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EvanstARTs – the collaboration among the Evanston Arts Council, the Evanston Community Foundation (ECF) and the City of Evanston to gather public input on the arts in the City – held the last of its open meetings Oct. 5 and 6 at the Ecology Center and Northwestern University’s Block Museum of the Arts.

At least 40 people attended the Friday morning “listening session,” among them Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam.

Through these meetings and an online survey (accessible starting this week at cityofevanston.org), Judy Kemp of ECF and consultant Amina Dickerson say they will discover what arts experiences have meant most to residents and what residents would like to do to make such experiences available to all residents of the City. The idea is that the arts can be made to do more for the community and its individuals, if the community can mobilize to take part.

“How can we harness the economic potential of the arts?” was a question Ms. Dickerson posed for reflection. An arts district in Evanston, she suggested, where visitors might walk easily from one arts destination to another, might bring people here rather than going south to Chicago.

Participants broke up into facilitated groups to talk about their arts experiences and visions for the arts in Evanston. A spokesperson from each group reported to the whole on their findings. Ideas included beginning arts teaching as early as preschool and continuing with full-time arts teachers in the schools; promoting school-age bands to perform at Starlight Concerts, instituting a YEP – “Young Evanston Performs” – on the order of YEA (Young Evanston Arts); having an Evanston Visitors’ Center that would have information about all performances, exhibitions, and other arts events in Evanston at its fingertips.

Amanda Carlson, who interned with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Cultural Planning Team this summer, spoke after the reports about approaches to encouraging and utilizing community arts and artists that have been used elsewhere. She said four general trends have emerged from research: (1) thinking regionally, that is, in groups of communities, as Oakland, Berkeley, East Bay and Richmond, Calif. have done; (2) stand-alone arts advocacy groups, in which different arts and arts organizations in a community set up a single base camp – and a physical location – that works for all of them, rather than each organization working individually; (3) cross-sector collaboration, and (4) arts districts as anchors.

EvanstARTs will put together a preliminary report from the meetings and online surveys and present it to the public for discussion at two meetings in November. The final report will be issued in January 2013.

The cityofevanston.org website (Arts and Culture) offers further information on EvanstARTs, a sign-up form for the project’s mailing list, and the online survey.