Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Perspectives from the Cultural Planning Process with Jullie Burros

Ms. Julie Burros
Director of Planning for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

Role with the plan:
I am the project manager for the Cultural Plan. That means that I keep all the moving parts moving forward in a coordinated way.  So I am coordinating the staff work for the City and then I'm coordinating with  the lead consultant firm, Lord Cultural Resources,  who have their team working on specific parts of the plan. I am the piece in the middle keeping everything moving forward in the same direction.

When we talk about all the moving pieces, the first big piece was a series of what were called Town Hall meetings.  Could you talk about what the structure was and what you felt were the outcomes of those meetings?
The Town Hall meetings were large convenings.  We thought they'd be about 100 people and each one ended up being nearly 300 people. So, they were extremely well attended large meetings, and well received. There was structure, but also a very open design. The questions we posed were rather open-ended, and meant to gather up a broad brush of opinion and ideas.  For example, what do people value in culture? How do they define culture, and what are their priorities for culture?  Where do they see the City heading and what do they see for 2030?  What's their vision for culture?  These were pretty open-ended, intended to take the (public's) temperature, their aspirations for culture in the City of Chicago.

We coalesced all that input from over 1,200 people; each breakout group for all those meetings-- that talked about it, reported out to all present. (From these report-outs there were) six emerging central themes--themes that are actually six larger buckets that each hold lots of complex issues inside of them.

Which of these emerging themes most resonates for you?
Building of vibrant cultural spaces is one of the themes that resonates for me. Actually it's the theme that I've spent the better part of my career at Cultural Affairs and Special Events working on.  I am a cultural planner by training and the bread and butter of what I do day-to-day is to help arts organizations with their space issues. Whether its "we've always wanted to own a building; "how do I get a free building from the City;" "we just got kicked out of our building;" "I need help with TIF money in my district."  They come to me because they have space issues and we start to meet and discuss their capacity to take on a space.

As we unpack the needs, all kinds of other issues --that are really about organizational development and sustainability-- emerge.  It's interesting, because once you start to talk about one, they usually relate to the other; they are tied together.

Can you speak about what the Neighborhood Cultural Conversations are and how they differ from the Town Hall Meetings? 
These are 19 public community meetings, in different parts of the city, in all kinds of wonderful spaces-- parks, libraries, all sorts of interesting spaces—very deliberately friendly community spaces.  We invite them to talk about any of the 6 themes  (actually can talk about whatever they want as it relates to culture in the City).  And we ask them to vote on the top priorities; which of these six themes resonate the most with them.  Then they spend time in breakout groups talking about that issue as it relates to their neighborhood.  We ask them to discuss, to use their knowledge of the local area and express their desires for the local neighborhood as well. 

Residents in that community know their neighborhood much better than we do downtown. There has been an enormous amount of change in the city over the last ten years.  They are there day-to-day and they know what's there from a cultural perspective.  What are the business opportunities?  Are there lines that people won't cross? Where are the hidden gems? They get plenty of opportunity to talk about the pockets of culture that don't show up on official maps.  Hidden gems are discovered in that neighborhood and some kind of connection can be made with other cultural resources or ideas.

Next step
The next thing we are doing are smaller,  more private convenings to talk more tactically about needs and exploring in a different way some of the themes that have emerged in the HTH and NCC.  In these groups we will be able to connect the dots-- what's really possible?  We'll also get assistance from sister agencies in the city and talk tactical solutions.

All the data, studies, focus groups.will be put together in the draft cultural plan for public comment. These too will be further condensed into a set of recommendations.  (Then we'll return to the community to ask them to vote, discuss and tell us if we got it right.)

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