The Art of Being Rahm

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says it’s time for kids to Be Creative—or else…

rahm-emanuelTo properly convey the depths of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s passion for art in the schools, I would have to reach deep into my own slender store of expletives. But as this is a family publication, I will fall back on the next best metric: star wattage. So how much does Emanuel love the thought of kids doing arty things with paints and paste pots? Combine wonder cellist Yo Yo Ma, super soprano Renee Fleming and you still have room for—wait for it, wait for it—Lil Buck, backed by an artful assemblage of $38 million big bucks, and you’re starting to get the picture. Reader: it’s time to Be Creative, and *this time is different…*

art projectArt hole
Now if you are reading this far from Chicago, or were otherwise unaware of Mayor Emanuel’s sudden craze for all things crayon-esque, allow me to sketch a brief outline for you. Remember yesteryear when Emanuel was best known for his jaunty approach to neighborhood schools (closing of), budgets (slashing of) and school board members (appointing of)? Well those days are still here, but there is a new boldly, creative, strategic plan in town. It is a big bold plan so requires the use of a bold lexicon not usually associated with the arts: impact, data collection, accountability and assessment systems. In other words, this is just like the art kids used to do, only less fun.

Paint by numbers
But from whence does the bold creative plan cometh? I’m glad you asked. You see, for reasons that are completely mysterious, there has been:

[a] disproportionate removal of arts from urban school systems serving low-income students of color—a population more likely to show academic gains when given the opportunity.

Which is why it is so essential that those students now be given the opportunity—scratch that—the requirement to Be Creative. But I’m worried that the bold plan still doesn’t go far enough towards making art not fun at all. Are there additional measurabilities that could be baked into the bold plan? What about hiring consultants to measure and track art’s measurability? Or even better, what about making arts education a *core* subject, linking it to school report cards, thus giving principals an incentive to make progress each year? Fun tip for principals grappling with school budget shortages: make art projects edible for a *two-fer.*

I will skip over the truly creative part of the plan, its budgeting, and cut straight to the big event: the bold photo op. To Pilsen we go, reader, a quickly-gentrifying Latino neighborhood on Chicago’s lower west side, where *farm-to-table* restaurants will soon replace bodegas and an influx of hipsters is forcing me to violate my own ban on typing the word *hipster.* Our destination is the auditorium at Benito Juarez High School. But don’t expect to get a seat near the stage — Rahm doesn’t roll small and today is no exception. Along with the names I have already dropped (Yo Yo, Renee, Lil), there is an entourage of 100+, replete with names like Theaster, David, Barbara, Damian, Dick and Susie, along with the real stars of the show: the donors. Oh, and those nobodies in the back? Those would be students and teachers.

Color me cynical
Do you know what elected officials love? Besides art, that is. They love being re-elected officials. And that’s where art comes in. You see, there are a lot of Chicagoans who really don’t like their mayor, and much of his unpopularity can be traced straight back to the closing of 50 neighborhood schools, primarily in black neighborhoods. Of the more than half of voters be creativepolled who said they were dissatisfied with Emanuel as mayor, 9 out of 10 disapproved of his handling of the pubic schools. Also unpopular: Emanuel’s shifting of taxpayer funds away from neighborhood schools and towards privately-run charters. In a Chicago Tribune poll, 72% of those surveyed said they opposed Emanuel’s approach on charters. Eighty-three percent of African Americans gave his charter policy a thumbs down, along with eight in ten parents with kids in the Chicago Public Schools. In other words, if Emanuel gets sent packing next fall, the backlash against his education reform agenda will be a big part of the reason, and all of the reason why I am typing this with a big smile painted across my face. Speaking of paint, did you hear there’s a bold new plan for art in the schools? 

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