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Chicago Gets Cultural

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants Chicago to be the next cultural hot spot. The city has decided to update the cultural plan created 26 years ago during Mayor Harold Washington’s administration.

“We want residents and community leaders to help shape a plan that will guide the City’s cultural growth and to reinforce Chicago as a global destination for the arts,” said Michelle Boone, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

The first plan was developed in 1986 and led to the renovation of Navy Pier, the development of Theatre Row downtown and established tax incentives for filmmakers who shoot their movies in Chicago.

Boone wants public involvement throughout the entire project. People can participate in reshaping the plan by submitting their ideas through social media, town hall meetings and public forums. The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events created a Web site where Chicago residents can submit ideas and participate in public discussion at

There were four town hall meetings. One was held at the DuSable Museum, where hundreds of Chicago residents came to express their opinions. They were asked to discuss what they wanted from the cultural plan. One person said they wanted to expand the city’s cultural attractions from downtown to Chicago’s neighborhoods.

“The city has grown a lot in its primary hub [the loop], but we need to expand to the neighborhoods. We need to work with the neighborhood associations to establish a cultural presence throughout Chicago,” said Jackie Intres, a Chicago public school teacher.

Julie Borros, director of cultural planning said, “The plan is going to look at cultural hubs and cultural districts. It isn’t going to create a plan for the neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are going to create their own plan. We expect the cultural plan will have a strategy for cultural districts so there will be certain criteria for each neighborhood.”

Uptown has it’s own ideas for the cultural plan. Tressa Feher is the chief of staff for Ald. James Cappleman (46th). She said Cappleman’s plan for Uptown is to establish a thriving entertainment district. Cappleman wants to restore and re-open the Uptown Theater, which has been closed since 1981. His plan also includes bringing in new theaters and having more public and private performances, said Feher.

Feher said Cappleman also wants to see more multi-use art spaces and the promotion of visual arts.

Uptown is home to many theaters including the Aragon Ballroom, the Rivera, the Green Mill and the Uptown Theater.

Wally Rozak is from Uptown United, a non-profit development group. He said the Uptown Theater was the crown jewel for entertainment, and what happens to the theater will be key.

“If you build it, they will come,” Rozak laughed.

Mayor Emanuel is working with Lord Cultural Resources, a company dedicated to planning and implementing cultural places, programs and resources throughout societies, to ensure the success of the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan. The final plan will be unveiled to the public this coming fall.

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