Changes at Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Should we be worried or relieved?
Getting a grip on what's happening at the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events required me to go back and read TOC's Lois Weisberg/DCA issue and comb through WBEZ's coverage of the changes in the department beginning last year. The title of this recent post had my alarm bells ringing, but the sense I get is that the city is trying to undo the clumsy consolidation in the final days of the Daley administration and get DCASE on track for the long haul amid an overall environment of shrinking budgets. I sure hope that's what they're up to because, like some readers undoubtedly, I like our city's free downtown music and cultural programming and would like to see it continue. They're part of what keeps us in Chicago. Am I being optimistic or just logical? I tend to think those of us who follow culture want more cultural programming (like the World Music Festival, pictured above) under the DCASE wing than the tourism-focused Chicago Office of Tourism & Culture. In any case, here's a quick 411 on what went down last year and what's happening right now.
• In late 2010, the Daley administration dismantled the Department of Cultural Affairs, and laid off workers. Some positions were moved to the Chicago Tourism Fund, a nonprofit city contractor now known as Chicago Office of Tourism & Culture, and some workers were rehired there.
• DCA czar Lois Weisberg split in January after a legendary two-decade tenure.
• Some festivals were reorganized. The Park District took over the Taste and folded four previously standalone festivals into it.
• TOC was concerned. We ran a story in March on the future of summer fests and wondered if the city's better fests were going away.
• This summer, a program audit was conducted under new Commissioner Michelle Boone. Which, as DCASE spokeswoman Karen Vaughan tells me, was done to "get a baseline measurement of all of the programs and services that DCASE provides, both directly and through our contract with COTC."
• DCASE wants to bring back some functions from the COTC. As Vaughan tells me, "Based on those results, we identified those functions that most closely align with our mission, such as visual and public arts, the city grants program, and cultural programming in the Cultural Center and Millennium Park. We are looking to reintegrate those functions back into the department in 2012."
• DCASE is hiring, Vaughan tells me, a total of 17 positions in DCASE, including six new positions, plus filling 11 vacancies. "We’ve done some internal restructuring so that 14 of those positions will be in the new arts programming division. Anyone is welcome to apply for the open positions—we want the best possible people on our team." According to WBEZ, there will be some internal consolidation resulting in a total of 79 positions with DCASE.
• DCASE hopes to be fully staffed in the first quarter of 2012. The folks hired by COTC back in 2010 will have to apply for the jobs if they want them, because they're coming from a nonprofit. As for the dedicated cultural programmers, who sometimes throw their own money and off-the-books hours in to make sure we get great stuff coming through, I hope their experience places them in good position to get hired in the right places. But, of course, who knows. As Vaughan says, anyone is welcome to apply for the open positions.
• It is unclear what programs will be priorities. But Vaughan tells me this: "We will make that decision as we move forward with the new team in place. We’ll definitely be continuing to present free music performances, art exhibitions, family programs, etc. in the Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park, as well as our other venues."