New Cultural Plan a nice wish list, but city should focus on must-haves

Chicago Cultural Plan

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about Chicago Cultural Plan. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune / October 19, 2012)

"Dedicated revenue for arts and culture by exploring the augmentation of an existing tax or fee." Additional taxes and fees don't seem like big crowd-pleasers right now.

"Low-cost health insurance programs for self-employed artists and creative industry professionals." An indisputably desirable goal, but considering the political warfare now under way over President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, a local version catering to one segment of the population seems doubtful.

"'Chief creative officer' in every school to serve as liaison in facilitating citywide collaborations." Need we say more?

And then there's the language of much of the Cultural Plan, its jargon no doubt a thrill to bureaucrats but a struggle for the rest of us. Some choice examples among the initiatives:

"Arts education plan cross-sectoral implementation task force." Say, what?

"Develop a cultural tourism calendar that schedules peak and shoulder seasons with anchor and supporting cultural events." Whatever.

"'SparkPlug' incentive program for new idea generation within the public sector on behalf of the cultural sector." Right.

"Globally renowned art and creative industry accelerator center in collaboration with universities, the private sector, and the City focused on program development, products and patents, technology applications and implementation models."

Stirring, isn't it?

Granted, the new Cultural Plan does no harm. Its unrealistic ideas will be easily ignored and its better ones, perhaps, picked up for development. The plan asserts that 59 percent of its initiatives have a "launch timeline" of present-18 months; 33 percent at 18 months to five years; 7 percent at five to 10 years; and 2 percent at 10 to 20 years (don't hold your breath). As for costs, the plan posits that 34 percent of the initiatives have an annual operating cost estimate of up to $50,000; 28 percent at $51,000 to $250,000; 21 percent at $251,000 to $1 million; and 17 percent more than $1 million.

So it's entirely possible that some cultural good will come of this.

But after seeing so many Chicagoans turning out to participate, after watching the staffs of DCASE and Lord Cultural Resources pour so much energy into this process, I'd hoped for a Cultural Plan that was a lot more muscular, lean, realistic and focused. It might be in there somewhere. If we're lucky, the city's cultural planners can pull it out.

hreich@tribune.com

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