-Serrano, Sandra Delgado, Juan Díes, Robert Faust, Robert Gomez, Esther Grimm, Tracie D. Hall, Akilah Halley, Tempestt Hazel, Kevin Iega Jeff, Ginger Lane, Tonika Lewis Johnson, William Michel, Heather A. Miller, Cesáreo Moreno, Margaret Murphy-Webb, Claire C. Rice, Silvia Rivera, Myrna Salazar, Jennifer A. Scott, Paul Sznewajs, Vivian Teng, Omar Torres-Kortright, Tanner Woodford.

Absent: Heather Miller, Josephine Lee, Coya Paz

Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events ("DCASE") Staff: Commissioner Mark Kelly, Melanie Wang, Kalena Chevalier, Erin Harkey, Jamey Lundblad, Nina Melendez



I. Welcome and Introduction

Council chair Amina Dickerson called the meeting to order at 3:03pm.

Amina thanked everyone for joining and recognized them for their continued support in bringing a creative spirit to the forefront as they’ve had to pivot and rise to new challenges.

Amina commenced the meeting with a reading a Land Acknowledgement, which was previously posted in the Chicago Cultural Center for the Chicago Architecture Biennial, created in partnership with the American Indian Center of Chicago.

Amina noted the meeting was being held virtually due to COVID-19 pandemic conditions and is in accordance with Illinois Open Meetings Act requirements and current provisions for virtual participation in public meetings. For this meeting, this includes the ability to live stream to the general public via link from the DCASE website, and the opportunity for members of the public to pre-register for public comment. Amina confirmed there were no requests for public comment received, and therefore will not take place in today’s meeting.

Vice chair Alison Cuddy thanked Amina for her partnership and welcomed everyone to the meeting. She briefly provided an overview of virtual meeting protocols and followed with an acknowledgment of DCASE staff. Alison thanked Commissioner Kelly, Deputy Commissioner Erin Harkey, Chief Marketing Officer Jamey Lundblad, and Director of Cultural Grants Kalena Chevalier, and also thanked Director Melanie Wang and Nina Melendez as staff supports to the Council.

Amina confirmed a quorum of Council members present and then referenced the August 18, 2020 meeting minutes, circulated in advance requesting a motion to approve. The minutes were unanimously approved by a show of hands.


II. Discussion on CAC Review of Arts Priorities

The Council formed six small working groups in the summer of 2020 with the goal of defining how the Council should refine and refocus its work in the coming year. Council members partnered with DCASE liaisons to establish arts priorities within small working groups. Each working group focused on sub-topics based on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s articulated arts and culture priorities, along with priorities previously specified by CAC via member surveys.

Alison reminded everyone that while the arts are an important form of entertainment and engagement, they are also critical infrastructure for our city and beyond. The arts are critical part of education and schooling, a bellwether for the vitality of our neighborhoods and communities, they drive our economy, are a form of engagement between government and its citizens, they are an industry of skilled laborers and workers who help build the city and its arts and culture scene and are a platform for advocating for the concerns of our citizens.

Each CAC leader then provided an overview of the high-level priorities for their respective groups, identifying key priorities under their sub-theme:

Arts as Creative Industry & Livelihood

Led by DCASE liaisons Kalena Chevalier & Meghan McCarthy and CAC member Coya Paz, this working group discussed the many challenges artists face in regards to being acknowledged and respected as workers deserving of the same benefits and quality of life as any other workforce. The group recommends focusing on one major initiative: advocating for affordable and accessible artist housing as part of all City planning and development. This focus will address the needs of the artists living and working in every Chicago community, but are unable to afford to rent or buy at home and in need of accessible housing.

The group recommends a 3-pronged approach to advocating for housing and work opportunities for artists across neighborhoods throughout Chicago. The approaches include:

  • Leveraging existing cultural assets. This will focus on artists already living in neighborhoods, and creating affordable and accessible housing opportunities for them.
  • Investigate underutilized or vacant buildings to find opportunities for cultural programs as well as home ownership and apartments for artists in neighborhoods
  • Embedding artist input in all community planning.

