The Thaumaturgy Department

(It's dramaturgy, not thaumaturgy.)


Main Entry: thau·ma·turg
Pronunciation: \ˈthȯ-mə-ˌtərj\
Function: noun
Etymology: French, from New Latin thaumaturgus, from Greek thaumatourgos working miracles, from thaumat-, thauma miracle + ergon work — more at Theater, Work

2014-2015 Season:
Next to Normal
It's A Wonderful Life
One Night in Miami
Herzog Rep
After the Revolution
4000 Miles
Play Labs

The official blog of the Dramaturgy Department at Baltimore's CENTERSTAGE. For posts related to our current and upcoming shows, click the links to the right. Alternatively, you could begin at the beginning, and explore our posts in chronological order.


The Arts and the Mayor’s Ear

Hard on the heels of a cheering tale out of Chicago, in which a theater critic for the Tribune raved about a show and encouraged Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel (you remember him) to see the work, only to have Emanuel actually go the next night, comes this story (also below) of the Tribune convening a group of arts leaders to dream big dreams—in public, as it were—for the mayor-elect to hear. And, presumably, consider acting on.

Arts leaders speak up — is Rahm listening?

Cultural figures sound off on what should happen in the Emanuel era

Howard Reich, Arts critic

June 17, 2011

Chicago may be a famously spectacular setting for arts and entertainment, but the city needs to bulk up for the future — according to those who make culture happen here.

In coming months and years, they say, the city needs to build a music district. Rebuild the Department of Cultural Affairs. And blow up the foreboding stairs that front the Museum of Contemporary Art.

That’s not all: Re-imagine the summertime music festivals, so they spread beyond Grant Park and into the city’s clubs and concert halls. Bring music and dance and theater to the city’s poorest neighborhoods, not just its most affluent. Make sure every kid gets equal access to arts education, no matter where he or she goes to school.

You’ve heard about the League of Chicago Theatres, which promotes and nurtures the city’s sprawling theater industry? How about a League of Chicago Comedy? A stronger dance ecosystem? A network of 100-seat performing arts spaces across the city?

With Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new administration just getting into gear, Tribune reporters Mark Caro, Nina Metz and I asked some of Chicago’s savviest cultural players to answer three questions: What would you most like to see happen culturally in Chicago in the next six months? How would you measure success six months from now? What’s the biggest change you hope will have taken effect four years from now?

Some of the experts had served on the art-and-culture committee for Rahm Emanuel’s transition team. Others operate far from the corridors of power. All sounded off on what ought to happen at the beginning of Emanuel’s first term as mayor — and at its end.

But that’s just the start of the conversation. The least predictable ideas likely will come from those who buy the tickets, wait in line for seats and otherwise make the culture industry flourish here: You.

Which is why we’d love to hear your responses to this question: What do you think should happen culturally in Chicago in the next six months — and the next four years? Please send your thoughts to <b><i></i></b>.

We’ll publish many of the suggestions in next Sunday’s Arts &amp; Entertainment section, to help shape the discourse.

Mayor Emanuel — are you listening?

1. What would you most like to see happen culturally in Chicago in the next six months?

2. How would you measure success/accomplishment six months from now?

3. What’s the biggest change you hope will have taken effect four years from now?

Helen Doria

Independent consultant

Was a member of the art and culturecommittee for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s transition team

1. I would love to see a new plan for Chicago’s festivals, connecting our downtown area and the neighborhoods. There is so much happening, and it’s vital to make sure that whatever is presented in any space on the lakefront is not “stepping” on another downtown event! We need to rethink what a festival is in Chicago. I recently had a conversation with Tim Evans (executive director of Northlight Theatre), one of our great Chicago theater guys, about new festival models, including the Galway Arts Festival (in Ireland) and Luminato in Toronto. These festivals are spread out at lots of venues. They mix free performances with ticketed ones, present all kinds of music and art, indoors and outdoors, and are really dynamic. There is no reason that Chicago can’t do this. Let’s go for it!

2. For the rethinking of festivals, I would look at what could happen for the summer of 2012. Lots of people have been thinking and talking about making changes in our festivals for a while. And I think the political will is there too. Let’s start testing some of this to see what works. A strong measure needs to be economics. We need to make sure that any plan has a strong business plan that ensures that our artists, clubs, venues, hotels, neighborhood restaurants are all able to be a part of economic success that these kinds of festivals can produce. The great balance is in not losing our great free programming while we develop this new model. Also, (I’m) not sure how you measure joy from experiencing all this great art — maybe by how many people are walking around town singing or dancing in the streets?

