Janet Carl Smith, newly retired Deputy Commissioner of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs, advised leaders and members of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County to collaborate among themselves and others in an address on February 20, 2014. She shared experiences and ideas to the Alliance and is currently pushing for a renewal of a tax to benefit education in Sarasota, especially in the arts.

A strong arts community, said Smith, comprehends a range of disciplines, artists in every venue possible, including classrooms, and includes audiences as well as participants. It takes in presenters, educators, and supporters, as well as both nonprofit and business enterprises. It needs infrastructure and people who will support the project by donations of time and money, fundraisers, government backing. Smith spoke from 35 years as a mentor in every phase of Chicago culture.

Smith often drew on her observations of the growth in numbers (more than New York's) of Chicago theaters and their quality. Building on the practice of the last mayor, Richard Daley, new Mayor Robb Emmanuel convened a task force of arts and culture planning. His goal was to have Chicago be a global arts capital. His 2012 Cultural Plan set priorities. Of special import was fostering lifelong learning (an idea becoming ever closer to the heart of Sarasota cultural goals).

Among priorities in planning: to attract and retain people in the arts and to promote culture as a fundamental human need and right. One of the initial results, again resonant to Sarasota listeners to Smith, was to get retired teachers to promote tourism and the arts.

Smith asked promoters to determine: How do you activate implementation of your plan? How do you evaluate it? “Government can't solve all your problems, but you need voters to say to government what's important to them.” You've got to learn what people you talk to want, like, and question. And, she implied, you must be able to give answers.

Because the arts contribute significantly to the economy, Smith advised getting data on impact from inside and outside the arts community. For example, how does arts education help educate children — including those who learn best through artistic endeavors? Smith stressed bringing people together to understand each other and unite on issues of the arts and the economy. Another example: Don't the arts attract new residents and businesses?

“Who can deliver your message?” Smith asked. “Identify them and give them tools to do the job. Talk to people outside your comfort zone. Get people from other arts organizations to work with you, when possible.” Such collaboration emerged as a major motif of Janet Carl Smith's advice.

One model she suggested for the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County is to invite people of new or different organizations to interact with it every few weeks or monthly. That could start a new dynamic.

I talked to Ms. Smith after her speech about the Chicago Board of Education and recent changes there. In answer to my query about cooperation with the parochial school system there, she said there's a new group, INGENUITY, which is bringing such organizations and people together.

Key Subjects: 
: Cultural and educational planning and collaboration; fostering education and lifelong learning; attracting and retaining artists, teachers, supporters
Marie J. Kilker
February 2014