Strategies the group recommends exploring include:

  • Investigate leveraging tax credits
  • Research models in other municipalities as well as in Chicago and research what has been successful and what has not in regards to establishing these types of housing opportunities
  • Consult with community leaders who have done this type of work
  • Meet with other City departments such as Department of Housing, and Department of Planning and Development
    • Speak to efforts already being incorporated into the Invest South/West initiative and possibly incorporating arts into future RFPs

Ultimately, the group agreed that advocating for increasing the visibility of artists and arts hyper-locally to show local community members that artists are an essential component of the unity, strength, and economic vitality of the community.

Art as Community Vitality

Led by DCASE liaison Lydia Ross and CAC member Tonika Johnson, this working group focused their conversation on how DCASE and CAC leadership can hone-in on their role as a connecter and convener across the art sector and to include cross fertilization amongst different disciplines and neighborhoods. They highlighted the great community divides currently present within our city and worked to develop strategies to help bridge these divides. Their suggestions include:

  • Having DCASE work with CAC Ambassadors to organize forums with larger arts sectors to help shape budget priorities and support the needs of the field while also providing platforms to elevate and amplify great work and best practices.
  • Leverage existing DCASE resources in new ways
    • Utilize contact lists and active audiences to conduct needs assessments and connect artists with the many different arts organizations in the city
  • Encourage cultural partners to expand their resources by offering additional funds to grantees or offering space for the artists to work

Art as Economic Development

Led by DCASE liaison Kwame Amoaku and CAC member Bob Faust, this group focused on the importance of bringing visibility to behind-the-scene creative roles, which are often less valued and less understood. The working group’s goal is to ensure that Chicago’s creative community and culture is understood as part of the whole economic fabric. Examples of these roles include industrial designers within healthcare, key grips within the film industry, typographers within the government chain, etc. Some suggested strategies include:

  • Connecting with the Together We Rise initiative
  • Create awareness campaign that illuminates the strength and depth of the creative community across all major creative industries positions.
  • Leverage the City’s billboards
  • Explore grassroots-associated delivery mechanisms
  • Create a simple graphic that brings attention to these creative roles and utilize it in our reports or other like-minded associations reporting
  • Create CAC member initiative to help promulgate awareness

Art as Government Engagement and Practice

Led by DCASE liaison Erin Harkey and Paola Aguirre, this group discussed equitable, accessible and coordinated government resources (services, permits and programs, etc.) to support artistic, creative & entertainment economies and practices. They reflected on the different forms in which the government has a presence and can not only act as a regulatory body but also amplify access to resources. One of the priorities that emerged from this working group is how to launch an inter-agency task force as a means to support these goals. The group is interested in pursuing the following approaches:

  • Identify ways in which the Council can support the arts in all areas of city government.
  • Connect with City-wide planning
  • Connect with larger funding opportunities, such as the Together We Rise initiative

Arts as Resources and Advocacy

Led by DCASE liaison Maggie Hooper and CAC member Claire Rice, this group focused on increasing funding support for the arts across the city, including more direct grant making at DCASE, embedding or increasing arts/culture/creativity funding in other city departments and budget lines, and advocating for increased private funding for the creative economy in public private partnerships.

This group’s focus was equity in funding distribution. They began gathering the data and research needed to support equitable distribution and broadening of resources to specific south and west side artists and neighborhoods. The group recognizes the clear need for increased resources across the sector, with a focus on racial equity and our neighborhoods. The 3-part focus in “expanding the pie” and increasing resources, and gaining sustainability include:

  • Expanding the resources within DCASE that are dedicated to direct grant making for artists and cultural organizations
  • Exploring resources within the other City departments (Health, Police, Education, etc.) and focus these on direct support in the field
  • Explore advocacy for resources outside city government with a focus on private philanthropy and private public relationships

The group researched the City’s grant making portfolio compared to about 12 other peer cities, and though DCASE’s total budget was toward the top to other cities’ budgets previous to this year, the direct support line is near the bottom. One of the group’s goals is to change this metric.

Clair stressed the importance of the role we pay in mutual aid, public health, and housing and community development and the importance of using this role to make case for direct support.

