The West Side joins Chicago’s cultural plan conversation

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More than 40 arts and culture enthusiast gathered at Austin Town Hall Park Thursday to kick off the West Side conversation for Chicago’s 2012 Cultural Plan.

The city-sponsored arts and culture meeting is one out of 18 forums being held across the city.

Thursday’s meeting focused on three community areas — Austin, East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park.

The public gatherings across provide the opportunity for residents and community stakeholders to give feedback to the city on what should be included in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s cultural plan for Chicago.

“You guys are the experts,” said Julie Burros, director of cultural planning for Chicago. “You know these neighborhoods better than us.”

Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events held numerous art and culture town halls across Chicago last month, and six themes emerged, said Orit Sarfaty, senior consultant at Lord Cultural Resources, a Toronto-based firm that’s assisting Chicago with its plan.

The themes discussed included an increased cultural participation by increasing accessibility; arts education for kindergarten through high school; cross-pollination of culture city-wide; a sustainable cultural sector; and resources for artists.

Sarfaty and city officials asked the Austin-area attendees to vote for the top three issues pertinent to the community.

“We want to understand what’s authentic about Austin and this neighborhood, what we should pay attention to and celebrating what you love about your neighborhood,” she said.

Attendees at the meeting gave the Austin, East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park a “D,” and said much more needs to be done to revamp community culture.

In a presentation to the group, Burros said art and culture is happening on the grassroots level on the West Side, but the area is still lacking.

“My guess is that this neighborhood probably wants more entertainment and commercial opportunities,” she said.

Many participants at the event said Austin Town Hall Park – located at 5610 W. Lake St. and one out of city’s 13 cultural centers – is the area’s main cultural hub.

Community members said they wanted to see more cross-pollination of arts and culture throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods, more art classes provided to kids in kindergarten through grade 12 and a sustainable arts and culture sector.

Mike Hartnett, associate publisher of the arts and culture magazine New City, said his family has lived in Austin off and on for 90 years.

Hartnett briefly attended school off Chicago Avenue. He’s since moved to another neighborhood in the city but comes back to the West Side when he wants to take in some jazz. Musicians sometimes hold concerts in LaFollette Park, 1333 N. Laramie Ave., he said.

In addition to jazz, “Austin has amazing architecture,” he said.

But Hartnett said he also gave Austin’s arts and cultural community a “D.”

“I want to see more going on here,” he said.

Levette Haynes, a resident of East Garfield Park, said there isn’t enough cultural history on the West Side.

“I was in Greek Town earlier today to see a Greek museum,” she said. “That represents history. That’s the missing link to our history.”

According to the city’s web site, the 2012 plan is the third cultural plan the city has hosted. In 1986 and 1995, the city developed similar plans to address cultural needs and opportunities in Chicago.

The next community meeting will take place March 20 at the Logan Square-Avondale Arts Center at 2800 N. Milwaukee Ave.

To learn more and to find the complete list of neighborhood discussions, click here.

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