Art Letter

May 2007 Archives

In an amazing development, which I've been told "never" happens, the Chicago's City Council today tabled the proposed ordinance that I wrote about after it sailed through committee last Friday.

To a large extent this is attributable to
Alderman Manuel Flores who was on the Committee that heard discussion last Friday and asked a lot of salient, insightful questions and to Alderman Ricardo Munoz who joined Flores in this effort.

The ordinance was tabled for 30 days so there can be further discussion and consideration of other possible solutions.

At the committee meeting last Friday I testified that all sides seemed interested in benefitting art in Chicago and Chicago artists but were going about it in antithetical ways.  I believe there is a middle ground that can bring the divergent sides together.

The Department of Cultural Affairs says they are after efficiency and not getting bogged down with longwinded public meetings. 

I, and others, are interested in an open, public forum that allows us to readily ascertain that DCA is considering and commissioning broad and relevant art by Chicago artists and others. 

We believe that an ordinance modeled after the long-standing
Chicago Landmarks Ordinance would be something all sides could embrace. 

We can accept losing the
Public Art Panels, which have been the first step of the selection process and involve the public contributing ideas about the type of art and artists desired for a specific commission.  This means the DCA can go through their own vetting process. Efficiency.

BUT, before it gets to be a fait accompli, it would be mandatory to present the proposed artwork to a newly comprised Public Art Commission who, in open meetings the public could speak at, would evaluate the appropriateness of the art, the quality and help guide the Department of Cultural Affairs in doing a responsible job.

Thus the process would be quicker, more efficient, yet still allow the public the opportunity to participate and comment and prevent the DCA from having something approaching absolute power.

This compromise idea stems from the questions Alderman Flores was asking at the proposed ordinance hearing last Friday.

Please email me with your thoughts and/or post them on the art blog of your choice.  I'd like to tighten up the ideas and then present an alternative ordinance that reflects some solid thinking.

I look forward to hearing from you,
Paul Klein


I am offended by the antics of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs.

their own survey shows (pg 27): Artists throughout the city expressed a negative perception of the Chicago Public Art Program, the City's major instrument for visual art commissions and special artist projects. Artists feel that the Program is inaccessible and little effort is made to provide information about upcoming projects, awarded commissions, important deadlines, selection criteria, committee members, or whether their own submissions had been received.

Well, it gets a lot worse.

Less than 10 days ago, at the request of Commissioner Of Cultural Affairs, Lois Weisberg, Mayor Daley introduced an
ordinance to modify the Municipal Code regarding the Percent for Art Program. He obviously did it as a favor to Ms, Weisberg and probably didn't even read it.

Yesterday the ordinance passed the Committee on Special Event and Cultural Affairs, rubber stamped. So now it moves on to the City Council, where there too it will pass.  And we are screwed. This ordinance was on the fast track - passed in committee on the last day the lame duck aldermen are in government, the last day this committee will ever meet - new committee assignments get made this coming week.

These modifications are horrendous.  They constitute the privatization of government and propel the Department of Cultural Affairs' (DCA) overbearingly selfish attitude into a righteous ability to ignore artists and what is good for the community and act in their own self-interest with no oversight or recourse from anyone.

Here's the deal. At the hearing yesterday Lois Weisberg spoke about streamlining their procedures and acting with the best interests of artists and community in mind. But what was written in the ordinance is a disconnect with the sentiments she and a small parade of artists gave lip-service to.

The ordinance does away with
   Advisory Panels (they used to have voting rights)
   The Public Art Committees (they too had voting rights)
   The need to have Open Meetings
   The need to take minutes of any kind

The new ordinance says that DCA will have discussions with the alderman in whose ward art will be placed, BUT there is absolutely no ability for the alderman or anyone else to have a say in what DCA decides to do. There will be NO VOTE. There will be NO MINUTES.  There will be NO REPORT.

SunTimes article.

Yesterday, when I testified I suggested there was the appearance of bad faith because nowhere on the DCA website or the Chicago Artist Resource website could I find a listing of upcoming commissions.

When I mentioned this to the DCA Curator of Special Projects before the meeting he said "do you know how long it would take to go through those applications?" Does the fact that they might get better art matter one iota, or that they would be sharing information? Tons of artists do not register because they do not believe DCA cares. Well, if a Chicago artist saw a possible commission that spoke to their specific aesthetic they just might apply.  

After I testified, the Public Art Program director told me I was wrong, that it is on the website. So last night I spent 60 minutes looking at the DCA website and the CAR website and I came up empty handed.

Not that it will improve the bad attitude Lois Weisberg's Department of Cultural Affairs perpetuates, but I offer a $100 challenge: Be the first to show me where information about possible commissions is on either website and how one navigates to it from the front page of the website and I will send you a crisp $100 bill.
*** (and I will post the information here - if you don't see it, it didn't happen.)

The Department of Cultural Affairs needs a shakeup.  They do not act in the public interest and have just proved that they don't care what you and I think.

I'm offended.
Paul Klein

*** Here's what a public art commission should look like (this, or this or this) - and not like a fishing expedition to get people to sign up for the database. If I were commissioner of public art, you'd know what was being looked for in content, in size/scale and how much was available for funding.