Editor’s note: The following is one of the RoundTable’s many educational explorations of Evanston’s city government and how things operate. Call it Evanston Arts Council 101.

The Evanston Arts Council is a committee of citizens that promotes the arts in Evanston. It’s made up of 12 individuals, appointed by the mayor, with the advice and consent of the City Council. The Arts Council reports to the Human Services Committee, made up of five City Council members who report, in turn, to the larger City Council – a bureaucratic hierarchy that actually works.

An Arts Council member must be an Evanston resident or employed in Evanston. The term is three years and the maximum one can serve is two terms. The council meets monthly at the Civic Center, but during the pandemic meetings were conducted on Zoom, proving efficient but not nearly so much fun.

Evanston Arts Council Zoom meeting, July 12. In order, top left to lower right: Toby Sachs (chair), Gay Riseborough (Round Table reporter), Rosie Roche (Cultural Arts Coordinator), Angela Williams, BJ Jones, Melissa Blount (guest, speaking), Krista Fabian DeCastro, Chantal Healey, Piloto Nieves, Renee Stone (guest), Tasheik Kerr (off screen but assistant to City Manager & City staff to Arts Council) and Melissa Raman Molitor. Seven members make a quorum. Missing: Maasai Amewa (vice-chair), Lisa Corrin, James Deeb, Taichi Fukumura and Indira Freitas Johnson. Credit: Gay Riseborough

The council met virtually this July but canceled their August meeting, as is traditional. “Most members would like to be back in person but there is a funky rule that if the meeting’s hybrid, only those in the room count towards a quorum – so hybrid isn’t a good option for us,” said Toby Sachs, current Chair.

Zoom details are always posted with the council’s agenda on its city website.

Five years of current and past meeting agendas, minutes and packets of information on agenda items are published there as well.

What kind of funds?

The Arts Council has an annual budget of $50,000 from the General Fund for grantmaking and programmatic expenses. The Public Art Working Group has its own budget of $30,000 that comes from General Operating Bonds for construction. Sometimes this budget fluctuates because it’s dependent on Capital Improvement projects.

Of the $50,000 Arts Council budget, $30,000 has traditionally gone to Cultural Fund Grants, $15,000 for Special Projects, formerly known as the Neighborhood Fund, and $5,000 to Bright Night for the Arts.

Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act, government funding to offset economic damage from COVID-19, the council received $150,000: $15,000 goes to administration costs and $135,000 to Evanston arts organizations grants.

An Evanston City Ordinance states the Council’s purpose in the city code (No. 55-0-75). But the group rewrote it recently, going further than the ordinance and setting standards. Grant applicants are asked to show alignment with these issues in applications:

  • Purpose: The Evanston Arts Council nourishes and builds an inclusive community where creative expression thrives and the arts flourish. We empower and amplify artists and arts organizations as community builders and change makers. We support diverse forms of expression and provide equitable access to the arts.
  • Vision: We envision the arts as central to an equitable, sustainable city where authentic and diverse creative voices are accessible to all; and where artists are supported, thriving, and recognized as fundamental to a healthy and engaged society.
  • Values: We maintain that art is for everyone; it should be a catalyst for inclusivity and equity. We support decolonization of the arts and all forms of creative expression. We value the voices of artists to enrich lives and move society forward. We believe the arts are a vital reflection of our humanity.

The most important functions of the Arts Council, as part of the aforesaid, are to disperse funds and maintain the public art collection.

This year, instead of the usual small grants of $30,000, the Arts Council received an extra $40,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council. It dispersed $70,000 in Cultural Fund Grants to 20 qualified artists and arts organizations. Northwestern’s Good Neighbor Racial Equity Fund provided a further $50,000, which was granted to social service providers to partner with artists on projects to build community resiliency.

Yes, the grants are news, but the biggest news is the hiring of a new Cultural Arts Coordinator. Rosie Roche is a native Londoner who moved to Evanston 15 years ago and “brings an international perspective to enhance the public understanding and appreciation of the arts.”

July 2022
Rosie Roche is the new Evanston Cultural Arts Coordinator. Credit: Megan Beltran

Roche’s job is only part-time, unlike those of her predecessors. This position, highly recommended in the 2012 EvanstARTS report, was created in 2013 and Jennifer Lasik was hired. Lasik reported directly to the City Manager with an office in the Civic Center. Since October 2018, the position has been empty.

Sometimes the Arts Council will commission an artwork or simply consult on the commissioning, the latter being the case in 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, which was a special project of Lasik’s. It has been badly graffitied, has efflorescence and needs attention.

This month the Arts Council approved $1,000 for a proposal from Melissa Blount to create a city-wide, artist-made “Fairy Door” event and installation with the hope of bringing “a little magic” to the community, encouraging citizen travel to different parts of Evanston and lifting spirits throughout.

The Arts Council also approved a contribution of $1,000 to the Evanston Cricket Club, an Evanston non-profit that began in the late 1960s, consisting of cricket players, families and supporters, mostly of Jamaican heritage.

Renee Stone, who presented the proposal, told the Council that this year Jamaica is celebrating its 60th year of independence. The funds granted will promote cultural experience, artists and performers at the independence event.

A mural design was approved for Curt’s Café on Central Street. And a budget increase was announced for an outdoor artwork at the Noyes Cultural Center, due to the cost of an engagement program the commissioned group (Chicago Public Art Group) must put on with the artist-tenants of the Noyes Center. A proposed art park idea for the underpass at Mulford Street (to Chicago Ave.) was briefly discussed.

Over the last several years, the City of Evanston, the City Council and all the committees and commissions have been working hard to ensure representation on the Council is equitable and representative of the city.

The 12 individuals on the Arts Council come from various backgrounds and represent the diversity of Evanston’s citizenry, with half the council members BIPOC. They are all involved in and experienced in the arts in one way or another – music, theater, the visual arts, literature, curating, coaching and arts marketing.

Terms of service are, wisely, staggered. There are two or three new members appointed every year, as other members “term out” or leave for other reasons, such as health or family issues. Sometimes they’re just too busy – usually with other arts commitments. Nominations for new officers for the Arts Council will be due in September and voted on in October.

Those interested in serving on the Arts Council should email Mayor Daniel Biss with your interest and qualifications.

Gay Riseborough

Gay Riseborough is an artist, has served the City of Evanston for 11 years on arts committees, and is now an arts writer at the Evanston RoundTable.

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  1. Why is Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre not included among the grant recipients? It would be useful if the grants timeline and application requirements as well as press releases related to the Council’s business along and brief profiles of its members were posted on the Council’s web page.