In 1954, sculptor Milton Horn created Chicago Rising From the Lake, a three-ton bronze relief that trumpeted the city's role as the breadbasket and transportation hub of the nation--and the world. For more than a quarter century, the sculpture graced the front of a now-demolished city parking garage on West Wacker. But until its reinstallation at the Columbus Drive Bridge last spring, the work was considered missing--it had languished for 14 years in a southwest-side junkyard.
The missing Horn sculpture was only the latest controversy to plague the Chicago Public Art Program, which is responsible for a collection valued in the tens of millions of dollars, though it remains uncertain as to the whereabouts of many of its artworks. In recent years, stories of missing or "misplaced" public art have received wide attention. To some observers, the rededication of the Horn piece signaled the start of a serious effort by the city to atone for past misdeeds. Others weren't so certain.
Cultural affairs commissioner Lois Weisberg has been quick to point out that the current art program was only started in 1978 and was never directly given the task of safeguarding all the public art acquired by the city over the past century. There was never any consistent record keeping or plan for maintenance--and the program never had the staff or funding to undertake such work.
That's why Scott Hodes decided to get involved. As an attorney with an international reputation for handling legal issues surrounding public art, Hodes has taken the city's problems personally. He figures that one quarter of his practice here is devoted to artists, foremost among them Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude. Their environmental works--fabric-wrapped structures and land installations--present daunting artistic challenges; they also require expertise in tax, liability, copyright, and land-lease law. Hodes has headed the legal team for every Christo project since the late 1960s, including The Umbrellas, a $26 million temporary artwork that called for the opening of 3,100 giant parasols in California and Japan. Hodes's decision to incorporate and insure each project proved prescient when this 1991 work resulted in two fatalities.
"My interest in representing artists goes back 35 years, and in a wonderful career I have been fortunate enough to represent some world-class ones," says Hodes, citing as clients painters James Rosenquist and Victor Vasarely and sculptors Richard Hunt and Armand Arman. "Luckily enough, I've been pretty successful as a lawyer, so I've been able to devote time and resources to helping them." He has authored books on legal matters relating to art and artists, helped found the nonprofit Lawyers for the Creative Arts, and is a major supporter of the Chicago Artists' Coalition.
Last year Hodes, a partner at the firm Ross & Hardies, was involved in a landmark decision. When the city of Indianapolis bulldozed an outdoor sculpture by Jan Martin in 1995 without the artist's permission, Martin and Hodes sued under the Visual Artists Rights Act, a 1990 amendment to U.S. copyright law. A federal district court ruled in Martin's favor last April--it was the first time an artist had been awarded damages and attorney's fees under the act. Indianapolis has appealed the decision, but Hodes plans to see the case through.
When Hodes began his hometown crusade last summer, the Chicago Public Art Program could no longer afford to ignore its problems. He was writing letters to newspapers, publishing articles, and meeting with aldermen and other city officials over what he has called the "fundamental shortcomings" in the program. Among other things, Hodes has criticized its lack of a comprehensive plan for locating, cataloging, conserving, appraising, and restoring works of art. He also maintains that the program has an "absence of public accountability and scrutiny" and that not enough works are being purchased or commissioned from Chicago artists.
The Chicago Public Art Program, an agency of the Department of Cultural Affairs, oversees art acquired by the city as well as donated works. The Percent-for-Art Ordinance, adopted by the City Council in 1978 and amended nine years later, mandates that 1.33 percent of the cost of constructing or renovating municipal buildings be set aside for purchasing or commissioning art. The art is selected by a seven-member Public Art Committee composed of city and cultural representatives, and at least half of the works must be created by Chicago-area artists. Since the ordinance's inception, more than 200 artworks have been permanently installed in parks, plazas, libraries, CTA stations, community centers, fire and police stations, and other public venues throughout the city.
Public Art Program director Mike Lash acknowledges that the agency has suffered from major systemic problems. It hasn't had much of a budget for maintenance, and there has never been a full accounting of all the pieces in the city's collection. Lash says he would like to have a complete inventory (with works classified by artist, date, location, and cost) that included percent-for-art works as well as all public art owned by other departments (like the Chicago Park District), state and federal agencies, and private corporations, foundations, and individuals. Critics also want the program to publish an annual report detailing new acquisitions--after all, the city purchases art using public funds.
Over the past 20 years the program has been allocated about $8 million (mostly through municipal bonds), or an annual average of $400,000. Lash points out that when the Percent-for-Art Ordinance was amended in 1987, upping the figure from 1 to 1.33 percent, "it helped the program to cover administration costs." Still, he says, that left little for cataloging and conservation.
Insufficient funding is only part of the problem, contends Hodes. He doubts whether the Department of Cultural Affairs "has the knowledge, experience, and staff to curate a major public art collection valued at more than $40 million." He thinks that its curatorial and conservation responsibilities ought to be handled by an "outside organization or institution staffed with experienced museum personnel."
Lash responds that there's no need--things are under control. In a January interview, he conceded that Hodes's "prodding," unflattering press coverage, and the threat of a departmental audit last fall by 37th Ward alderman Percy Giles, chairman of the City Council's Special Events and Cultural Affairs Committee (whom Hodes had been lobbying), spurred the program to step up its housecleaning.
Since moving into new offices at 20 N. Michigan this past summer, program staffers have been trying to organize voluminous loose-paper files going back decades. Lash showed me a cramped back room dominated by banks of metal filing cabinets arranged by date and artist name. Still, he says, they're finding "big holes" in the old records. They've also started to compile that comprehensive database, which will list all public artworks in the city, including pieces belonging to the Park District, the B.F. Ferguson Monument Fund (administered by the Art Institute of Chicago), and other entities, as well as all markers and plaques installed by the Chicago Landmarks Commission. This intensive inventory is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
More encouraging, Lash says, the Department of Cultural Affairs has already been working to revamp the Percent-for-Art Ordinance "to put more teeth into it." They're seeking funds to improve record keeping and conservation, increase commissions, and enlarge the Public Art Committee. He says these changes are aimed at making the program a more responsible steward of the city's cultural heritage.
Lash complains that the recent stories of misplaced and lost art have unfairly assigned blame to the program. Nevertheless, he admits, these "false controversies have shown a real need for the ordinance changes we wanted to enact. As it was already written, we knew it was a problem. But for somebody else to say, 'This is a problem,' then what we wanted to change in the ordinance all along is being changed, and that's a good thing."
