On invitation of Barbara Koenen, and Julie Burros, director of Cultural Planning for the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, six graduate students from the Department of Arts Administration and Policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago staffed the Cultural Plan Headquarters at the Chicago Creative Expo 2012, in April 2012.
Under the guidance of Chair and Associate Professor, Adelheid Mers, they engaged about 100 visitors in conversations about the Cultural Plan, sharing information and soliciting responses about core concerns.
Of those visitors, 56 engaged in individual facilitation exercises, creating personal drawings and diagrams of the issues under discussion, sometimes on their own or in pairs, but mostly while in conversation with the student facilitators. Conversation starters variously were prompts and questions offered by the students, but also a map of art world concerns and institutions Mers had previously created for a series of performance lectures in the context of an exhibition curated by Tricia van Eck, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Tables were set up with table tents the students had prepared, headlining six core issues, accessibility, city-wide cross pollination, arts education, cultural sector capacity, spaces, and retaining artists, as identified during initial Cultural Plan Town Hall meetings. Paper and markers were freely available. Completed drawings were tacked up on the walls, which filled quickly. Those drawings then become dialogue starters as well.
Patricipants coiined the term arts desert, similar to the discussion of food deserts. The issues that were raised reached from proposals how to address specific local needs, creating an 'Uptownica' district, to instruction pieces, including how to make local theater on the cheap. Topics ranged widely, including advocacy for science education through the arts, and information about freelance graphic design.
By tracking conversations visually, greater depth and complexity was achieved in considering issues relevant to the Cultural Plan. The great diversity of existing and emerging concerns was made visible to the attendants as posters were displayed, encouraging them to add their voices to the mix more forcefully. At the conclusion of the event, the images were scrutinized with great interest by the Cultural Plan consulting team, including Gail Dexter Lord, of Lord Consulting.