Research: South East Chicago Commission

secc poster copyThe South East Chicago Commission (SECC) is a community-based organization, focused on enhancing the quality of life in five neighborhoods through a number of programs and initiatives. The SECC is funded by the University of Chicago, the City of Chicago, and private donations. It is governed by a board of community leaders, business owners, and neighborhood residents. The five neighborhoods are Hyde Park, Woodlawn, Washington Park, Kenwood and Oakland.

Considering culture as a driver of economic development, the SECC commissioned me (Adelheid Mers) in 2013 to conduct conversations with arts and culture leaders in its neighborhoods, to help explore if and how cultural initiatives might be added to the SECC’s portfolio. Most of those approached were associated with arts and culture related organizations. I led these conversations through May 2014, along with graduate students in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Graduate Program in Arts Administration and Policy. Student participation was facilitated through the Management Studio course, taught by Kate Dumbleton. The students convened additional artist focus groups.

The diagram created following this process generally sums up the conversations and includes a recommendation how the SECC might engage Arts and Culture. The diagram takes the form of a Fractal 3-Line Matrix, a multi-dimensional visual thinking tool. This is how it is used: In any given discourse, 3 prevalent categories are broadly determined, and an axis is assigned to each. Then the outlying positions are named and entered at the end points of the axes. Within the field thus sketched out, other pertinent points are placed.

The SECC diagram: The three main axes of the SECC diagram are determined by the terms Creative Families, Arts Leaders and Ecosystems. For each of those terms, a set of more traditional and a set of newer definitions are in current use, placed at the ends of each axis. On the right side of the diagram, the more traditional model is found, while the left side presents an emerging understanding of arts and culture. The main terms themselves are culled from the conversations that deployed the more recent understanding of how culture can function.

The right side of the diagram: This side is titled Supply + Support + (Insufficient) Demand Model. In this familiar scheme, artists produce art works, the supply. Means are solicited from funders by development staff to support organizations in all that it takes to present art works. Marketing personnel seeks to get the attention of audiences, which is increasingly perceived as challenging, for various reasons. There are gatekeepers who interface with artists, and educators who also interact with future and current audiences, both local residents and tourists. Arts policy variously governs this mode.

The left side of the diagram: The Planning + Radical Pedagogy Model draws from cultural and urban planning and education discourses that seek economic impacts of culture while also addressing social justice. It reframes audiences more precisely as neighbors, families living in an organization’s vicinity, with local knowledge and potential interests in life-long learning and community health. In addition to their material production, artists are also recognized for their organizing activities. That includes participation in and activation of networks. Networks provide various forms of capital. They are also the locus of the international art world. Creative Industries policy considerations that are now in part being challenged by Artist-led policy developments govern processes on this side.

The changing roles of artists (yellow overlay): Traditionally, artists have been seen as inspired and talented producers, but also often inarticulate where their work is concerned, lacking business acumen to boot. Some have taken on expanded roles, as artist curators or activists. Artists who moved into pedagogic or administrative functions were likely to no longer practice. The newer model, on the other hand, sees artists, along with others, in leadership roles. Through art as research, as part of academia and in professional roles, artists are said to produce new knowledge. As creative entrepreneurs, they may shape or participate in business opportunities without relinquishing the artist role.

The recommendation (green overlay and red circle): A paradigm shift is occurring from the right to the left side of the diagram, impacting how art is financed, administrated, made, engaged and enjoyed. Given that the SECC is interested in the economic impact of the Arts and Culture, it seems appropriate to consider a recommendation that mainly plays out in the areas of capital (networks) and arts leadership (organization). Success stories from the five neighborhoods show that where areas of expertise blend, innovation is likely to occur.

Artists, organizations and businesses are learning from each other. To support blending that includes Arts and Culture, it is recommended that artists are embedded in various local contexts, both organizational and entrepreneurial. For residencies of a length to be determined, artists and hosting partners could be assisted in working out a mutually beneficial, experimental arrangement. Communication and accountability are key. This project would ideally be accompanied by a research element, tackling new approaches to impact measurement, with the understanding that longer term results are sought.





Artist, professor [Arts Administration and Policy] at SAIC.

Posted in 3Line_Matrix, facilitating
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