Arts as Education

Led by DCASE liaison Melanie Wang and CAC member Paul Szewiski, this group looked into the available arts resources to students in Chicago Public Schools and found that student’s access to the arts has greatly declined in just the past year. The working group looked into a host of potential priorities and came up with three:

  • Increasing funding for and access to arts education for every student in k-12 public schools
    • Expand funding in support for the arts and out of-school time in adult learning
  • Creating support structures for youth-led and deign arts learning
    • Establish more professional pathways for youth in the city in the creative industries and arts learning
  • Hiring more in-school and community-based arts educators at living wages
    • Creating public campaigns and giving visibility city-wide to their work as educators and professional artists

The group settled on a leading priority, which is to raise awareness and elevate visibility for the many great educators in our city. The final goal and recommendation is to create public campaign giving visibility citywide to artists for their work as educators and as professional and to leverage this work to spur the hiring of more arts educators at living wages.

Alison and Amina thanked everyone for their great work. Amina underlined the importance of visibility, the activation of work in the neighborhoods and new revenue streams. Council members then provided the following feedback:

    • Excitement about the idea of lifting teaching artists
    • Excitement around about the idea of the reallocation of existing funds
    • In addition to teaching artists who are so vital to our communities, youth and city, it’s important to spotlight the work of all educators inside and outside the classroom, in schools and in the communities; teachers and teaching artists alike and the great work they all do across the city.

Amina then asked CAC members if they heard anything new in what was presented or if anything requires attention. Members replied with the following feedback:

  • Visibility as a priority is not new; how do we go about this differently so that it gets the attention and recognition it deserves and won’t be looked over as another campaign?
  • Educators, teachers and arts organizations are in need additional support
  • How can we support the work of those in professions adjacent to the arts that aren’t typically included in the arts sector, such as nail techs, tattoo artists, etc.? What can we do to elevate their work?
  • Observation in how we were intersecting equity and justice as one of our priorities and now see what it looks like: affordable housing, living wages, and working in particular ways with neighborhoods.
  • How do we identify new hybrid models of advocacy and entrepreneurship that are emerging and in-turn support these existing efforts and connect them to resources?
  • How can the Council help to reframe who and what an artist is?
  • There is a disconnect with the public as about 90+ % of Americans believe in the value or arts, and only 25% believe in the value of artists.
  • The need to explore partnerships with sectors outside the artistic community, within the artistic community and across disciplines
  • What has been accomplished thus far with regard to the Mayor’s Transition report?
  • Place-making for artists in neighborhoods allowing them the ability to live with vitality in the neighborhoods they work in is very significant
  • Members support avocational arts and educational opportunities.
  • Artists are defined by the commonality of creativity and how that creativity is manifested. How can we cultivate this furthering the efforts we are designing today?

Amina underscored the importance of the interaction of the non-profit and the commercial cross-fertilization and the importance of valorizing artist as workers in a variety of ways. Amina thanked everyone for their participation in this working group effort.


III. DCASE Leadership Update

Amina shifted the discussion to DCASE leadership. She thanked those who were able to (virtually) attend the budget hearing and commended Commissioner for his work in effectively defending the work of DCASE.

Commissioner Kelly provided a brief budget overview. He reminded the Council that DCASE is not funded by the City’s corporate fund; but instead supported by the hotel occupancy tax. DCASE’s budget for 2021 will decrease about 50% and has lost about 16% of its total staff. Programming has been cut by 68% and the Taste of Chicago and Air & Water show are not currently funded. Our scenario thinking is to focus what budget we have to programming that will provide the biggest impact on our cultural landscape as we speak to equity issues.

We will be moving forward in our Year of Chicago Music initiative with DCASE shifting a lot of its programming to the neighborhoods instead of downtown-focused programming. Our Chicago in Tune festival will be taking place in late August/ early September.

Our cultural grants program was at one point 1.2mil, which Mark helped increase to 2.7mil for the last couple of years. About 55% of grantees were artists of color and grants were awarded in 43 wards, up from 35 in 2016. We were able to raise our budget in 2020 from 2.7mil to 4.5mil thanks to Claire Rice and 3Arts, and Arts Works Fund.