3. I have such great hopes for the next four years. I would love to see our city known as America’s City for Arts and Culture. That means a strong tourism campaign. Our kids will be thriving in arts programs in their schools, the neighborhoods will be humming with local and global arts experiences, our artists will be working and making a living here, and also (will) be traveling around the world with our new mayor. Our cultural institutions will be jam-packed. There will be a creative buzz that permeates the city with artists working side by side within every aspect of our city’s life, and the city government will welcome and seek that participation. Oh, and there will be many, many Rahm sightings at all kinds of arts events around the city. I really believe all this is possible.

Brian Golden

Artistic director of Theatre Seven

1. Mayor Emanuel has already taken a major step toward cultural change by leading a dialogue about Chicago’s great neighborhood theater scene as a civic necessity, more than just a means to a strengthened economy. Live theater can indeed be an engine for economic growth and job creation. But Mayor Emanuel needs to continue focusing the citywide conversation on the primary value of great local theater (as an) essential cultural vibrancy for all of Chicago, not just economic windfall, and not just for downtown.

2. The new mayor should reverse Mayor (Richard) Daley’s misguided decision to gut the Department of Cultural Affairs, which diverted focus and jobs to the Chicago Tourism Fund and, sadly, positioned arts and theater as a means to attract tourists, not as key cogs of the healthy cultural life of a great city. Mayor Emanuel should replenish the DCA and give it a special emphasis on “neighborhood culture,” following through on his statements about the essential benefit of great Chicago neighborhood theater and the city government’s role in helping it to flourish. Mayor Emanuel is on record as saying that the DCA needs “a renewed mission and new investment.” That renewed mission must be an emphasis on creating viable, sustainable and delightful live art in diverse Chicago neighborhoods.

3. One of the defining barriers preventing most Chicago theater companies from achieving sustainable, long-term success is the lack of affordable, available, 100-150 seat performance venues in our city. In four years, we should be celebrating the creation of several neighborhood theater centers, found on street corners that represent Chicago’s diversity, funded with both city and private support. These neighborhood centers should offer Chicago’s diverse audiences and talented artists the opportunity for a meaningful artistic exchange that serves the city and its people.

David Chavez

Founder and artistic director of Sound Culture Center for Global Arts

Was a member of the art and culture committee for Emanuel’s transition team

1. A concise and thoroughly thought-out cultural plan is really important. I think that helps drive our activity within the arts at the city level. That’s got to include voices like myself, other smaller arts organizations, nonprofit organizations, for-profit arts companies. The idea has been tossed around about having a music office in City Hall, and I think that should be considered seriously, because it’s a vital industry we have in Chicago and a huge economic engine that should be recognized a little more and represented. Also, we really need to get our house in order with DCASE (Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events) and increase the city budget for arts. That process should get started ASAP.

2. There should be some committees formed to start working on a cultural plan. Some organization has to happen within the arts community, directed by the city, to really help get the ball rolling on putting these ideas into action. That (would be) a good sign that things are starting to happen, instead of just hoping and saying, “We believe in the arts.” Get something going.

3. Within the arts, I would like Chicago to look and feel really like a global cultural hub. There’s so much going on, (but) there’s also so much disconnect, (among) different communities, between the city and nonprofit arts organizations. In four years, I’d like to see more cultural arts happening around Chicago and in the neighborhoods. Coming out of downtown and expanding into different neighborhoods is important and it helps connect us as a city. There are so many ethnic enclaves in Chicago that are culturally rich, and I don’t feel that they’re connected to other things happening. I don’t feel people are traveling a whole lot to different neighborhoods to experience those things. There are neighborhoods like Logan Square,Pilsen, Bridgeport, that could be these cultural hubs that we’ve been talking about, that could really help make the city feel more like a global capital. Some emphasis on developing those neighborhoods as cultural hubs, without displacing the community, is the key. More music!

Angel Ysaguirre

Director of global community investing at Boeing Co.

Was a member of the art and culture committee for Emanuel’s transition team

1. I think that despite the vibrancy of Chicago’s arts scene, there are still parts of the city where there are fewer arts offerings, and many of our arts organizations are struggling. Over the next six months, I’d like to see a blueprint for how to provide services for different disciplines of the arts and for coordinating these arts providers.

2. I would look for a plan that has input from a broad variety of arts organizations and arts advocates. I feel like our arts organizations do a really good job, and I don’t see a need in Chicago for (improvement in) what arts organizations need to do for themselves, but what arts organizations can do together. That takes a bit of organizing, and we wouldn’t see a change in that in six months.

3. I would like to see more arts in the neighborhoods — especially poor neighborhoods — a stronger dance ecosystem, stronger connections between the nonprofit and commercial arts providers, and coordinated and sequential arts education in the schools. If I had to choose just one, it would be for coordinated and sequential arts education in the schools.

