Assessing Chicago's Cultural Plan 2012: Policies
In the past year The City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) has been working to create the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012. Over 4,700 Chicagoans actively participated in person in the creation of this plan. Thousands more participated virtually.
Of the ten priorities listed in the Cultural Plan for Chicago, two are concerned with Policies.
The first policy priority is to strengthen the capacity of the cultural sector. The purpose of this priority is to realize the potential of cultural organizations and initiatives through their evolution from emerging to maturing, and from established to sustained strength and impact.
This priority recognizes that many organizations have valuable programming, but lack the capital or capacity necessary for broader reach and deeper impact. Any support or increased access to resources and partnerships that helps organizations build on their strengths and increase their capacity is welcome.
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The first recommendation associated with this priority is to advocate for funding strategies among philanthropic, private, and public sectors that respond to the cultural sector’s operating realities. Chicago’s cultural landscape is constantly shifting, often due to technology and how it alters our consumption of culture. If funders better understand the financial challenges artists and organizations face, their support will be more effective. This requires a thoughtful and consistent investigation through open dialogue between funders, artists, organizations and the city.
The first initiative with this recommendation is to increase grants that help organizations reach their next stage in their development. This a useful type of grant, and in fact, already seems to be a common form of funding and support – Arts and Business Council and the Community Arts Assistance Program Grant both are designed to help organizations grow and add capacity. The type of grant is especially impactful when it helps organizations add new sources of revenue; however, it does have some limitations in ensuring that organizations can sustain their increased capacity.
The second initiative is focused on expanding grants to support operating expenses. Homeroom believes this type of grant is very powerful: expanded access for funding towards operating expenses would have a large and meaningful impact on many worthy organizations. All non-profits, cultural or not, have a much easier time raising money from individual and corporate donors when the money raised goes directly towards programming. Many donors prefer to see their contributions directly support activities that fulfill the organization’s mission as opposed to towards salaries, rent and office supplies. But having a strong and funded administrative end makes organizations significantly more stable and capable. As organizations mature, having the ability to pay decent salaries year in and year out allows the staff to devote more of their energy towards fulfilling the mission. Simply put, without the assurance that the staff will be compensated in some way for their efforts, organizations and their programs will be limited in both duration and scope.
The second priority is concerned with “optimizing city policies and regulations to aid and inspire cultural vitality, innovation, and participation citywide.” This includes recommendations to build a “pro-culture government” and creating new public funding mechanisms.
The final recommendation is concerned with simplifying government processes. Unfortunately, Chicago can be a daunting place to get things done. It requires navigating a number of laws, requirements, zoning restrictions, and regulations. One of the most important licenses is the Public Place of Amusement and is required for most businesses that have creative content. The challenges of obtaining a PPA discourage the opening of new venues from being created and cause many others to be operated illegally.
To improve the process of working with the City, the plan suggests putting applications and forms for City programs or approvals online along with tracking for requests, inquires, applications and permits. The plan even suggests building a website to help simply and clarify the process of City approvals, and creating arts-specific guides and training sessions about City approvals, permits and regulations.
The Cultural Plan achieves the first step to solving the problems associated with complying the City while creating art which is to recognize that these issues are serious impediments to the arts. But actually making the processes simpler and more transparent will be a great challenge. We certainly hope they succeed.