Chicago: The City That Creates

The finalized Chicago Cultural Plan is out and it promises to take Chicago to the international level as a cultural hub and destination. I have been singing the praises of Chicago as a cultural force since my first move abroad to Paris in 1986. However, there is no need take my word for it, or the promises of a government document. I have gone to the source and talked to painters, photographers, fashion designers, playwrights, directors, chefs, cartoonists, comedians, musicians, writers, curators, conductors, actors and dancers about their relationship to the Windy City. In total, 26 artists, living and/or working in Chicago, tell it like it is.

1. "I grew up here. We're tough, but certainly not heartless. Chicago's a football town with a Masters in prose, poetry, and journalism. Our history is one of great architects, great linebackers, slaughterhouses, graft and gangsters. And we have one hell of a winter. That's why we're funny."
- Nora Dunn, Saturday Night Live alum, actress, author and comedienne

2. "Chicago gave us a chance. It is a city where people are quietly getting on with their work. I have always found it hugely inspiring. It was the city in the States where we could get stuff done."
- Glen Hansard, musician

3. "In New York and L.A., theaters are often focused on creating a hit or a star. And that can take away from creativity. In Chicago, we focus on the work, and that can make for better work."
- Nick Bowling, Associate Director, Timeline Theatre

4. "Chicago is where one can afford to fail, to get back up and try it again. Whether in a small storefront theater, a sliver of a studio or a city street corner, artists are able to express themselves without the risk of personal (well, most of the time) or professional damage and they will, if they are any good at all, find people who will appreciate and even nurture what they do."
-Rick Kogan, Tribune reporter, author and host of WBEZ's "Afternoon Shift"

5. "My friends are making movies here. My friends are moving here. It seems like Chicago is the place to be."
-Finn Wittrock, TV, stage and film actor, currently starring in Sweet Bird of Youth with Diane Lane at the Goodman Theatre

6. "At least seven months a year, the weather is shitty. So, you stay in and work. It is a livable city with a reasonable cost of living and an immense work ethic. Chicago is the city people moved to get a job. This ethic is reflected in the artists that work here as well. It is a place where one can afford to do the work seriously... and not be distracted by all of the show-biz and social La-La of the coasts."
- Tony Fitzpatrick, artist, author and playwright

7. "Chicago as a place is both poetic and grounded. It offers space -- parks and a lake -- and time, literally and metaphorically. Chicago is a place to feel the rhythm of the seasons -- to walk, to congregate, to meditate.

For the theatre: there is time to develop one's craft -- make mistakes, fail, pick oneself up to try again. Chicago artists 'show up' and work hard, are community oriented -- ensemble and group-driven -- where the sum of the parts exceeds any one person's contribution. We thrive on group energy and collaborative creativity.

Chicago is a city where one can exercise one's passion in the good old tradition of the 'starving artist.' Ah, if only we could pay the theatre artist a decent wage, we would keep our artists here and be less of a hot-house for cultivating talent that must fly elsewhere. But we evolve, we evolve."
- Joyce Piven, Artistic Director Emeritus, Piven Theatre Workshop

8. "There's physical and mental space to get things done here in the great Midwest, and people seem less concerned with trampling their rivals into the dirt."
- Jon Langford, artist and musician

9. "Since Chicago hasn't been in the fashion spotlight like New York, we have had the luxury of paying attention to the trends, yet possessing the freedom and confidence to express ourselves with just a reflection of what's trending, not full-blown adherence. This has made it easier for the talented and skilled fashion designers of Chicago to 'do their thing,' without inhibitions; thus, producing amazing original and creative work.

Chicago's fashion designers are much like a shy child who has been waiting to be heard. Now that the world is listening, they may as well pull up a chair: we have much to say."
- Peach Carr, fashion designer, Project Runway season eight, "All Stars" season two

10. "If you are not from Chicago, it is generally an accepted notion that Chicago isn't quite as (insert prodigious adjective here) as New York or L.A. I believe the Chicago chef community, while not oblivious to this sentiment, definitely does not subscribe to it and tends to use it as a motivating catalyst. The perceived slight makes Chicago chefs fierce competitors with an incredible will to succeed. That drive often fuels great innovation, great success and, of course, great food."
- Jared Van Camp, Executive Chef and Partner, Element Collective

11. "Chicago is a magnet for artistic, misunderstood people throughout the Midwest, and when stifled, creative people come together, it creates a feedback-loop of inspiration."
- Jayson Brooks, frontman of JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound

12. "Not since the early '50s, when Algren, Bellow, Jim Thompson and others were writing, has Chicago had as diverse and dynamic a writing community as we do now. A lot of young writers see that the writing community here is more supportive than in New York, and that helps us grow. The work that Reg Gibbons and Don Evans are doing with the Writers' Museum is also putting a spotlight on the city. People like Elise Ward are coming here to work later in their careers. It's just a very exciting time to be a writer in Chicago."
- Sara Paretsky, writer, V. I. Warshawski Crime Novels

