Editor’s note: The following is one of the RoundTable’s many educational explorations of Evanston’s city government and how things operate. Call it Evanston Arts Council 101.
The Evanston Arts Council is a committee of citizens that promotes the arts in Evanston. It’s made up of 12 individuals, appointed by the mayor, with the advice and consent of the City Council. The Arts Council reports to the Human Services Committee, made up of five City Council members who report, in turn, to the larger City Council – a bureaucratic hierarchy that actually works.
An Arts Council member must be an Evanston resident or employed in Evanston. The term is three years and the maximum one can serve is two terms. The council meets monthly at Civic Center, but during the pandemic, meetings were conducted on Zoom, proving efficient but not nearly so much fun.
The council met virtually this July but canceled their August meeting, as is traditional. “Most members would like to be back in person but there is a funky rule that if the meeting’s hybrid, only those in the room count towards a quorum – so hybrid isn’t a good option for us,” said Toby Sachs, current Chair .
Zoom details are always posted with the council’s agenda on its city website.
Five years of current and past meeting agendas, minutes and packets of information on agenda items are published there as well.
What kind of funds are there?
The Arts Council has an annual budget of $50,000 from the General Fund for grantmaking and programmatic expenses. The Public Art Working Group has its own budget of $30,000 that comes from General Operating Bonds for construction. Sometimes this budget fluctuates because it’s dependent on Capital Improvement projects.
Of the $50,000 Arts Council budget:
- $30,000 has traditionally gone to Cultural Fund Grants,
- $15,000 for Special Projects, formerly known as the Neighborhood Fund, and
- $5,000 to Bright Night for the Arts.
Thanks to The American Rescue Plan, government funding to offset economic damage from COVID-19, the council received $150,000: $15,000 goes to administration costs and $35,000 is to be given to Evanston arts organizations grants.
An Evanston City Ordinance states the Council’s purpose in the city code (No. 55-0-75). But the group rewrote it recently, going further than the ordinance and setting standards. Grant applicants are asked to show alignment with these issues in applications:
- Purpose: The Evanston Arts Council nourishes and builds an inclusive community where creative expression thrives and the arts flourish. We empower and amplify artists and arts organizations as community builders and change makers. We support diverse forms of expression and provide equitable access to the arts.
- vision: We envision the arts as central to an equitable, sustainable city where authentic and diverse creative voices are accessible to all; and where artists are supported, thriving, and recognized as fundamental to a healthy and engaged society.
- Values: We maintain that art is for everyone; it should be a catalyst for inclusivity and equity. We support decolonization of the arts and all forms of creative expression. We value the voices of artists to enrich lives and move society forward. We believe the arts are a vital reflection of our humanity.
The most important functions of the Arts Council, as part of aforesaid, are:
- to disperse funds and
- to maintain the public art collection.
This year, instead of the usual small grants of $30,000, the Arts Council received an extra $40,000 from the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), the Illinois Arts Council and Northwestern’s Good Neighbor Racial Equity Fund. It dispersed $70,000 in Cultural Fund Grants to 20 qualified artists and arts organizations.
Yes, the grants are news, but the the biggest problem news is the hiring of a new Cultural Arts Coordinator. It is Rosie Roche, a native Londoner who moved to Evanston 15 years ago and “brings an international perspective to enhance the public understanding and appreciation of the arts.”
Roche’s job is only part-time, unlike those of her forerunners. This position, highly recommended in the 2012 EvanstARTS report, was created in 2013 and Jennifer Lasik was hired. Since October 2018, it’s been empty. Lasik reported directly to the City Manager with an office in the Civic Center.
It’s been hard without a City Manager, as young administrative assistants with little knowledge of the arts had to step in to help, in addition to their regular duties.
Sometimes the Arts Council will commission an artwork or simply consult on the commissioning, the latter being the case in the creation of “Inclusiva,” the large sculpture in front of the new Robert Crown Center.
The last mural commissioned, by the council was, “You Are Brilliant” by Piloto Ruiz, on Foster Street, west of Green Bay Road, which was a special project of Jennifer Lasik’s. It has been badly graffitied, has efflorescence and needs attention.
This month, the Council approved $1,000 for a proposal from Melissa Blount to create a city-wide, artist-made “Fairy Door” event and installation, with the hope of bringing “a little magic” to the community, encouraging citizen travel to different parts of Evanston and lifting spirits throughout.
The council also approved a contribution of $1,000 to the Evanston Cricket Club, an Evanston non-profit since the late 60’s, of cricket players, families and supporters, mostly of Jamaican heritage.
Renee Stone , who presented the proposal, told the council this year is Jamaica’s 60th anniversary of their independence. The funds granted will promote cultural experience, artists and performers at the independence event.
A mural design was approved for Curt’s Café on Central Street. And a budget increase was announced for an outdoor artwork at the Noyes Cultural Center, due to the cost of an engagement program the commissioned group (Chicago Public Art Group) must put on with the artist-tenants of the Noyes Center. A proposed art park idea for the underpass at Mulford Street (to Chicago Ave.) was briefly discussed.
Over the last several years, the City of Evanston, the City Council and all the committees and commissions have been working hard make sure representation on the Council is equitable and representative of the city.
The twelve individuals on the Arts Council come from various backgrounds and represent the diversity of Evanston’s citizenry, with half of the council members BIPOC. They are all involved in and experienced in the arts in one way or another – music, theater, the visual arts, literature, curating, coaching, arts marketing.
Terms of service are, wisely, staggered. There are two or three new members appointed every year, as other members “term out” or leave for some reason. (Health, family, or just too busy — usually with other arts commitments.) Nominations for new officers for the Arts Council will be due in September, and voted on in October.
If you are interested in serving on the Arts Council, write via email to Mayor Daniel Biss, tell him of your interest and qualifications.