From birthing jazz, gospel, blues and house music to hosting large festivals like Lollapalooza. There's a lot to be embraced in Chicago’s creative scene.
Mark Kelly, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, was in charge of fostering the development of Chicago's arts and culture since 2016.
Kelly’s last day in office was Friday, but still found himself as a ringmaster in support of the “Arts in the Dark” parade on Saturday. He says he’ll continue to stick around “behind the scenes.”
“I get to be another citizen enjoying the glories of our city that have been put together by so many people,” Kelly said.
He had also been aiming to restore cultural life not only downtown, but on Chicago’s South and West side neighborhoods through “Culture in My Neighborhood,” a collaborative initiative with 23 cultural centers around the city, 18 Chicago Park District neighborhood cultural centers, and the Chicago Public Library regional libraries — through grants and commission opportunities for artists and organizations.
“All of these cultural centers are seeing a major capital investment so that their auditoriums and cultural spaces are up to date, they’re modern, and they're inviting,” Kelly said.
Arts funding has increased tenfold during his tenure – with a recent $26 million boost, and an overall $100 million in funds to support the arts landscape in this year alone.
“The heart of it was this equation that Chicago is one of the great cultural capitals of the world. But we don't necessarily think like that or act like it though,” Kelly said. “I wanted the city to better understand what we have. It's value, not just economically, but also its value to the city and a sense of belonging and then to leverage it. It really does come down to dollars and cents and not just platitudes while we love the arts.”
The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall at the Cultural Center received restoration earlier this year – a $40 million investment.
“The new mission of the Chicago Cultural Center is to offer a compass for the cultural exploration of the city. you come to our cultural center to get connected to this larger ecosystem and just to the cultural life of the country,” Kelly said.