13. "Chicago is a blue-collar town with a 'can do' attitude, a city of great ethnic diversity. I was bombarded as a kid with every kind of music imaginable. Even then I wanted to be part of it."
- Joe Prino, GM, Mayne Stage

14. "I think Chicago has a critical mass of talent and opportunity. New York and L.A. tend to be the commercial centers where you take finished or nearly finished 'product,' but Chicago is the lab in which the discoveries are made. I also think that the big vision of Daniel Burnham and subsequent generations of visionary city planners continue to impact residents in the same way as Europeans are effected by the history that surrounds them. We are immersed in a pervasive, elegant environment of design. At the same time, Chicago's wildly diverse neighborhoods continue to be hotbeds of rebellion and subversion. When you put these elements together: the raw materials, opportunity, environment... you have an incubator."
- Lane Alexander, Founder and Director of Chicago Human Rhythm Project and the American Rhythm Center

15. "Chicago has such innovative art schools with great, working artist-teachers, which makes all the difference."
- Michael Darling, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art

16. "Great food, wine, restaurants and hotels have been a part of Chicago for nearly a century... We have healthy friendly competition pushing all of us upward together. Through our work, Chicago has become an internationally recognized fine dining city."
- Michael Kornick, Chef/Owner MK, DMKBurger Bar, Fish Bar and Ada Street.

17. "Chicago is the only major city for hundreds of miles in any direction. This makes it a hub, a place where people come from elsewhere to seek their fortune in one way or another. If they paint, play, or write, the city provides a boundless canvas for their efforts. They'll meet every kind of person, see every kind of building and enjoy (or suffer) through every kind of weather.

No other place has kept my attention the way this one has. I don't expect to know why until I'm done with it, which won't be for a long, long time."
- Dmitry Samarov, painter and writer

18. "I truly believe that Chicago is the very best city for artists to invent and experiment, especially with new media. It's not a celebrity culture; but, a culture where innovation is encouraged and rewarded."
- Ellen Sandor, Director and Founder of (art)n

19. "Chicago artists aren't stardom chasers. We don't have that option. Chicago is not the center of any particular arts industry. There are no Powers That Be to appease. There is no pressure to pander to What's Hot this week. The work, the act of creating, is its own reward. Even among those who eventually taste commercial success, they were formed in this ethos and are forever infected with that love of the work for its own sake, which is the very essence of great art."
- Pat Byrnes, cartoonist and author

20. "Chicago is a melting pot of different peoples, cultures and beliefs. The music and art scene here is fueled by the intersection of these potent ingredients. Where else can you find the nation's most diverse symphony orchestra led by a young Asian woman performing for an audience that looks like the neighborhoods. Only in Chicago!"
- Jim Hirsch, Executive Director, Chicago Sinfonietta

21. "I love Chicago because of the great diversity of people and food built right into the culture of the city. There is always experimentation and my guests are always interested in trying new things. You also have great exposure platforms in Chicago, so the word on your work can really find its audience."
- Anthony Martin, Executive Chef, Tru Restaurant

22. "Chicago has a long history of developing great artists and performers. There is a solid community of support in our city and our world class schools, institutions, galleries and theatres provide a solid artistic foundation for working artists to reference and build upon."
- Tony Karman, President, Expo Chicago

23. "I believe that so much great music comes from Chicago because it is a sophisticated, historic, world-class city located in the Midwest with a wonderfully diverse population."
- Rachel Barton Pine, concert violinist and recording artist

24. "Chicago is a city that is big enough to foster and sustain culture, and is affordable enough for artists to survive, even thrive. Also, its distance from the spotlight of NYC makes it possible to develop and experiment, to let ideas percolate without having to present them before they are ripe."
- Laura Letinsky, artist and professor

25. "In order to have a vibrant art community, one needs academic institutions that engage in the rigorous training of artists, and well as a community of people with whom to have critically supportive exchanges about one's work in order to sustain oneself. Venues to support the work and bring it to an arts-interested public are also necessary as part of that support structure. Chicago has all of this... from AACM to Chicago Artists Coalition, from Hyde Park Art Center to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago is home to organizations and institutions that have a deep vested interest in maintaining and showcasing home grown artists."
- Dawoud Bey, artist, curator and Professor of Art at Columbia College Chicago

26. "Chicago is an incubator for arts and culture with so many world class institutions like the CSO and Lyric Opera and a plethora of incredible theater organizations. These institutions provide a wonderful opportunity for meaningful collaborations that teach future generations to strive for excellence."
- Josephine Lee, President and Artistic Director of Chicago Children's Choir

And as a final note:

27. In Chicago, we don't suffer posers lightly. Chicago is a city with the room and space to live and breath, and the heart for authentic connection. If one is willing to work hard enough, they are encouraged to make their mark and never look back. The result is earnest collaboration, true support and unfettered creativity.
- Elysabeth Alfano, Executive Producer and Host, Fear No ART and The Dinner Party.