Editor’s note: The following is one of the Roundtable’s many educational explorations into Evanston City Government and how things work. Call it Evanston Arts Council 101.
The Evanston Arts Council is a civic committee that promotes the arts in Evanston. It consists of 12 people appointed by the mayor with the advice and approval of the city council. The Arts Council reports to the Human Services Committee, which is made up of five city council members, who in turn report to the larger city council — a bureaucratic hierarchy that actually works.
One member of the Arts Council must be an Evanston resident or employed in Evanston. The term of office is three years, with a maximum of two terms. The council meets monthly at the Civic Center, but during the pandemic meetings have been held on Zoom, which has proved efficient but not nearly as fun.
The council met virtually this July but traditionally canceled its August meeting. “Most members would like to be able to attend in person again, but there’s an unconventional rule that at a hybrid meeting, only those in the room count for quorum – so hybrid isn’t a good option for us,” said Toby Sachs, current chair.
Zoom details are always posted with the council agenda on its city website.
Current and past agendas, minutes and information packages on agenda items from five years are also published there.
What funds are there?
The Arts Council has an annual budget of $50,000 from the General Fund for grants and programmatic expenses. The Public Art Working Group has its own budget of $30,000, drawn from general operating bonds for construction. Sometimes this budget fluctuates because it depends on capital improvement projects.
From the Arts Council’s $50,000 budget:
- Traditionally, $30,000 went to grants from the Cultural Fund,
- $15,000 for Special Projects, formerly known as the Neighborhood Fund, and
- $5,000 for Bright Night for the Arts.
Thanks to The American Rescue Plan, a federal grant to compensate for economic damage caused by COVID-19, the council received $150,000: $15,000 will go to administrative expenses and $35,000 will go to grants from arts organizations in Evanston.
An ordinance of the City of Evanston establishes the purpose of the council in the City Bylaws (#55-0-75). But the group recently rewrote it, going beyond regulation and setting standards. Applicants are asked to show their alignment with these topics in their applications:
- Purpose: The Evanston Arts Council nurtures and builds an inclusive community where creative expression thrives and the arts thrive. We empower and empower artists and arts organizations as community builders and change makers. We support diverse forms of expression and ensure equal access to art.
- Vision: We see art as central to an equitable, sustainable city where authentic and diverse creative voices are accessible to all; and where artists are supported, thrive and recognized as fundamental to a healthy and engaged society.
- Values: We claim that art is for everyone; it should be a catalyst for inclusion and equity. We support the decolonization of the arts and all forms of creative expression. We value artists’ voices to enrich lives and advance society. We believe that art is an essential reflection of our humanity.
The main functions of the Arts Council under the foregoing are:
- to distribute funds and
- maintain the public art collection.
That year, instead of the usual small grants of $30,000, the Arts Council received an additional $40,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Illinois Arts Council, and Northwestern’s Good Neighbor Racial Equity Fund. It distributed $70,000 in Cultural Fund grants to 20 qualifying artists and arts organizations.
Yes, the scholarships are new, but the largest A novelty is the hiring of a new Cultural Arts Coordinator. It’s Rosie Roche, a London native who moved to Evanston 15 years ago and ‘brings an international perspective to enhance the public’s understanding and appreciation of art’.
Unlike its predecessors, Roche only has a part-time job. Highly recommended in the 2012 EvanstARTS report, this position was created in 2013 and hired Jennifer Lasik. It has been empty since October 2018. Lasik reported directly to the City Manager with an office in the Civic Center.
It was difficult without City Manager, as young administrative assistants with little art knowledge had to fill in on top of their regular duties.
Sometimes the Arts Council commissions an artwork or simply consults on the commission, the latter being the case with 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, a special project by Jennifer Lasik. It has been poorly sprayed, has efflorescence and needs attention.
This month the council approved $1,000 for a proposal by Melissa Blount to create a citywide artist-made “fairy door” event and installation, hoping to bring “a little magic” to the community and the Encouraging citizens to travel to other parts of Evanston and good humor throughout.
The council also approved a $1,000 donation to the Evanston Cricket Club, a non-profit organization owned by Evanston since the late ’60s, by cricketers, families and supporters, primarily of Jamaican heritage.
Renee Stone, who presented the proposal, told the council that this year marks Jamaica’s 60th anniversary of independence. The funds granted will be used to promote cultural experiences, artists and performers at the independence event.
A mural design was approved for Curt’s Cafe on Central Street. Also, a budget increase for an outdoor artwork at the Noyes Cultural Center was announced due to the cost of an engagement program that the commissioned group (Chicago Public Art Group) is required to conduct with Noyes Center artists and tenants. A proposed art park idea for the Mulford Street (to Chicago Ave.) underpass was briefly discussed.
Over the past several years, the City of Evanston, City Council and all committees and commissions have worked hard to ensure that representation on the Council is fair and representative of the city.
The twelve individuals on the Arts Council come from diverse backgrounds and represent the diversity of Evanston’s citizenry half of the council members BIPOC. They are all involved and experienced in the arts in one way or another – music, theatre, visual arts, literature, curating, coaching, arts marketing.
If you are interested in serving on the Arts Council, email Mayor Daniel Biss and let him know your interest and qualifications.