The original ordinance was "shortsighted," says Lash, an artist who has run the Public Art Program for seven years. "All the bugs weren't worked out of it. It was still written very strongly as a grassroots document. In 1987 there were some tweaks, but they still didn't put a lot of teeth in it. I think the [ordinance] should be reexamined every ten years or so--in 2008 it should get another look. Times change, trends change, programs evolve. And we have to take care of that."
While Hodes has "added some positive ideas to the dialogue," Lash says he's "perplexed" by the attorney's motives. "I know he's passionate about the arts, but I just don't believe all his passions are in the best interests of public art. But as long as it's an intellectually stimulating conversation and not a shouting match, it's all right."
Why does Hodes care so much?
"It's a labor of love--there's nothing financial in this for me," he says, sitting in his office on the 24th floor of the Stone Container Building. "And I didn't get this love of art by accident."
Hodes's father, Barnet, was an alderman and the city's corporation counsel under Mayor Edward J. Kelley. He ran Richard J. Daley's first mayoral campaign. In the 1930s, Barnet Hodes headed the group of civic leaders that raised funds to erect the Heald Square Monument at Wacker and Wabash. Begun by Lorado Taft (who died while the work was in progress) and completed by Leonard Crunelle, the statue memorializes Haym Salomon, Robert Morris, and George Washington--the principal financiers of the Revolutionary War flanking the military commander ("a Jew, a Catholic, and a Protestant," says Hodes). The work was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941.
Barnet Hodes was a serious art collector, and his son grew up in a Hyde Park house filled with paintings by Rene Magritte. "It was an environment where artists were very sacrosanct," he says. "And my father said to me many times, 'If you can ever help an artist, do it. It'll make you happy and them happy.' So this was something that was ingrained in me since I was a young man. My father had this kind of profound influence on what I wanted to do here. It's grown up with me and been a part of my life.
"I care about the art community in Chicago," Hodes says. "I contribute my money to it. I do a lot of legal services for artists who cannot afford good lawyers, or a lawyer. That's my contribution to this community. That's how it all started. While my counterparts are sitting on major cultural institution boards--and I commend them mightily--I spend my time at the grassroots, representing artists. I'd rather spend my time at the grassroots for these artists than spend five or six hours sitting on the board of the Art Institute or other museums. My judgment is, I can do more there.
"So this was a natural thing when I saw this happening [with the Public Art Program]. For me, it's not a stretch. It's not something that I was out seeking to do for the first time, because I've been watching the art scene here for many years. And this is wrong, what they're doing. This needs to be addressed."
"I feel positive about Scott," says painter Paul Sierra, who has been friends with Hodes and his wife, Maria Bechilly, for more than a decade. "He's following in the footsteps of his father, who was also an art collector. He's one of the few people in the city who really cares about artists and artists' rights. He didn't have to get involved in this whole public art thing. He's on the side of the angels."
But whether Hodes would ultimately prevail in his fight with City Hall was another story. The amended ordinance was initially drafted last November. When Lash handed me a copy two months later, it was still being scrutinized by city lawyers, aldermen, and the Department of Cultural Affairs. Hodes was scrutinizing it too, and he was making his own recommendations. The new ordinance would be the subject of a City Council hearing before going to the full council in March. Hodes would play a prominent role in the debate, and the ordinance would undergo additional changes. But as a lawyer Hodes had to realize you win some and you lose some.
Every city tends to brag about its cultural sophistication. But when it comes to public art in Chicago, for once the rhetoric is justified. In recent years, civic boosters have taken to calling the city a "Museum Without Walls" because of its wide array of outdoor sculptures and other public works by international and local artists. From the monumental statuary of Lorado Taft--the first Chicago sculptor to achieve widespread success--to art deco building ornamentation to WPA murals to postwar modernist sculptures to community murals, Chicago boasts one of the nation's finest and most varied collections of public art.
The federal government and private corporations ushered in the contemporary era--more artworks were installed in plazas, lobbies, and other public places during the 1960s and '70s than during any other two-decade period in Chicago's history. Not since the 1930s had the government provided so much financial support for public art. Many of these pieces were "plop" sculptures: abstract shapes made with industrial materials (such as Cor-Ten steel) dropped in plazas almost haphazardly, without much regard to their surroundings. Overall, however, the results were highly beneficial. "The value of sculpture as an element in urban design, in building interiors, and on campuses was becoming more widely acknowledged than ever before in communities throughout the country," writes James Riedy in his 1981 book, Chicago Sculpture.
The trend began here on August 15, 1967, when Mayor Richard J. Daley dedicated the untitled sculpture now known simply as "the Picasso" in the new Civic Center Plaza. Baffling to many at the time, the cubist-inspired work has since been adopted as an object of civic pride. It wasn't the first large modern sculpture to occupy a public space--Richard Lippold's Radiant I was placed in the lobby of the Inland Steel Building in 1958, and six years later a geometric bronze piece by Russian constructivist Antoine Pevsner was installed in the courtyard of the University of Chicago Law School. But the Picasso--which had been funded by a trio of private foundations and donated to the city--launched a cultural renaissance.
Downtown was soon transformed into a veritable outdoor sculpture gallery through the largesse of many entities, including government agencies and nonprofit groups like Art in Public Places and Chicago Sculpture International. Artists included Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, Sol Lewitt, Joan Miro, Henry Moore, Bruce Nauman, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, and Claes Oldenburg.
Throughout the 1970s and '80s, arts organizations mounted temporary outdoor exhibitions, and museums and universities established sculpture parks. The University of Chicago, for instance, has more than two dozen works scattered around its campus.
In 1972, writing in the Chicago Daily News, critic Dennis Adrian complained that no local sculptor had received a major downtown commission (though developers had commissioned a piece from Abbott Pattison for the Outer Drive East Apartments in 1964). "It is embarrassing that public, private, institutional, and municipal response to such major cultural assets continues to be so skimpy and insensitive," Adrian asserted. Since the late 70s, however, works by such Chicago artists as Roger Brown, Ruth Duckworth, Virginio Ferrari, John Henry, Richard Hunt, John Kearney, and Jerry Peart have joined their prominent counterparts in and around the Loop.
