Suzanne Connor, Sr. Program Officer for Arts and Culture
The Chicago Community Trust
If you missed seeing the maps and Community Profiles that illustrate the disparity of cultural assets across the City, it’s all available here: www.culturalindicators.org
Although this data served as a starting point for informed discussions about cultural planning, we also want to call your attention to an asset that is emerging as a prominent contributor to the creativity and productivity that define Chicago – higher education. Did you know that there are 35 post-secondary institutions located within the City limits with combined enrollment figures that top 228,000? When added to about 50,000 total employees, this is equivalent to one out of every ten people in Chicago. Check it out here: http://www.culturalindicators.org/highereddata
Chicago is, in fact, a bustling “urban campus” where students from all over the world interact with each other and with the civic and cultural life around them. From law schools to culinary schools, these institutions are attracting people from all over the world. For example, did you know that 40% of the 7,700 students at IIT are international? Some will put their skills to work in Chicago, while others will take that degree and all their Chicago experiences back to their homes around the world, strengthening the cosmopolitan image of our City.
Demographically, Chicago is a young city, with only 10% of the total population aged 65 and over, according to the latest census data. This extraordinary young talent is attracted, and in many cases, retained by the synergistic effect of a confluence of factors; everything from the lakefront bike path to Millennium Park concerts to stimulating internship opportunities and Benefits like the U-pass and student performance pricing. The knowledge they acquire extends beyond the classroom; it is enriched by their exposure to the cultural diversity and upward mobility that is the hallmark of our communities. Whether students arrive from Indiana or Indonesia, they enter an engaging environment where cross-pollination is the key to creativity.
In return, this vast market segment (along with doting parents) is dining, drinking, buying cultural and sports tickets, and shopping; keeping the cash registers and sales tax revenues rolling, particularly in the Loop. College students are an attractive sector of our workforce, filling part-time jobs as cashiers, waiters, and even cab drivers while they are in school, and eagerly competing for corporate jobs once they graduate – unless, of course, they decide to start a dance company or jazz ensemble, take a class at Second City or Chicago Dramatist, or teach in one of the many arts programs offered in Chicago Public Schools.
Beyond the well-placed network of City Colleges, there is still a surprisingly wide geographic spread with Chicago State and the University of Chicago anchoring the South Side; UIC on the West Side; Loyola and Northeastern up North – and so many others, too numerous to name! This “urban campus” is a brand that should be showcased and celebrated, not only because it highlights the assets of our post-secondary institutions, but also because it can be better integrated into the infrastructure of lifelong learning for local residents in the arts and other fields.
So what does this have to do with the 2012 Cultural Plan? There is no greater missed opportunity than an undervalued asset. Failing to leverage the synergy of these institutions of higher learning as centers for creative young talent, research, innovation, and upward mobility overlooks a relevant response to the challenge of positioning Chicago globally. Forgetting to plant them firmly and prominently at the top of the P-20 educational continuum for all Chicago children in every aspect of City planning lessens the chance that an appropriate percentage of the 228,455 college students will come from our urban neighborhoods. And leaving them out of the economic equation when mapping facilities and human capital would not be maximizing all the resources available to strengthen the cultural currency in Chicago. Therefore, I am recommending that this information and the collective role of Chicago’s post-secondary institutions be incorporated in a significant way into the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan.