The 2015 Chicago mayoral runoff election is Tuesday, April 7. While the debates might be over, there’s no debating that the next mayor will shape the future of arts policy in Chicago. We asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia to respond to ten questions on a range of issues including their views on the role of culture and the arts in our neighborhoods, schools, economic development, tourism, civic life, and beyond.

2015 Chicago Mayoral Candidate Responses

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel  Commissioner Jesus "Chuy"  Garcia

The purpose of the candidate survey is purely informational. While we cannot endorse or oppose candidates for public office, our goal is to promote civic engagement and encourage arts advocates to make their voices heard this election season. Click here to locate your polling place and to find more voter tools.

1. How do you define the importance of arts and culture to the city of Chicago?

Mayor Rahm EmanuelArts and culture define the soul of a city.  When you think of cities around the world, it’s hard not to also think of the cultural offerings associated with that city: New York, Broadway and musical theater; Paris, museums; Nashville, country music, for example.  I believe that Chicago is also synonymous with the arts.  When you say “Chicago,” you think of it as the home of Blues and gospel music; you think of our storefront theater scene, populating the blocks of our neighborhoods; you think of the murals and public art embedded in our communities; and our many ethnic groups bring culture from across the globe to our city.

Chicago has a strong foundation in arts and culture, from the many marquee festival events and institutions downtown to a variety of music venues, galleries, cultural centers and dance studios of all sorts in the neighbhorhoods.  And globally-celebrated institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera among others,  attract national and global tourists every year.  These amenities not only enrich our lives, they help create jobs and economic growth throughout Chicago.


Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" GarciaIn 1986, I supported the Chicago Cultural Plan commissioned by the late Mayor Harold Washington because I believe arts and culture are essential for a thriving City. Art is essential to a vibrant Chicago for many reasons including but not limited to the ones given in the 1986 Chicago Cultural Plan: “Cultural vitality is important to our economy and community development. The Cultural sector employs thousands; cultural organizations bring identity to downtown and neighborhood; and our cultural diversity helps business maintain a quality workforce that wants to live in Chicago.” Today, we also understand the critical role that arts play in children’s development and academic success, in maintaining individual identity, and in promoting a sense of community. Arts and culture should be accessible to all residents, regardless of age, or socioeconomic status.

2. What do you see as the city’s role in funding the arts and fostering the growth of Chicago’s creative economy?

Mayor Rahm EmanuelInvesting in the arts can bring economic revitalization, but also a sense of community.  Through the development of the Chicago Cultural Plan, the first of its kind for strengthening the city’s arts and cultural sector in more than 25 years, I have made sure we have a strategy in place to ensure that every Chicagoan can experience great art and culture.  The Plan was developed after months of more than 80 meetings with stakeholders and community members across the city and includes input from thousands of Chicagoans.

This strategy contains a robust set of 10 initiatives with 36 recommendations and over 200 ideas to support our local artists, expand arts education and programming, grow the tourism industry, and create jobs.  Many of the recommendations are complete or underway now.  In fact, nearly one third of the plan’s initiatives have an estimated cost of less than $50,000 to implement; and more than 60 percent of all initiatives identified have been addressed.  Through a combination of public and private partnerships, programming, and funding resources, we will continue to successfully implement these initiatives.

Two very important investments the City has made to ensure Chicago’s cultural and creative economy continues to thrive is first and foremost, the rebuilding of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE). That department had been decimated with much of its work outsourced.  I rebuilt that program by reallocating the necessary funds to restore its budget and rebuild the staff.  Today, DCASE has nearly 80 full-time employees and a budget in excess of $30 million.

The second key investment was increasing the grants budget by over 40 percent.  More funding is available to arts organizations and individual artists than ever before.


Jesus "Chuy" GarciaAs Mayor, I will emphasize the importance of Chicago’s creative economy as part of the City’s overall economic plan. I will encourage the public and private sectors to increase their support of the arts to sustainable levels, allowing Chicago’s city-wide cultural assets to thrive rather than merely survive.