DCASE has launched a second relief fund program focused on performing arts venues, which is expected to give $10k in grants to 120 for-profit and non-profit venues. Funds will be allocated through an equity lens and the program will prioritize funding organizations on the South and West sides.

He closed his presentation stating that with the myriad negative effects of COVID-19, the need for philanthropic support has never been greater. What we ultimately need is the advocacy to dramatically increase this budget so that it better represents the arts and culture of our city.

Jennifer Scott then provided an overview of our Chicago Monuments Project. In addition to being a CAC member, Jennifer is one of three co-chairs of the project, along with Commissioner Kelly President and CEO of Landmark Illinois, Bonnie McDonald.

The charge of the committee is to reckon with false historical narratives represented through monuments and other public art works; and to work with artists and the public to elevate stories that have been erased, or neglected. The Committee is comprised of a multi-faceted group of individuals with different perspectives and skillsets, representing the skillset of our city, including academics, activists, artists, cultural and civic leaders and preservationists who all bring a wealth of knowledge and experiences to the table.

This work is a collaboration between DCASE, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Park District. The charge is to work together to complete a collection assessment of problematic art works and monuments, followed by a public engagement phase. The last phase will include the development of recommendations and invitations for new commissions.

There are about 41 art works that have been identified for further review. Many of these stem from the1880’s to1940’s and are centered on Chicago’s early founding and settler history.

The Chicago Monuments Project website is forthcoming.


IV. CAC in 2021 and Beyond

Amina thanked Jennifer for her presentation and then shifted the conversation to allow for comments. She also asked the council for feedback in which the Council can provide additional support.Council members responded with the following feedback:

  • What is the status of the Year of Chicago Music celebration that was supposed to take place in 2020? Commissioner Kelly advised that we are moving the Year of Chicago Music celebration into 2021, with the intention of supporting the cultural landscape at the forefront.
  • In this moment, we need to push toward grant making for artists and cultural organizations, and especially artists of color and organizations led by and serving people of color.
  • What are the things we can do in the short run to support this effort in a concrete way. Of the programs currently being cut, will they still go on, if funded by outside funder? Commissioner Kelly replied stating that we need advocacy and path to put forward to the City that includes a strategy for a long-term sustainable budget.
  • If there was an alternative funding structure where the Arts were in the corporate budget in a different way, would it make DCASE so reliant on tourist dollars to help fund arts work? Commissioner Kelly answered stating that while DCASE’s budget appears robust, the department has inherited many programs that subsequently consume much of DCASE’s budget. Amina added that the CAC may be able to add this to their advocacy for how to add this to the corporate budget and how to disaggregate the arts and creative industry focused programming versus programming focused on civic life and the enrichment of the overall city.
  • How do we get the City to value investment in the Arts? Where are we in terms of the City understanding the value of the Arts? What will shift the current paradigm? Commissioner Kelly replied stating that the Mayor is committed to the Arts; however, the pandemic thwarted our current funding. He added that we still need the advocacy so that our Cultural grants budget and the overall support for the cultural landscape increases within the DCASE budget.
  • With the City having an 11.5 billion dollar budget, it is unconscionable that in a city of this size, in the United States, that this is the cultural budget. The fact that the budget it not a part of the city budget is doubly unconscionable. At minimum, 1% of the city budget should be budgeted to the Arts.

Alison Cuddy echoed the enthusiasm on making the arts a priority for the city. She thanked the DCASE team for educating the Council about how the funding works for the department, as this is critical in our current state.


V. Next Steps

The meeting Dates for 2021 were then announced:

  • Feb. 9, 2021
  • May 11, 2021
  • Aug. 10, 2021
  • Nov. 9, 2021


VI. Adjourn

Amina announced the approaching departure of Melanie Wang from DCASE and expressed her sincere gratitude for her work in helping to shape the Council its current state. Commissioner Kelly and Alison Cuddy also expressed their gratitude and they congratulated her on her new role as Director of Development and Partnerships at 3Arts

Amina thanked everyone for joining and ended the meeting at 4:55pm.