Michelle Boone

Commissioner, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

1. In six months, I hope we have a solid start on engaging the community on crafting a cultural plan for the city — one that has solicited broad input from artists, arts workers, musicians, filmmakers, youth, civic and business leaders, journalists and the general public.

2. The cultural advisory council is in place (with Nora Daley Conroy as chair and Marj Halperin as vice chair) and is working to finalize the cultural plan and craft key action items for implementation in 2012.

3. Chicago becomes the primary city for incubating innovative artistic practices; all neighborhoods have quality cultural resources within their communities; and the city is positioned as the nation’s hub for fostering creative industries.

Howard Tullman

President and CEO ofTribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy

1. I think establishing a music district similar to the (Loop) theater district, but not downtown — perhapsUptown orBronzeville — which could become a hub for new clubs and new talent as well as a celebration of Chicago’s major historical music roots would be great. The Riviera and the Uptown (theaters) would be larger anchors, but the idea would mainly be smaller clubs, new restaurants, etc. (The city could help make this happen by) easing and speeding the permitting process, helping to get funds to landmark some of the facades on these great old venues and by creating better bus routes to the area.

I also think that the band shell (at the Pritzker Pavilion) should become a regular “next night” venue all summer long for the acts that play Ravinia.

2. More media time (in other words, more stories) as a percentage spent on celebrating music and arts rather than bemoaning mobs and murders.

3. I’d like to see the Museum of Contemporary Art take over (the park across the street from the entrance) and close that block and create a new front for the MCA and a community gathering space and arts park that better connects the MCA toMichigan Avenue — and also makes it much more inviting to all.

The stairs to the MCA are the worst and most forbidding part of the design and should be blown up. At BAM (Brooklyn Art Museum) they completely opened up the front of a similarly imposing facade and extended the museum into the park, and the community responded dramatically by spending lots more time there, using it as an event and performance space, etc.

Phillip Thomas

President and CEO of eta Creative Arts Foundation

Was a member of the art and culture committee for Emanuel’s transition team

1. I’d like to see more cultural districts evolve throughout the city, and cultural districts mainly form through community involvement with a lot of stakeholders. It would be great if we could have some resources on the ground in neighborhoods around cultural activities, specifically aimed at youths. It’s going to be a long, hot summer, and I think there’s a strong correlation between anti-violence and cultural activities. I think an investment in that kind of thing certainly over these summer months requires a good look.

2. Have we helped bring more resources around culture to neighborhoods we wouldn’t necessarily think about? What kind of cultural activity can we point to that exists now in areas that it didn’t exist before?

3. A strategic city investment in coordination between the parties that are trying to build these cultural hubs, so that it’s almost a one-stop shop if a neighborhood wants to do these kinds of things (build theaters, open art galleries and music clubs, etc.). Neighborhoods can go to a comprehensive planning team or commission (within city government) where there’s a designated point person who can help streamline the process. That would be a function of the city that’s useful beyond investing money. Cultural districts rarely just grow by themselves. You want to plan for them and help them become established. You don’t want these cultural entities working on their own in isolation.

Byron Hatfield

President of Pub Theater Company and CEO of video production company BBL Productions

1. The city of Chicago has two great immediate, nationally recognized cultural institutions that loom above its rival cities: our architecture and our comedy. Our architecture has the immediate presence of a slew of tours that serve to promote and educate visitors and residents. Basically, there’s a whole industry surrounding the architecture culture community that is commonly supportive, organized and directed. Meanwhile, our comedy community is quietly at its prime. Chicago has a long history of developing the best actors and writers that LA can steal away from us. I’d like to see that stop. If I could see one thing, I’d like to see a unified face of the Chicago comedy community develop. A League of Chicago Comedy would be a start — an entity that subsumes ego and actively leverages the considerable talent and potential of our world-class comedy community to the film houses and production companies that currently take advantage of it in piecemeal form. The city doesn’t need to give money, just its contacts and backing (and therefore confer) legitimacy.

2. A series of benchmarks (including) the use of social media to track national recognition (marketing Chicago’s comedy scene outside of the city) and using historical data correlating revenue streams from the comedy community and film community, so that there is a way to trend growth of a new, combined market.

3. Every time a major studio starts a major comedy production, I’d like them to have major thoughts of turning the entire project over to the hands of a group of talent from Chicago. Complete vertical integration of our own internationally renowned, smoothly integrated, fully financed studio city here in Chicago. A one-stop shopping center for all your comedy needs: from script to stage to Web to film, written, directed and produced here in Chicago, enjoyed by the world. Courtesy of the Chicago comedy machine.