3. What steps will you take to ensure the arts are part of a complete and competitive education for CPS students?

Mayor Rahm EmanuelIn 2012, I unveiled the City’s first-ever CPS Arts Education Plan, a key initiative of the Chicago Cultural Plan, a groundbreaking strategy that will infuse arts education throughout every public school in Chicago.  The Plan was developed in collaboration with parents and members of the community, in direct response for the desire for additional arts programming in our schools, and is one of the nation’s most ambitious arts education programs.

Initial implementation of the CPS Arts Education Plan has resulted in two major policy changes: designating the arts as a core subject similar to math, science, and social studies and establishing a requirement of two hours per week of arts education in every elementary school, made possible by extending the school day in my first term. CPS students will gain a fuller and richer understanding of the arts and how they intersect with other fields of study and learn creative habits of mind that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

We began by immediately investing $1 million dollars in 2012 to support direct grants to schools.  Recognizing that certified arts instructors are at the heart of expanded arts education, we invested $11.5 million in new public dollars to hire additional arts teachers for the current school year.  This past fall, we announced a transformative $38 million funding campaign: “Be Creative: The Campaign for Creative Schools,” fueled by private donations from the city’s business, community, cultural, and philanthropic leaders, and have already raised $11 million toward our goal.  The funds raised by the campaign will pay for putting essential classroom materials in the hands of students and teachers, such as musical instruments, cameras, and scripts.  It will also provide greater access for teachers and students to Chicago’s wide array of cultural institutions and pay for new assessment systems to track student learning in the arts, as well as better data collection to determine where investments make the greatest difference and where progress needs to be made.  This private investment will ensure full implementation of the CPS Arts Education Plan over the next few years and serve as a bridge to eventual public funding of the full plan in the 2018-19 school year.


Jesus "Chuy" GarciaI will begin by creating an Arts & Education Commission comprised of experienced art educators, artists, art practitioners, and cultural organizational leaders to review the current state of arts programming in the City of Chicago’s schools, and to determine how the City can assist and encourage CPS in its efforts to include the arts in all schools city-wide.


4. How will your administration help attract and retain artists and creative professionals in Chicago?

Mayor Rahm EmanuelOver the last three years, we have launched a variety of new programs to support and promote Chicago’s artist and creative community. Some highlights include launching a new urban residency program at the Chicago Cultural Center – the  Studio Artist and Curatorial Residency Awards – where  eight local artists and curatorial fellows have an opportunity to receive a cash stipend to develop their creative projects, as well as three months of free studio space downtown. This allows them to engage with visitors in public programs and talks.  Last year,  DCASE launched the inaugural Fifth Star Awards, a first-of-its-kind event to celebrate and honor Chicagoans that have made significant contributions in the arts.  More than 4,000 attendees came out to recognize the honorees and enjoy an evening of musical performances.  We also hosted two new professional summits for the creative community – a Music Summit and a Film Summit – each provided professional development programs, networking receptions, panel discussions – all for free to Chicago creatives.  We plan to build on that model this spring and present Lake FX Summit and Expo as the region’s largest convening of artists, creative professionals, and entrepreneurs in the fields of music, film, design, culinary and fashion.

And we continue to work closely with leadership at higher education institutions to make better connections between graduates in the arts with other industries that can use creative talent–advertising, architecture, technology and even finance–finding ways to ensure we not only nurture and incubate talent, but keep it here with jobs.

Later this fall, we will be presenting the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial, the first ever major international expo of contemporary architecture presented in North America.  Given Chicago’s history and prominent role in the field, it will be an excellent public platform for showcasing groundbreaking architectural projects and young new talent.