With a boost from the Percent-for-Art Ordinance, the municipal art collection has now extended into nearly every neighborhood. The law's purpose, according to the Public Art Program, was "to provide the citizens of Chicago with an improved public environment by enhancing city buildings with quality works of art by professional artists." In its brochures, the Department of Cultural Affairs points out that Chicago "was one of the first and the largest municipalities to legislate the incorporation of public art into its official building program." But that's not quite true--more than 20 other communities had already adopted similar ordinances before Chicago passed its law in April 1978. Philadelphia was the first to enact a percent-for-art law, in 1960. Baltimore had an ordinance on the books by 1964, as did San Francisco a year later. In 1973, Seattle adopted a program that would soon be recognized as one of the most progressive in the country. Within a year, Seattle's arts commission was planning projects that integrated art into building designs, paving the way for artists to have a significant role in the development of public spaces. It has since become a national model.
What sets Chicago's percent-for-art program apart is that it was born at the grassroots level--not surprising in a city known for its tradition of community organizing.
In 1976, 44th Ward alderman Dick Simpson set out to wrangle a slice of city funds for the arts. He laid out his plans at a meeting of the fledgling Chicago Artists' Coalition. Arlene Rakoncay, then as now executive director of the nonprofit, recalls the meeting with Simpson as the group's "first big plunge into citywide politics." Robert Kameczura, a founding member of the CAC, was appointed head of the Public Funding for the Arts Campaign. It advocated the adoption of a city percent-for-art ordinance as well as a matching-funds program, which would use a portion of Chicago's hotel-tax revenue to subsidize the performing arts (this measure would later be passed separately).
Kameczura recalls that the group fought a tough battle to raise public awareness of visual arts as a civic asset. "It was not an easy thing," says the artist. "It was one of the biggest percent-for-art programs in the country and the biggest public fund to create artwork for the city. We were running against a lot of aldermen who didn't know what the hell you were talking about--'Art? What's that?' You really had to educate these people. It was uphill, one step at a time."
The CAC couldn't afford to rent space as the campaign got off the ground, so during that first month Kameczura made phone calls and did all the mailings out of Simpson's ward office. "You needed an office and a person who was there every day," says Kameczura. "It was really a serious business. We really needed this, and I was aware we could do a very important thing. I was in the right place at the right time, so I decided to do it." Over the next year and a half, Kameczura, Rakoncay, and other CAC volunteers worked daily with Simpson staffers to lobby support. From the outset, percent-for-art activists hoped the ordinance would benefit Chicago artists. "We felt we were locked out of the major museums in town," says Kameczura. "Our whole emphasis was on a broad-based democratic kind of thing, with works by lots of artists in neighborhoods." He says the campaigners envisioned the city spending, say, $100,000 on a range of small, less expensive pieces in a variety of media for new buildings rather than allocating all the money toward "big sculptures by famous people...just because architects think they'll look nice." That way, they figured, a cross section of lesser-known artists could share the spotlight.
Mayor Richard J. Daley died during the campaign. The new mayor, Michael Bilandic, appointed his socialite girlfriend (and later wife), Heather Morgan, to head up the newly created Chicago Office of Fine Arts. "It's interesting to keep in mind that [the agency] didn't do anything," Kameczura says. "They didn't have any funding or teeth. They just did surveys." The percent-for-art program, he points out, would be the "first real funding that it ever had for the arts." But Simpson was an independent--any legislation he introduced would likely get tabled by the machine majority. The ordinance stood a better chance of passing if it didn't have the independent alderman's name on it.
Throughout 1977 CAC members circulated petitions, held fund-raisers, and courted the media. Kameczura met with aldermen, spoke before the City Council, and appeared on TV talk shows. He also had several "chats" with Morgan, who he felt was sympathetic to the artists' cause.
Though Simpson had originated the ordinance, it was introduced by regular Democrats in early 1978. In the meantime, campaigners worked closely with Chicago Office of Fine Arts staffer Dennis Banning, who formulated the first set of guidelines. One of the rules stipulated that 50 percent of all commissions be granted to Chicago artists. And a committee--composed of city officials and representatives from the art community--would be created to choose artwork.
On April 5, 1978, the City Council amended Chapter 26 of the Municipal Code by adding a new section, mandating that 1 percent of the construction costs for any "public building built for or by the City of Chicago...shall be set aside for the purchase of art works to be located in or at such building."
The first five commissions, mostly sculptures, were awarded in 1979 and dedicated the following year: Amir Nour's untitled steel sculpture at the South Chicago District Police Station, 2255 E. 103rd; Jill Parker's Rescue at Engine 95 Fire House, 4001 W. West End; Jerry Peart's Riverview at the Belmont District Police Station, 2452 W. Belmont; Barry Tinsley's Jetty at the Rogers Park District Police Station, 6464 N. Clark; and Reaching Children/Touching People, an interior mural by William Walker at the Altgeld Gardens Parent/Child Center, 975 E. 132nd.
The Percent-for-Art Program (as it was then called) encountered few serious hitches until 1985, when a Ravenswood group, the Community for Accountability of Public Art, filed suit to remove Irene Siegel's The Aeneid from a meeting room in the newly built Conrad Sulzer Regional Library. The group thought the series of four neoexpressionist frescoes resembled gang graffiti. Siegel had to stop working while residents debated the fate of the project. Though a majority opposed the piece, Siegel was permitted to complete the work.
In 1987, 49th Ward alderman David Orr introduced amendments to the ordinance. The set-aside was raised to 1.33 percent of construction costs, and art would also have to be purchased for renovation projects "affecting 50 percent or more of the square footage of a public building." As a result of the Sulzer episode, advisory panels would be created to include community residents for projects in excess of $5,000.
But there was still one problem: these early ordinances didn't contain any provisions for conservation. Mike Lash says the agency only started thinking about maintenance and repair issues in 1991, with the opening of the Harold Washington Public Library Center, which houses the city's largest public-art collection, consisting of 55 pieces valued at more than a million dollars. "It was the first time an actual effort was made to have a 'conservatable' collection," says Lash, who helped coordinate the library project. "We realized that these were valuable objects that needed to be protected."
In 1993, local artist Hyong-Nam Ahn's 54-foot-high Living Lantern of Chicago, located in a plaza at McCormick Place, was accidentally flattened by a construction crane. But it all worked out, says Lash--insurance paid for it.
