I attended the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 Town Hall at the Cultural Center on July 31st. It was a large crowd; I had to stand because there were no more seats left. I understand it was the largest of any of the gatherings. The atmosphere was civil. We were all there to plan this roadmap to great Culture in Chicago. We answered general questions on our audience participation devices: Who are you- an arts admin, an arts org, a patron? What side of town are you from?. Then a few specific questions about what’s most important to you in the Draft. We then broke into groups based on the priorities identified in the Draft Plan (see my last post on the Cultural Plan).
Each group looked at a set of recommendations to clarify what was there. We discussed the initiatives, whether they made sense or should be rewritten, whether they addressed the recommendation, and sometimes whether we thought they would even work. It was a spirited conversation although you struggled to hear your group over all the others. And the scribes struggled to keep a record of the conversation. At the end of the evening I was glad that I got to share ideas with some new faces and greeted many familiar ones. Yet I still came away thinking, “What did we accomplish here?” We clarified, we discussed but there’s a big chasm between what happened that night and leaping forward to a plan that has any teeth and can be voted on by City Council. And who will fill in those gaps?
As I said in that last post, the Draft Plan is an accurate recording of what was said in the initial public meetings. I applaud the process for not leaving anyone’s thoughts/input out. But it’s unclear that the Town Halls brought enough clarity about the direction that should be taken from here or even a clear path for how to find that clarity. I certainly didn’t leave that meeting with a warm feeling that things had been narrowed down or put on track for next steps. What is for sure is that Chicagoans must stay engaged. Whether you’re an arts admin, an arts org or a patron of the arts, we must all remain vigilant on how the city proceeds from here. The supplements of the Draft Plan gave us price tags for everything and to be sure some initiatives are pricier than others. But in some cases, we may decide that we’ll save our money a little longer to do the thing(s) that will have the biggest impact first rather than take the first cheap shot we can. How’s City Hall going to know what we want? Every one of us better make our voices heard loud and clear and soon ‘cause we know the silence can be deafening in the City Council room when they haven’t heard from us.
– B. Sawyer