But in addition to presenting events, programs and services here at home, it is also important to promote Chicago arts on the road and give professionals broader exposure.  Just this month, my administration sent a delegation to SXSW in Austin, TX to promote Chicago arts and music to thousands of attendees from across the country; this was the second time we have sent and showcased Chicago musicians at this national forum.  We hope to expand on that model and identify other meaningful platforms such as Sundance (film), New York Fashion Week, and other important industry convenings that can include Chicago talent.


Jesus "Chuy" GarciaMy administration will help attract and retain artists and creative professionals in Chicago first by attempting to make it more affordable to live here. The cost of rental housing, for example, has steadily gone up with an estimated 3-4% annual rent increases. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that in Chicago, the “housing wage” needed for a single full-time worker to afford a two-bedroom apartment is $18.83 per hour. Currently, many artists and creative professionals struggle to survive in Chicago because they have to juggle jobs to make ends meet, and they cannot concentrate on their craft. Many are working in the service industry, where they are paid a tipped sub-minimum wage. As Mayor, I will commit to increasing affordable housing throughout the City and support efforts to eliminate the tipped sub-minimum wage, to the benefit of all residents including artists and creative professionals. I will also acknowledge how important artists are to the City’s economy at all levels of city government. I will continue to support programs that showcase their talents and expand their reach into neighborhoods throughout the City.

5. What actions will your administration take to streamline City processes and help artists and creative enterprises navigate the City’s zoning, permits and licensing rules?

Mayor Rahm EmanuelFrom day one of my Administration, I was focused on streamlining City services and cutting red tape for our city’s small businesses and entrepreneurs, ensuring that City Hall served as a partner and not an obstacle as business owners seek to start and grow their businesses.  We opened a new Small Business Center and streamlined the permit and license process, providing a one-stop shop and dedicated working staff working with them every step of the way to support their success.

In my first term, we took major steps to make the business licensing system simpler and more streamlined, beginning with reducing the number of license types by 60 percent.  By drastically reducing the number of license categories from 117 to 49 and requiring businesses to obtain fewer licenses to get up and running, the reform saves over 10,000 small businesses $2 million in license fees each year – savings that can be invested instead in their businesses and creating jobs.  In addition, we created the first-ever Emerging Business Permit, to support and encourage new business ideas that don’t fall under the existing license structure. I hired the city’s first-ever Chief Small Business Officer and formed the Small Business Advisory Council, to ensure that our small businesses and entrepreneurs have a voice at City Hall.  We also redesigned our Small Business Center website, adding new tools and resources and translating our materials to ensure multi-language support.

Over the next two years, I have tasked the Small Business Center with going paperless by 2016, moving all permits and licenses to an online format.  Approximately 6,000 business owners and entrepreneurs will benefit each year, by spending less time at City Hall and more time focused on growing their business.  Other improvements will include a permit and license “wizard,” that will provide businesses with step-by-step guidance through the license and permit process, help them navigate the process of opening a business, and provide a connection to additional resources; and a personalized dashboard, where business owners will be able to track their permit and license applications, receive real-time status updates, and conveniently pay for application fees online.

In addition, DCASE is working closely with Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to review and streamline the permit process for Performing Arts Venues (PAV) and the Performance Permit Application (PPA).


Jesus "Chuy" GarciaAs Mayor, I have vowed to simplify and expedite the City’s zoning, permitting and licensing process, and to improve the overall value proposition of operating a business in Chicago. I will make checklists for license and permit applications available online, and I will use performance audits to improve services and create greater efficiencies within departments. I will underscore the word “service” in Chicago business services, and I will set-up a technical assistance program within the city’s Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs Office of Planning to provide training and technical assistance to artists and creative enterprises on how to apply and navigate the city’s Department of Planning and Zoning.

6. What is your opinion on “Cultural Districts” or “Cultural Enterprise Zones” as a means to stimulate economic development and community revitalization?