For public art in Chicago, these have been the best of times, and the worst of times.
In the last five years, city art projects have become more prominent and accessible. Beginning in 1994, with a temporary installation of works by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, the Public Art Program has sponsored a series of sculpture exhibitions in Grant Park and other downtown sites, including "Horses, Rabbits, Elephants and People Everywhere," a 1996 project featuring 43 sculptures by three artists (only one, Seward Johnson's Crack the Whip, remains; it's in Navy Pier's Gateway Park). These exhibitions have been oriented more toward "cultural tourism" and haven't departed from traditional notions of public art--works plopped in parks and plazas with little thought of engaging specific places or audiences. The most challenging public art programs of the 1990s have examined the complex relationship between the "public" and "art," but this socially oriented approach has been left to nonprofit groups like the now-defunct Sculpture Chicago, which staged the groundbreaking "Culture in Action: New Public Art in Chicago" in 1993 and "Re-Inventing the Garden City" three years later.
The city's program made its first foray into infrastructure improvement in 1996, with the "King Drive Gateway Project." Integrating the community into its landscape-design plans, the Chicago Department of Transportation placed pieces by 17 artists between 24th and 35th streets; these included a bronze sculpture about the Great Migration, 22 bus benches, 91 sidewalk plaques making up a "Bronzeville Walk of Fame," and a bronze map of the neighborhood.
The city pulled out all the stops in the summer of 1998. Not only did it want to impress thousands of visitors to the 17th annual International Sculpture Conference, which was being held at the Sheraton, but it also was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Percent-for-Art Ordinance. Starting in May of that year, works by artists from Belgium, Brazil, Austria, Germany, and Korea--as well as a sculpture by Chicagoan Carolyn Ottmers--were temporarily installed throughout the downtown area. One permanent work, Crossing, a 25-foot sculpture by German artist Hubertus von der Goltz, was dedicated at the new LaSalle Street Plaza just north of the river.
That summer also saw the reinstallation of Milton Horn's Chicago Rising From the Lake. While some heralded the event as a long-awaited first step toward a new Public Art Program conservation policy, Mike Lash says "the wheels were already turning in that direction" by 1993. That's when the agency discovered Edward Millman's 1936 fresco The Blessings of Water during the renovation of room 100 in City Hall (formerly the office of the Bureau of Water); the WPA mural had been buried beneath layers of paint and drywall.
"That really struck a tone with the city that we have really valuable artworks right under our noses and that no entity was assigned to care for lost treasures like that," says Lash. The mural was subsequently restored. But the loss and recovery of the Horn sculpture put the issue of bureaucratic neglect into sharp focus--and on the front pages.
When Horn was commissioned to create Chicago Rising From the Lake in 1954, it was the city's first sculpture purchase in more than 50 years. A year later, the 12-by-14-foot bronze relief was installed on a parking garage at 11 W. Wacker. When the garage was razed in 1983 to make way for North Loop redevelopment, the piece was supposed to be reinstalled at the Civic Opera House. Unfortunately, the city and private donors couldn't raise the necessary cash, and Horn (and everyone else, apparently) lost track of the sculpture. Four years later, with help from the Department of Cultural Affairs, the 81-year-old artist and his friend Paula Ellis discovered the work in a tarpaulin-covered swimming pool near a Department of Transportation office at 31st and Sacramento. The pool was empty, and the piece was in good condition. Happily, Horn and Ellis wheeled the sculpture inside.
At some point, however, Chicago Rising From the Lake was dumped outside again--this time in a weed-choked metal scrapyard on the banks of the Chicago River, half a block away from the DOT office. Lash says he tracked down the sculpture in 1994, and for the next several years worked with Ellis (who would become Horn's executor after the artist died in 1995) to publicly display the piece again. But the work remained in the dump until September 1997, when a firefighter found it and alerted the press. Lash told the Tribune that city workers may have junked the sculpture because they didn't know what to do with it and were unaware of its value. The eventual restoration and reinstallation of the piece cost $60,000.
The debacle reminded many of an earlier snafu, this one involving a Lorado Taft work. In 1910, the Iroquois Memorial Hospital was erected on what's now Wacker Drive; it was named in memory of the 600 people who'd perished in the 1903 Iroquois Theater fire. Taft created the Iroquois Memorial Tablet for the hospital's reception room, but it was removed in 1951 when the building was demolished. For years the piece was thought to be lost. Then in 1967, a janitor discovered the grime-covered tablet in the basement of City Hall, where it was later installed on a wall near the entrance. "If it wasn't bronze and wasn't 200 pounds, it might've walked," Lash said last October.
The Taft piece had been commissioned by the city's first art program, the Chicago Commission for the Encouragement of Public Art, which had been created by Mayor Carter Harrison in the 1880s. Most of the works from that program--including a portrait of Harrison by impressionist Walter Ufer said to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars--are still missing in action. Lash says his agency is trying to find them.
In all fairness, many of the artworks that have been desecrated, discarded, or misplaced over the years weren't under the purview of the Chicago Public Art Program; they'd been purchased or commissioned prior to the adoption of the Percent-for-Art Ordinance. When it was created in 1978, the program was only charged with overseeing new works purchased under the ordinance, as well as 40 or so pieces donated to the city (such as the Picasso, Miro's Chicago, and Chagall's mosaic The Four Seasons). Though the agency was not specifically mandated to recover and restore lost pieces acquired generations ago, it has often attempted to do so anyway.
Chicago has hundreds of other public artworks, but responsibility for their care is spread among a panoply of city departments, federal agencies, private corporations and foundations, cultural institutions, and nonprofit organizations like the Chicago Public Art Group. The Chicago Park District holds the lion's share, mostly outdoor sculptures, while others fall under the aegis of such entities as the Art Institute's Ferguson Fund, the Chicago Public Schools, and the Department of Aviation.
"The public perception is that we own all the city's public art," says Lash. "We get called for everything--that's one thing hurting us." He does concede that untangling the stewardship of various artworks can be a "mess," especially when some have overlapping owners, creating needless delays when upkeep has to be done. As an example, he cites the Illinois Centennial Memorial Column, the Doric-style monument towering over Logan Square. It was commissioned by the Ferguson Fund, and it sits on Department of Forestry land, but it's tended by the Park District (or sometimes the Department of Streets and Sanitation). If the memorial needs to be cleaned of graffiti--which it often does--city workers (or anyone else) could alert any of those agencies, along with the Art Institute or the alderman's office. That's too many phone calls, too much inefficiency.