Cheryl Hughes

Chicago Community Trust, senior director of strategic initiatives and centennial planning

Was a member of the art and culture committee for Emanuel’s transition team

1. I’d like to see the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events commission a new cultural plan for Chicago. Chicago hasn’t had a (completely new) cultural plan since 1984. Going through a cultural plan gives the entire city and the entire community an opportunity to have a voice at the table about what they would like to see in the cultural vision of the city. Good examples for Chicago are the London’s Cultural Audit and the City of London Cultural Strategy 2010-2014 andWashington, D.C.’s, Creative Capital: The Creative DC Action Agenda. Doing an audit of what the city has to offer gives us an opportunity to really look at the vast resources that we have in Chicago, but it also gives us an opportunity to see what we’re missing.

2. To move forward in developing this cultural plan, I believe that there needs to be a working committee established. This committee will need to evaluate and audit Chicago’s cultural assets, while listening to local artists, community leaders and citizens about what they want. But we also need to consider Chicago’s place in the global cultural community and create a strategy for our local economy through the arts and culture.

3. We will be in Year 3 of the city’s new cultural plan. There will be equal access to arts education for every student in all Chicago schools. There will continue to be access to high-quality free or low-cost cultural programming for all Chicagoans. And Chicago creative industries are booming.

Lane Alexander

Chicago Human Rhythm Project, founder/director

Was a member of the art and culture committee for Emanuel’s transition team

1.The (mayor’s) transition plan calls for, in the first 100 days, identifying three cultural hubs or districts around which the city will invest. The arts are a part of a community and economic development program, so these are going to be in different parts of the city, not just downtown, and it should be interesting to see what is selected.

I know one of the things (Michelle Boone, cultural affairs and special events commissioner) is going to be looking at is to clarify the roles of overlapping agencies, like the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture. It’s not altogether clear to me where one ends and the other starts, so I think there is some overlap there that needs to be straightened out.

2. It goes back to the cultural districts. The work should have already started in having identified those three: Is it music? Is it theater? Is it dance? What neighborhoods? The advisory council will have been convened and met, at least once. These are all things that are already in the transition plan. Basically, we need to meet the benchmarks that were already set out.

3. Academia, for-profit and nonprofit organizations should collaborate more to educate a new generation, create new work. We have great educational institutions. We have great cultural institutions. We have great community-based organizations. Out of necessity we need to look for ways to work together.

Also, I think there’s a real opportunity for Chicago organizations to take advantage of the dollar’s weakness and go to Asia, South America,Europe (on tour). It’s a great way to market Chicago.

Josephine Lee

Chicago Children’s Choir, president/artistic director

Was a member of the art and culture committee for Emanuel’s transition team

There is a generation of Chicago public school students that are not experiencing art. Having no arts during (school), they’re missing out on the development of self-confidence, self-expression, cultural understanding, creative thinking and so much more of the intangible learning that comes from the arts that is essential to the development of the mind, heart and even body. So what I’d like to see is more arts learning incorporated into the school day.

2. You would measure success by the number of children that have a weekly arts learning experience, whether singing, playing musical instruments, painting, dancing or acting.

3. I’d like to see all CPS students provided minimally with a weekly arts learning experience as part of the school day. In the short term I believe this will have a profound impact on their overall achievement in all areas. And long term we will ensure that Chicago continues as a cultural leader in the U.S. and the world by developing the next generation of artists and, more importantly, the next generation of audiences.

I think in four years it would be great if everyone would recognize Chicago as the leader of creative arts. That would be tremendous. Because we have that potential. Everyone’s doing their part.

Joe Shanahan

Owner of Metro, a North Side music club

1. I hope that we continue to have a forward-thinking axis when it comes to our arts and cultural communities. We are a big city with big ideas, and we have a locally rooted but global vision — for example, the Sonar Music Festival, from Spain, which the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs helped to bring to Chicago. I hope we’ll see more European, Asian, African, South American artists coming to Chicago to realize this locally instigated and collaboratively produced global vision.

2. There will be obvious spark and energy and some kind of innovation that we will all begin to see and feel. That’s how you calibrate it. You will look around, and you will begin to see new ideas, not the same old partnerships — new partnerships, new emerging artists, new emerging musical collaborations.

3. I hope we can make it easier and less expensive for arts and culture small for-profit businesses to produce events in Chicago, and that means reforming the city’s amusement tax. The arts, theater, music, dance and culture companies who are trying to work on the fundamental level of developing and emerging artists are trying to get those artists as much money as possible when they play in Chicago, but the amusement tax is a burden that makes this difficult, especially on small, for-profit businesses. While I know the city is strapped for dollars, the amusement tax is clearly harnessing musical development and hurting the city’s ability to grow the artistic community.

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