Evanston aldermen OK ‘arts czar’ position

Patrick Svitek, Summer Editor

City Council approved the new position of cultural arts coordinator Monday night, agreeing to recruit what one proponent called Evanston’s first “arts czar.”

Aldermen voted 8-1 to move ahead with three recommendations included in a March report from evanstARTs, the city’s arts advocacy group. In addition to two other broader findings, the organization asked the council to create a “cabinet level position to focus on arts sector and economic development.”

“With this new position, the city can further strengthen the role it already plays in advancing the arts in Evanston,” said Judy Kemp, who led a 10-member working group that prepared the report.

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz proposed accommodating the new position by converting the role of director of the Evanston Arts Council to recreation program manager for cultural arts in the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department. A similar role to the latter one was eliminated in 2009.

Bobkiewicz said the city can afford the staffing shuffle for fiscal year 2013 and add it to the budget for fiscal year 2014. The cultural arts coordinator is expected to make about $75,000 a year.

The city manager stressed the importance of the new role as the city looks to sell the Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road, which houses the soon-to-be-relocated Evanston Arts Center.

“There’s a lot going on, and I think having a key senior staff person working in my office can … help us as we stitch together these issues,” Bobkiewicz said.

Anne Berkeley, co-chair of the Evanston Arts Council, pitched the new position as an “arts czar” within a community that is in “kind of a disarray and in need of focus.”

Although Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) was the only no vote, the proposed post was met with some skepticism from a few of her colleagues.

Ald. Mark Tendam (6th) said the job description sounds like “a lot to ask from one person” whose role within City Hall may not be clear in the short term. Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) questioned how closely tied the new position would be to the city’s Economic Development Division. Bobkiewicz assured her there would be “tight integration.”

“I’m just not real comfortable with the city having this major role,” Holmes said, citing a concern she first raised when the report was presented to the council March 18.

The city expects the cultural arts coordinator to start this fall. Bobkiewicz signaled he is willing to look outside the Evanston community for the ideal candidate in order to make the city a regional trailblazer in the arts.

“We need to be a convener,” he said. “We need to be a catalyst.”

Summer editor Patrick Svitek can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/PatrickSvitek.