Until recently, the Chicago Public Art Program didn't adhere to "standard museum policies, like Association of American Museums' regulatory and conservation methods," Lash says. "But we're trying to treat the collection as a 'Museum Without Walls' collection, which wasn't the case in early years and wasn't reflected in the ordinances. Nobody who worked in this department up until my tenure was a trained arts administrator--museum standards were not always in place. They were not as aggressive about keeping records and controlling conservation."
Lash, a Rockford native, received his MFA in painting with an emphasis in arts administration from Northern Illinois University. In 1985 he became director of the Freeport Art Museum; under his tenure, Lash says, the museum moved from a school building to a new facility. He then directed the NIU Art Gallery in Chicago, became a preparator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and worked at the Donald Young Gallery, where he "learned how to install and take care of sculpture." Lash joined the Public Art Program in 1990, and was appointed director two years later after the death of longtime administrator James Futris.
When Lash, the Department of Cultural Affairs, and Richard Vaughn, the department's director of legal affairs, began working on the revised Percent-for-Art Ordinance over a year ago, they realized they had to set up a system to "streamline" the maintenance and conservation process, making the Public Art Program the sole go-to agency. "We want to become the clearinghouse for everything," says Lash. "Our focus was so narrow before--there was no infrastructure to take care of these things. But we keep evolving. We realized that we're going to have to evolve into a watchdog--to provide technical assistance and expertise for all privately owned and public pieces, to help make recommendations and smart decisions. We can't force the private sector to save something, but we're hoping to put better pressure on them and be of assistance."
Lash hopes to eventually craft a policy for "works not on city property," such as murals and sculptures owned by private entities or commissioned by nonprofit groups. "We want to be a one-stop shopping place no matter who owns the piece," Lash concludes. "This way, if someone gets a call, it's us, and we can deal with and take care of the problem in an efficient manner."
Scott Hodes's campaign to reform the Chicago Public Art Program began last summer. Vacationing with his wife, he had flown into the Albuquerque International Airport and was amazed by what he'd found. "As I walked down the terminal, I saw on either side art done by Albuquerque, Santa Fe artists," he recalls. "I went literally bonkers. I looked at the paintings on the wall and I said, 'My God, this is unbelievable--look at the talent!' So I say to my wife, 'If we ever build a house or do anything in New Mexico, I'm going to be in the airport selecting the art I want in my house.' That's how good it was."
Back in Chicago, Hodes learned that more than $1 million in artwork would be installed in the new terminal building at Midway Airport, scheduled for completion in 2003. The Midway art collection promises to be the city's largest percent-for-art project since the Harold Washington Library. Once again, the seven-member Public Art Committee will select art from recommendations made by a project advisory panel. (In the case of Midway, the panel will consist of the architect and representatives from the community, arts organizations, the aviation department, and the Public Art Program.)
Hodes saw the Midway project as the perfect venue for local artists to gain wider recognition. Reflecting on his Albuquerque experience, Hodes says, "We can do that for the artists in Chicago! And where can we do it? Here it is--Midway Airport! It's not an international terminal; it's the local interfeed terminal. Who's coming into Midway? People from around the Chicago area, from the midwest--Cleveland, Indianapolis--people from all around are coming into Midway. Where better to showcase the art that's produced in Chicago?"
Hodes got a copy of the city's Percent-for-Art Ordinance and was surprised to discover it mandated that at least half the commissions go to Chicago artists. "I said, 'Wait a minute, why only 50 percent? This is ridiculous.' I did my own survey among some of my artist friends in Chicago, and they all think that's bunko--they ought to raise it to 75 or 80 percent. Or they can make it go higher, God bless 'em."
Local mandates differ from city to city; some don't even have them at all, citing their restrictiveness. The City of Seattle Public Art Program, according to manager Barbara Goldstein, stipulates that at least 50 percent of funds expended over a five-year period must go to artists "associated with the Northwest." Gordon Church, director of the City of Albuquerque Public Art Collection, says he operates under no such restriction: "I understand that if we ever tried to get into that there could be a legal question." The airport, though, only showcases work by artists from New Mexico.
Hodes was aware that some people in the Chicago art community have faulted the Public Art Program for allegedly restricting high-profile commissions to world-class artists because they enhance the stature and value of the city's art collection. Richard Hunt and Ed Paschke are two exceptions--they're blue-chip Chicago artists who've been awarded city commissions. Yet lesser-known locals have grown increasingly resentful. They claim their work may get installed in branch libraries but they'll never get a shot at the bigger jobs. (This summer, however, the city will scatter life-size plastic cows around the downtown area, decorated by hundreds of local artists.)
"My theory is, let's make some world-class artists here," Hodes says. "But the problem with our world-class artists is that we've lost a couple major world-class dealers who could promote these artists. Lance Kinz [of the contemporary art gallery Feigen, Inc.] goes to New York. Why? Because Lance told me the artists in Chicago--here's the crux--aren't getting the type of support they need from the city, and he can't do it single-handedly from Chicago. Chicago doesn't have the cultural infrastructure to support the artists--bottom line.
"So let's give the artists in Chicago a bigger bang for their buck. You know, we've got world-class art in Chicago. We've got the museums that have world-class collections. This program should be about Chicago. This program should be about Chicago artists. Chicago doesn't need to spend a lot of money on building another major international collection. This is crazy--it makes no sense to me. This should be for our artists here."
Hodes reiterated these points in a lengthy July 12 letter to the Tribune. The Midway project, he wrote, offered a "rare opportunity" to "create a better awareness for millions of people just how much good art is created in Chicago's multiethnic and multiracial environment." But this couldn't happen, he asserted, if the Percent-for-Art Ordinance persisted in its 50 percent provision. Hodes proposed upping the ante to a minimum of 80 percent, either "by a voluntary action of the [cultural affairs] department or by a City Council amendment to the ordinance." He also proposed a "revolving display of new and challenging art works" by Chicago artists.