Mayor Rahm EmanuelI strongly believe that the arts and culture can be game changing drivers of economic revitalization.  My administration is supporting the development of an arts district in Uptown by making investments in rehabilitating landmark theaters, upgrading nearby El stations, and improving the walkability of neighborhood streets.  We are also creating an entertainment district near McCormick Place to ensure that Chicago remains number one for conventions and events after sliding to number five when I first took office.  Our strategy began with investing in creating a headquarters hotel connected to McCormick Place and working with DePaul University to build an athletic and events venue.  We build a new El station at Cermak and are supporting bringing new businesses like Motor Row Brewing to the neighborhood.  Arts and entertainment districts like Uptown and McCormick Place will not only serve as economic drivers for the city, they also enrich the lives of our residents.

My administration has been supportive to the work led by Theaster Gates in the Grand Crossing community.  With his developments, and the other existing cultural facilities such as eta Creative Arts, the Gary Comer Youth Center, Lee’s Unleaded Blues, and the work being done to renovate and revitalize the Regal Theater is very exciting to see how culture can invigorate and stimulate additional commercial development in this neighborhood.


Jesus "Chuy" GarciaCultural enterprise zones can serve to focus our resources in ways that promote collaboration between artists, community residents and neighborhood development. These can be anchored by a neighborhood cultural institution like the National Museum of Mexican art or the DuSable Museum of African American History, or they can be focused on potential incubators like fashion that bring together artists, businesses and consumers. Chicago’s diverse neighborhood artist bring the entire world to our City. Cultural enterprise zones can build on this potential.

7. What do you see as the City’s role in elevating and expanding neighborhood cultural assets?

Mayor Rahm EmanuelThe City has a critical role to play in elevating and expanding neighborhood cultural assets and can support our communities in a variety of ways, including: expansion of citywide arts programming to additional neighborhoods, providing public safety support to ensure a safe environment for families, public transportation upgrades for enhanced community access, park developments and improvements, and other support.  Most importantly, this support begins by listening to unique needs of the residents and members of the communities themselves, which is why the public engagement process in development of the Chicago Cultural Plan and many of the other resulting plans has been so important.

We’ve made great progress in these areas over the last few years.  Beginning in 2012, we moved the Gospel Music Festival to the Bronzeville neighborhood where Gospel has its roots. By celebrating Chicago’s Gospel Music Festival in the Bronzeville community, we strengthen our local arts and entertainment, while showcasing the economic and cultural assets of one of Chicago’s most historic neighborhoods.  With the CTA Red Line South project, we brought faster, more reliable access to the city’s south side communities, as well as added art to each of these stations by local artists telling the story of Chicago.

We’ve expanded many of our City-sponsored programs, including Night Out at the Parks, which has grown to more than 1,000 cultural events and activities at parks across the city featuring 50 neighborhood arts and theater organizations, 90% of which are free for families. Our Farmers Markets serve as cultural touchstones for the city, as well as bring fresh produce sourced from local farmers directly to our residents and visitors. Over the last three years we’ve increased the number of City-operated farmers markets across the city by more than 50%, from 17 to 26 markets, including five new markets on the west side in 2012.


Jesus "Chuy" GarciaNeighborhoods in Chicago are unique and home to a diverse range of ethnicities, cultures, and interests. Elevating and expanding neighborhood cultural assets can have a direct impact on local economic development and community pride. Enticing visitors to enjoy the various delicacies and sights that our City’s neighborhoods have to offer, such as Indian food on Devon, landmarks such as the plethora of historic buildings and architecture spread across the city, and beautiful natural parks and resources such as the Japanese gardens in Jackson Park is one way that we can support the neighborhood economic development and growth, while honoring the culture of community members. The City has a duty to increase the visibility of Chicago’s unique neighborhood assets. It is time to re-assess current funding used for marketing and promotion of the City of Chicago and ensure that our strategies are effective.

8. What actions will your administration take to raise Chicago’s profile as a premier global cultural tourism destination?

