Life after Lois | Lois Weisberg
Assessing the legacy of the city’s former culture queen, Lois Weisberg.
Those who went through the Tourism Fund door would be working at the same desk, with the same duties, the same phone numbers and even initially the same e-mail addresses. They would get fewer benefits, though, notably no city-paid insurance.
Attorney Michael Shakman, who brought the original antipatronage lawsuit in 1969, decries the use of the Tourism Fund as an off-the-books human resources agency. “You don’t solve the problem by hiring them for essentially the same work but at the Tourism Fund,” Shakman says.
Those who have watched the drama at DCA wonder what cultural life will be like under the new mayor. So far, there is no clear sign of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s intentions. A top Emanuel aide would say only, “The transition committee focused on arts and cultural issues will be studying the current situation at the Department and considering ways to improve the city’s investment in artistic and cultural programs and organizations.”
Conversations with Brennan and Shakman could help the transition team prepare for dealing with the potential legal mess awaiting them on the staffing front. If the team sits down with Weisberg, too, they could learn both about the at times needless inflexibility of Shakman and about the way in which a civic asset such as Weisberg needs to be nurtured and managed.
Weisberg happens to be reading Gladwell’s latest New Yorker contribution, on college rankings, when I phone her. She calls attention to Gladwell’s description of a famous geographer’s attempt in 1913 to solicit scholarly opinion on the “distribution of the higher elements of civilization throughout the world.” Those elements included the “power of initiative, the capacity for formulating new ideas and for carrying them into effect.” In her mind, that’s exactly what she was up to, regardless of the obstacles.
The statement she made upon leaving DCA conveys her intentions. “We have consistently provided free opportunities for the people of Chicago to come together and enjoy the arts,” Weisberg said. “We recognize that the arts are an indispensable part of a city’s quality of life. They generate civic pride, beautify the urban environment, attract visitors, educate the public, preserve our cultural heritage and enrich the lives of everyone, regardless of age, income or background.”
Weisberg may be angry now, but over time she may recognize what is in plain sight for nearly everyone else: She accomplished a lot for this city. She will be remembered for cows on the streets, festivals in the parks and so much more. The word Shakman should at best be a footnote to her legacy.