"So I put this trial balloon up in the air," Hodes says, "to see if the Department of Cultural Affairs would be sympathetic to the artists' community in Chicago and raise the threshold above 50 percent. And they said no. They came back to me fairly quickly--they're not interested in doing that, 'stay out of our business.' That was basically the message I got. Basically what Mr. Lash suggested to me on the phone was that the department would consider it and respond."
When I talked to Lash in January, the Midway commissions were close to being firmed up. He couldn't divulge all the details but said "of the six pieces selected for the new terminal, over 50 percent are by Chicagoans." Lash showed me the plans for the blockbuster installation; it wasn't by a local artist but it has an undeniable Great Lakes connection. And, yes, the city will set up a "temporary exhibition area" promoting both Chicago artists and cultural institutions--but in the pedestrian corridor leading to the terminal, not in the terminal itself. That had been the plan from the beginning.
All along Lash has maintained that raising the Chicago-artist threshold to 75 or 80 percent was a "stretch." If Chicago adopted a more restrictive ordinance, he says, our artists might be excluded from doing work in other cities--if other cities did this, we would prevent their artists from doing work here. "You need a good mix," says Lash. "I don't think it would be as strong of a collection." He also thinks it's bush-league--it fosters the "Second City" syndrome. "We're an international city, and we don't want a regionalist collection. I think Chicago artists are as good as any in the world."
Anyway, says Lash, Chicago artists receive most of the program's commissions without having to codify it--about 74 percent of the works in the Public Art Program's collection have been created by local artists. And he claims that about the same percentage of the budget is allocated to them. So why amend the ordinance? Bob Kameczura, one of the framers of the original ordinance, agrees. "We [the Chicago Artists' Coalition] were the ones that pretty much recommended 50 percent," he says. "They're doing more than that--so if it's not broke, don't fix it."
But Hodes explains that commissions are only part of his beef with the current
Percent-for-Art Ordinance. He says he was "disturbed" to learn that it didn't provide for "public accountability on an annual basis," or an annual report detailing purchases. "So how do we really know [it's 74 percent]?" Hodes asks. "Because, you see, the problem with their whole program is they don't have inventory numbers. They have never disclosed that publicly. For example, when did you buy it? Whose were they? How much did you pay for it? And where is it? What's the value? What did you insure it for?"
Hodes cites an August Sun-Times article stating there are about 650 public artworks in the city. But other sources say there are slightly more than 400, and Lash's guess is between 200 and 250. When told that hundreds of pieces aren't managed by the Public Art Program, Hodes says there's still a 25 percent spread between Lash's numbers. "They don't even know where 25 percent of the art is," he contends. "Now come on, what's the number? We're talking about an art collection worth $40 million or $50 million or whatever the hell it's worth--I don't know what it's worth. I mean, I have no idea, and I submit that they don't either--and they don't know where all the art is. The point of the matter is I don't know what the number is, and they don't know either. By this time, I'm furious."
Hodes raised the program's accountability problems in an October 30 Tribune story. "Despite its successes," wrote reporter Andrew Martin, "the program's records are about as organized as a Jackson Pollock painting." The article enumerated past oversights, including the near-ruin of a painting by Chicago artist Vera Klement; a city worker at a southwest-side senior citizens' center pinned bunnies to the canvas during Easter. Lash stated in the article that he was making strides to improve accountability by compiling a "first-ever catalog of public art." But that didn't appease Alderman Percy Giles, chair of the City Council's Special Events and Cultural Affairs Committee. He said he might audit the Department of Cultural Affairs and he planned to review the Percent-for-Art Ordinance to "put some teeth in it."
Dogged by aldermen, the press, and Hodes, the Department of Cultural Affairs was determined to get its own teeth into the ordinance first. By mid-November it had drafted new amendments to what it now called the Public Art Ordinance. Among other things, "outdoor site improvements"--such as the Chicago Riverwalk and the Wacker Drive reconstruction project--would be subject to percent-for-art mandates. It would increase the Public Art Committee from 7 to 15 members, including more city commissioners and an additional member from the arts community (raising its representation from 3 seats to 4); this new member would be culled from "artists, museum curators or directors, patrons, or academicians."
Perhaps most significantly, the amended ordinance would create a conservation subcommittee "responsible for reviewing, prioritizing and recommending" to the Public Art Committee projects that needed work. The city has only one full-time conservator, Andrzej Dajnowksi, who's employed by the Park District. Lash planned to conduct a national search to hire three more "professional trained conservators...in charge of day-to-day maintenance."
In early November, Hodes held his first meetings and phone conversations with Giles. He pointed out that they had something in common--they'd both supported Harold Washington. Though Giles was now loyal to Mayor Daley, Hodes says he found the alderman sympathetic to his cause. "I surfaced my problems with the ordinance to him," says Hodes, "and he thought they were right on."
Then came a January 2 Tribune editorial: "Do you know where your art is?" The editorial aired some of Hodes's complaints--and blasted the Department of Cultural Affairs for its "haphazardly maintained" public art patrimony. "The city owes the taxpayers a full accounting of its art collection," it stated, "including purchases made under the percent-for-art program, as well as a plan for their preservation."
The Tribune also revealed that the city was working to amend the ordinance. That was news to Hodes. About a week later, he got a copy of the draft and examined it carefully. He was livid--he didn't think it went far enough. The Chicago artist threshold was still at 50 percent. And Hodes thought it "senseless" that the Public Art Committee was being enlarged to include seven more city officials but only one more person from the arts community. "I'm not being disrespectful," Hodes says, "but what does the commissioner of the Department of Aviation know about public art? She knows about running the airport. We've got some giants in Chicago that know the art field."
Worse, Hodes says, the amended ordinance lacked accountability provisions. "There's nothing in this ordinance which says, 'OK, on an annual basis we'll account for what we've done with the money.' Rather, what it does is come in and ask for more money. This ordinance says, 'We're going to include outdoor site improvement projects,' so they want more money in the program. They want more money to spend--fine. But let's account. Let's have a report to the public, a report to City Council. Let's tell us what you did with the money, right? If you go to the budget of the city of Chicago and try to find this program, you won't find it in there."
Lash responds that Hodes hasn't looked thoroughly. "It's all in the books in City Hall," he points out. All city purchases and contracts--even those involving artworks--are filed there. "And they're also in the Department of Cultural Affairs' annual report."
