Arts advocates say their online survey and community meetings show a high level of interest in the arts in Evanston.

At presentations Tuesday at the Music Institute of Chicago and the Civic Center, the EvansArts group said just over half the 579 people who responded to the survey patronize some sort of arts event at least once a month and 38 percent are subscribers to at least one Evanston arts organization.

About half of those who responded to the survey described themselves as artists.

Top: Judy Kemp, who chairs the EvanstArts group is a former board chair of the Evanston Community Foundation and the Next Theatre. Above: About 50 people turned out for the presentation at the Music Institute of Chicago.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the advocates think the city should spend more money to support the arts.

They also claim there is not enough awareness of arts offerings in the city and that problems like the high cost of parking and the expense of programs are deterrents to greater participation.

Nearly all the survey respondents say they also attend arts events in Chicago and about half travel to other suburbs to patronize the arts.

The EvansArts project is being funded by the city and the Evanston Community Foundation.

The group’s preliminary plan for next steps calls for more coordination among arts groups and creation of a “central clearinghouse for funding” with “clear timelines and outcomes.”

It suggests the city should play an active role in bringing groups together but should not implement the projects.

But at the same time it calls for creating a “cabinet-level position” in city government  to coordinate arts inclusion in budgeting and economic development activities and increasing city funding for artists.

It also suggests creating a low-profit limited liability company to creat arts spaces in the city and using affordable housing programs to meet the live/work space needs of artists.

A copy of the presentation from the meetings is expected to be posted later this week on the evanstarts.org website.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Their alternatives

    Have the arts groups talked to NU about using their facilities either for themselves or with cooperation with NU arts programs ?

    Have they talked to NU about buying Lutkin when NU finishes the new music building ?

    Have they explained by NorthLight tried at least twice to make a go in Evanston but moved to Skokie ?

    Can they explain why the Varsity, Coronet, Valencia and two theaters on Central Street could not make a go of it in Evanston ?

    Why even the dance studios left Evanston ?

    How successful have they been in getting private donations [money, land, buildings] for the theaters they propose ?

    Why the Cultural Center can't meet their needs?  Does it need to be demolished in favor [or as a replacement] for those they propose?

    It seems they keep proposing the same things over and over again but can never get the support [money and people] when push comes to shove and costing taxpayer for more studies, proposals, time in heardings?

    Is it that people will always say they want something until they reallize they will have to pay for it and can't push the costs off to other in taxes or what they think is 'free money' from some government funding?

  2. Complex solutions for simple problems.

    I have no doubt that feasibility studies have value, public input is imperative and consensus should be achieved. Without planning chaos can result.

    However, the corollary to that is so much planning that there is no action.

    I may be too strong an advocate of ready, fire, aim -but I truly believe that action begets action. We need to encourage the arts to look at Evanston as being not only a town of patrons, but a town of opportunity. Utilize existing spaces for all sorts of arts – open city spaces to theater groups, encourage vacant stores to become pop up galleries or even temporary studios. Support individuals and small groups by giving them a place to play and let me loose. Mamet started in a bar, Steppenwolf in a church. Bars are often the birthplaces of rock stars and musicians are discovered in coffee  shops. Empty offices can be lunchtime performance spaces for anything from flautists to barbershop quartets. 

    Instead of organizing another study, contact and encourage nomadic theater companies, individual performers and musicians to perform in Evanston – anywhere in Evanston. Keep the performances continuous, ever changing and always ongoing and a culture of arts creation will be implemented. Change will then be forced, not planned.

    The next time you walk through any part of Evanston and pass an empty storefront, imagine it hosting a painter creating new work, a theater company rehearsing or performing a new work, a jazz trio rehearsing. When you are surrounded by artists, you will be surrounded by art. It does not require thousand seat theaters, $50,000 studies or even road maps – art happens when you least expect it, but it flourishes when you encourage it.

    1. If they want it, let them pay for it

      If theaters, etc. are wanted by people so more performers can be brought in and more activities occur, let those people raise the money to buy, build, repair.  Then they can charge market rates [no taxpayer including the ever claimed 'money from heaven' grants] to those who want to attend.

      We would then find out who really wants to view these performances instead of who are 'free riders' off of taxpayer money.

      1. Short-sighted thinking

        By the same token, if people wanted books let them buy them, why should we subsidize a library. If they wanted light at night let them carry lanterns. Ridiculous yes, but the point is that there are elements that add not only to the quality of life but also spur economic growth. City beautification is done to draw people to the area. Amenities are provided to attract residents, shoppers and more.

        This is simple economics. The cost of such art support will by far be superceded by the economic input from increased traffic due to patronage of the arts. Not only has this FACT been borne out by countless studies, it is clearly seen in practice (look at the growth of areas around the small storefront theaters in Chicago).

        Creating a vibrant and supportive arts community elevates mind, body, spirit and hell – even local wallets. Every now and then it even insipres and illuminates.

        I support technology initiatives, business initiatives and many of the programs that Evanston has been trying over the years. However, balance should be applied. Evanston, once the home of many thriving arts organizations, entities and artists is becoming a cultural wasteland. Let's expend some effort and money to renurture the ethos of arts – and celebrate in the returns.


        1. Fantasy Land

          And you are living in a fantasy land if you think that so many arts venues will encourage economic growth.

          Evidence – Evanston, very rich to this day in arts and cultural venues.

          Can you account for all the shuttered businesses, closed storefronts, relocated businesses (not to mention other arts venues) here in Evanston? 

          Encourage businesses that are for profit.  Not organizations that are non-profit, because that is what they are. 

          And do not encourage me, or anyone else to subsidize another non-profit arts venue.

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