From left, Joan Gunzberg, Anne Berkley, Judy Kemp and Amina Dickerson discuss progress toward the “road map to the arts.”Photo by Mary Mumbrue

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A little more than halfway into the task of taking stock of the community’s support of the arts here, representatives of evanstARTs shared some early findings about perspectives on the arts in the Evanston community.

Judy Kemp, Amina Dickerson, Joan Gunzberg and Anne Berkeley said they heard support for the arts but also concern about a lack of centralization in several aspects of the arts community. The four are beginning to analyze and compile data from five public listening sessions, 15 stakeholder interviews, five focus groups, an online survey and research on the arts in eight comparable cities. Their research will form the basis of a “roadmap to the arts in Evanston.”

Ms. Kemp chairs this project, evanstARTs, a collaboration among the City of Evanston, the Evanston Arts Council and Evanston Community Foundation. Ms. Gunzberg represents Evanston Community Foundation; Ms. Berkeley is co-chair of the Evanston Arts Council, and Ms. Dickerson is the paid consultant for the initial phase of the project.

Communities are looking closely at the arts experiences they offer to residents and visitors,” Ms. Kemp said. “It is clear that the arts provide more to communities than audience experiences and income for artists. The arts inspire, enrich, entertain and enlighten, but they also serve as an important economic engine for Evanston.”
A sample of the early findings includes the following: a belief that Evanston has a rich variety of arts activities; strong support for investing in the arts as a growth sector; “spotty” public awareness of what arts programming exists; a “concern for elevating the quality, quantity and range of arts education” in the schools; a desire for a centralized and multidisciplinary arts facility; and desire for arts to be             incorporated into all the business districts.

“To move the arts forward and build regional and other alliances that will stimulate arts growth,” Ms. Kemp said, “the community needs a coherent plan for arts development, together with strong and knowledgeable municipal leadership, augmented by strong volunteer efforts.”

Ms. Dickerson said, “In people’s appreciation for what is here, there was also a yearning for the diversity of Evanston to be expressed through arts – [having] the cultural diversity and ethnic traditions celebrated side by side.”  

More specific ideas include a centralized clearinghouse for the arts community, both to increase public awareness and to encourage cross-disciplinary conversations. A central arts space – for example, a performing arts or multi-arts center in downtown Evanston – could be a catalyst for business development in the neighborhood business districts. Public-private partnerships, partnerships with Northwestern University, increased donations to local arts groups and a break on parking rates for evening events could all bolster the arts community.

Ms. Gunzberg said there should be an effort to entice those Evanstonians who donate to Chicago-based organizations to support their hometown arts organization as well. “It goes back to marketing [as a factor],” she said.

All four agreed that they saw support for the arts from all aspects of Evanston – residents, the arts community and the business community. They said there is a sense that now is the time to create synergies with the new and thriving arts organizations and venues in the downtown area.

Next Steps
All four women seemed to feel the wind at their back. “The City is behind this effort,” said Ms. Kemp. Ms. Berkeley said, “The Arts Council has been advocating for similar goals. We’d like to see this [roadmap] as a strategic plan for the City.”
Ms. Kemp said the group will “continue research, continue meetings and continue analyzing the data.” Two public meetings will be held on Jan. 15; residents can attend either one to hear a presentation of the findings and give additional input.

The final report is expected in February.

After that, said Ms. Kemp, she will continue with the project “in any way I am asked.”  Ms. Dickerson said, “My formal role will have ended, but … I consider myself an Evanstonian.”