Hodes welcomed the idea of a conservation subcommittee, but he questioned why the program has to hire more conservators when the work could just as easily be contracted to institutions like the Art Institute. "This is a job for professionals," says Hodes. "Why start from scratch? Why not do the right thing? Why not outsource it for what I think is going to be a minimal amount of money to people who really know how to curate a collection here? Come on, let's get realistic." Lash says it would cost more to pay freelancers than to hire full-timers: "We'll have total control over the budget and scheduling."
On January 20, at the request of the Department of Cultural Affairs, amendments to the Public Art Ordinance were introduced to Giles's committee. The next day, a letter Hodes had written in response to the January 2 editorial was published in the Tribune (a rebuttal by commissioner Lois Weisberg had yet to appear). This time Hodes focused on the Public Art Program's lack of accountability and the Department of Cultural Affairs' inability to manage the program. Writing that a "likely explanation of the current state of affairs is that the department is overwhelmed and is operating in an area beyond the level of its expertise," Hodes said the city should privatize "the responsibility to curate, maintain and catalog the collection."
Lash says the program isn't in over its head--its staffers have a firm grasp on its problems. "We're not a bunch of political hacks in this office--we're all trained arts professionals," he explains, adding that the program is largely run by artists. He pulls out a fact sheet showing that he and his six staff members have a combined 55 years of experience in arts administration and curating exhibits. Everyone has at least a bachelor's, with three graduate degrees and one doctorate.
Hodes outlined for Giles his concerns about the amended ordinance. In a one-page document, he wrote that the ordinance "falls far short of addressing fundamental shortcomings in the Public Art Program." It didn't require public accountability on an annual basis; it didn't call for the contracting of museum professionals to handle the "curatorial aspects" of the collection, such as cataloging and conservation; and it didn't increase the percentage of art purchased from Chicago artists to 75 percent. "To date," Hodes wrote, "too much unbridled authority has been given to the Department. Before money is allocated to the Program, the public should engage in a discussion to re-assess the Program's effectiveness and its future."
"Let's get the public involved," Hodes told me. "And let's take advantage of the high level of knowledge and expertise that some people in our city have in this field. They'll contribute their time and effort for nothing because they love the city. That's my whole issue. The government doesn't have the ability, the knowledge, and the experience in this city to run and curate this kind of a program."
Hodes met with Giles in late January. The alderman, Hodes says, told him he'd study both the department's amended ordinance and Hodes's recommendations. Giles also told him he planned "to propose an amendment to their amendment and cover accountability issues." He would have a substitute ordinance drafted, and he'd schedule a public hearing some days before introducing it to the full council on February 10.
But politics intervened, as usual. On February 2, Giles was indicted on charges he pocketed $10,000 in payoffs from government mole John Christopher in Operation Silver Shovel and extorted more than $81,000 from a company operating an illegal dump in his ward. Giles and his attorney have vowed to fight the charges at trial. The alderman was also facing five opponents in the upcoming February 23 election. If he lost, hearings on the ordinance might get pushed back indefinitely.
But Giles won handily. On March 1, his office issued a press release saying the alderman would hear testimony on accountability issues in the Public Art Program. Giles, the release said, "joins critics of the amendment" and "promised" to introduce a substitute ordinance.
"What's missing from the Amended Ordinance is the failure to guarantee accountability," Giles said in a statement. "For this amendment to pass I want a public accounting on the works in the collection [on] an annual basis; the funds generated by the Program; the cost of art purchased and the artist; location of the artworks and their appraised value; what are the insurance policy limits and the annual operating expenses that are incurred to administer the Program." Giles also said his amendment would include a higher quota for Chicago artists and provisions for the hiring of experienced personnel.
Giles's proposal for a substitute ordinance--and Hodes's obvious hand in shaping it--didn't go over well at the Department of Cultural Affairs. Hodes confided that his ideas on outsourcing probably didn't stand much of a chance, but he felt confident that members of the arts community would help him mount a vigorous argument for his other recommendations. "I know I'm causing problems," Hodes said. "And I'm really happy I'm having an impact." At one point Lash mused about Hodes's "prodding us with red-hot pokers." But, he added, "I can't say he's doing anything wrong."
As the day of reckoning approached, Hodes rallied his troops, and the city rallied theirs. Would he get his recommendations included in the new ordinance? "I don't know," Hodes said. "But I know there are enough people in the city that care about it. And I think I would really help the artists in Chicago, and I think I would help the program here."
Going into the committee hearing Monday morning, March 8, Hodes didn't know the outcome was already a foregone conclusion.
About 20 people showed up for the 11 AM hearing in City Hall's Committee Meeting Room 201A. Most were there to testify--artists, dealers, administrators--while others were there to watch. Seven aldermen sat down, and the meeting of the Special Events and Cultural Affairs Committee was called to order. Along with the soft-spoken, nattily dressed Giles, aldermen Berny Stone and Michael Wojcik did most of the talking for the next two hours. Three members on the committee never uttered a word.
I sat next to sculptor Tom Scarff, who told me how difficult it had been to get the city behind his proposal to erect a memorial to the 21 firefighters killed battling a blaze at the Union Stockyards in 1910; he said he was now raising funds for the piece at the "grassroots level." Scarff was one of three Illinois artists considered for the commission at the LaSalle Street Plaza, which eventually went to the German Hubertus van der Goltz. "It's not a level playing field," Scarff said. "They treat us like second-class citizens because we choose to stay here."
Cultural affairs commissioner Lois Weisberg read from a prepared statement. As chair of the Public Art Committee since 1990, she spoke of being "overwhelmed" with requests to install, maintain, and restore the city's public art. But only 20 percent of the Public Art Program's annual budget allowed for administration costs and maintenance of percent-for-art works "and certainly did not include finding lost artworks or restoring and conserving such works." She urged the City Council to amend the ordinance so that the program could work with other agencies to "locate and restore lost works of art" as well as "to acquire and care for the art they have and still require."
She concluded, "The current crisis over the Public Art Program is neither the quality of the collection nor the number of Chicago artists represented. It is simply a matter of creating an infrastructure to inventory and care for the pieces of artwork that the city came to own prior to 1978's Percent-for-Art Ordinance. A few amendments can correct this weak link in the old ordinance. There is no need to look outwardly to overpriced sources to correct the ordinance's shortcomings. The city must simply take the initiative to implement a comprehensive conservation plan to take care of its cultural heritage."