Mayor Rahm EmanuelSince taking office, I have been focused on tourism as a key driver of our economy and an area in which Chicago needs a comprehensive strategy and focus. After years of a disjointed tourism effort, in my first year I established Choose Chicago by combining the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau and the tourism portion of Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture. The reduction in overlapping services and costs has saved nearly $2 million a year, which is reinvested into annual marketing advertising efforts to attract out of market visitation.

In 2013, I announced Elevate Chicago, an ambitious tourism and tradeshow infrastructure redevelopment program. This $1.1 billion program of new investments will create 10,000 construction jobs, 3,700 permanent jobs, and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic growth annually. The program initially features two major components: creation of a McCormick Place entertainment district and the redevelopment of Navy Pier so the popular attraction will draw even more visitors and elevate it to a world-class destination.  Over the past three years, the City of Chicago has gone from fifth to first in the country as a destination for meetings and conventions, leapfrogging perennial convention leaders Las Vegas and Orlando since 2012. This success follows my 2011 agreement with labor to reduce the cost of and streamline the process for holding events at McCormick Place.

We must also continue to support our rapidly growing film industry, which has experience tremendous growth and success due to our highly-respected crews and talent, world-class facilities, distinctive cinematic urban landscape, affordability, and hands-on City support via the Chicago Film Office team.  In 2013, Chicago experienced a 20 percent increase in overall production activity, with a total of 2,198 filming days, beating the previous record set just the year before in 2012 with nearly 40 percent growth over 2011.  These record stats reflect Chicago’s growing capacity and maturity as a production center and in establishing Chicago as a national and global film industry hub.

In 2011, the City of Chicago had approximately 40 million visitors annually. I knew that with the rich cultural environment our city has to offer, we could do even better.  I initially set an ambitious goal of attracting 50 million visitors to Chicago by 2020, which I then increased to 55 million visitors.  In 2014, we set a new visitation record of 50.2 million visitors, a 3.5% increase over 2013. Chicago’s tourism industry is directly responsible for continued job growth, direct spending and tax revenue. Since 2010, the tourism and hospitality industries have added 9,800 jobs, generating $13.7 billion in direct spending by visitors and $871 million in total tax revenue. The continued record performance shows that the city is on pace to achieve our goal of 55 million visitors a year by the year 2020.


Jesus "Chuy" GarciaMy administration will invite culturally diverse neighborhood leadership with established global cultural partnerships to be active decision-makers as part of the overall strategy to promote the City as a global tourism destination.



9. Please describe the role artists and cultural leaders should expect to play on City boards and commissions under your administration?

Mayor Rahm EmanuelWhere appropriate, I think having artists on boards or commissions or advisory groups of agencies such as the Department of Transportation or Planning or Housing and even Health.  It is important to get those perspectives in the beginning.  And some of this has been instigated through the Cultural Plan.  For example, the Department of Health has worked closely with DCASE to incorporate “dance” as a part of one of its wellness goals to encourage people to “move” more or exercise, and it used artists for developing some of its communication materials.  The Cultural Plan has introduced multiple points of entry for other agencies and we aim to do more of that.


Jesus "Chuy" GarciaArtists, cultural leaders and creative entrepreneurs are critical to the economy of the City. Their multi-faceted experiences would lend a unique perspective and enhance the dialogue and decisions made by City boards and commissions.



10. What was the last local cultural institution or performance you attended? When?

Mayor Rahm EmanuelIn the last few months I’ve taken my family to see Hubbard Street, the Joffrey, and Arline Highway at Steppenwolf. They were all a welcome escape from the grueling schedule of a campaign!



Jesus "Chuy" GarciaThe last cultural performance I attended was the Cuatro Festival at Harris Theater on November 8, 2014. My family and I actively attend many culturally diverse events throughout the City of Chicago.



Vote April 7


The 2015 Chicago mayoral runoff election is Tuesday, April 7. Click here to locate your polling place and to find more voter tools.