No one disagreed with the amended ordinance's conservation provisions. Nor did anyone disagree that outdoor site improvements should be subject to percent-for-art allocations. And no one spoke against the sudden decision to add two more members to the Public Art Committee. Originally the Department of Cultural Affairs was asking for an increase from 7 members to 15. Now the total would stand at 17, after adding a representative from the Chicago Public Schools and the chair of the City Council's Special Events and Cultural Affairs Committee--namely, Giles. The biggest disagreement, taking up most of the meeting, concerned whether to raise the Chicago-artist threshold to 75 percent.
Hodes spoke his case, presenting a written statement by artist Ed Paschke. He then talked about the Midway Airport project and the city's lack of support for hometown artists. He said, "Unless we raise the percentage, we're going to lose artists and dealers."
Art dealers Rhona Hoffman and Natalie van Straaten disagreed, each testifying that the number was close to 75 percent anyway. Besides, Hoffman said, neighborhood committees helped to select the art. "I would hate to see us have an ordinance put a restriction on us," said van Straaten. Weisberg added, "It might prohibit someone from coming in you might want to have."
"Our intent is to encourage local artists," said Berny Stone, who admitted to not having much contact with art except for attending a blockbuster Art Institute exhibit or two. "But we must maintain our position to bring in the best artists."
Paul Sierra and Tom Scarff testified for raising the percentage of Chicago artists. "I think you should honor your local artists--it's one of your most valuable assets," said Scarff. "But local artists often get overlooked. Because they stay here, it puts a check behind their name. They may not get all the best commissions." Sierra, whose experience with the Public Art Program has been limited to a painting in the Harold Washington Library, said simply, "Art follows money." Even if local artists received, say, 50 percent of the commissions, Sierra wondered if that also meant they got 50 percent of the dollars.
Mike Lash testified that it did. "Across the board, it's about the same number--74 percent." He said the budget went further if local artists were used because the city didn't have to pick up the tab for travel, accommodations, faxes, and other expenses. But "the biggest detriment" to the proposal, he said, was that Chicago would be the largest municipality in the nation to enact such a provision. "It lessens the chances for Chicago artists to do percent-for-art projects in other cities. It's not a level playing field. The requirement sends a loud announcement that Chicago artists can't go toe-to-toe with other artists around the world." Artist Karl Wirsum and patron Helen Goldenberg also spoke in favor of keeping the number at 50 percent. The committee declined to adopt the proposal.
Then Hodes raised the accountability issue. Giles told him that a provision had already been worked into the substitute ordinance. Hodes didn't know what Giles was talking about--he'd never been given a copy of the substitute ordinance. All he had was an early draft. Giles gave a copy to Hodes, who sat reading the nine-page document for the next several minutes while representatives from the CTA and the Park District testified in favor of the substitute. All Hodes could find on accountability was listed under Section 2-92-140, "Public art committee--Powers and duties." It said that the program had to "report on the expenditures on an annual basis to the City Council Committee on Special Events and Cultural Affairs."
Hodes rose from his chair. After praising Weisberg, he launched into a tirade. "This is a whitewash! This doesn't even explain what the basic issues are in the program today. Nowhere does it say that there's going to be a detailed accountability. It doesn't say where the artwork is, who the artists are, what's being purchased, and how much it cost. The cultural affairs department has decided to maintain all the power, discretion, and authority it had before....This has been dropped in everyone's hands at the last minute without anyone getting a chance to see it.
"The only thing I'm asking, on behalf of the citizens of Chicago, is an annual report submitted to the people of the city to see where the money is being spent. Even the newspapers have been critical of the fact that information is not made available to the public."
"But a report to us," admonished Stone, "is a report to the people."
Giles adjourned the meeting. Hodes shook Weisberg's hand and left the room.
Two days later, at 11:15 AM, Giles introduced the new Public Art Ordinance on the floor of the City Council. With no objections, the gavel came down. It became the law, in all of about 15 seconds.
What changed Giles's mind?
"After I spoke with the commissioner of the cultural affairs department, I realized that several things in the ordinance weren't necessary," he says. "We thought there was a problem. The reason we backed down is she thought problems could be corrected, or that there weren't any problems." Giles hadn't known that 74 percent of the public art commissions were supposedly being awarded to local artists. "She convinced me that if we made that a law, she might not be able to buy a piece she wanted from somewhere. So we backed down off that."
Giles thinks there's "definite accountability" in the ordinance now. "Submitting a report [to the City Council] gives us a chance to monitor more where everything is at. The report can be scrutinized by the public. It might be necessary to make changes, but we don't know yet. If so, we can always revisit and amend the ordinance."
Hodes felt betrayed. "I can't tell you how shocked I was," he says. "Giles never showed me the ordinance--he never shared a copy with me. I assumed he would stand behind artists' rights and the amendments. But he did a 180-degree shift. Now he gets a position on that committee.
"But I've tried to do something in a positive way--there's no money on the table for me. I think I raised the level of public consciousness for the issue. Had I not done this, no one would've focused on the issue. The outcome was far less than I had hoped for, but I'm not totally dismayed. We've sent a message to the department of culture that people are watching.
"Maybe someday we'll come back and try it again. We'll see what the results are-- we won't know until after all this gets flushed through the system. Let's see when they have to file an expense report each year, though it probably doesn't even have to be in writing. Let's see what they come up with in the years ahead. If they don't include any meaningful level of accountability, I may consider reintroducing the ordinance, or the concept. But in all fairness, I'll give them a chance to see how serious they are about accountability issues."
Lash, of course, was pleased that the department mainly got what it wanted. Now that the ordinance has passed, he says, the Public Art Program "can hit the ground running and go full guns," even though the new ordinance doesn't go into full effect until the year 2000. "There were a couple additions, but nothing detrimental," he says. "Scott raised some good issues."
Is the Public Art Program now more accountable to the public?
"The public and the community are the ones that select the artwork," answers Lash. "The people get to vote on what's in their community. Sometimes I feel it's too much public accountability. It's democracy in action--it's a totally open process."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Chicago Rising from the Lake; Heald Square Monument; Illinois Centennial Memorial Column; Scott Hodes; Mike Lash photos by Paul L. Merideth.