Elimination of Park District Arts Program Begs Further Questions

October 20, 2009 · Print This Article

Yesterday I read with great interest Lee Ann Norman’s story on the elimination of the Park Voyagers program on Art Talk Chicago, Chicago Now’s visual arts blog.  Norman reported that the long-running (since 1998) Park Voyagers program–which takes a long-view perspective on youth arts education through its three-year long programs with area museums–will be cut by the end of this year (park programs already underway will be allowed to finish). As far as I know, the program’s elimination has not been publicly announced via press release, nor has it been reported anywhere other than on Art Talk Chicago.

Park Voyagers is a collaboration between the Chicago Park District and Museums In the Park (MIP), a coalition of 10 institutions residing on park district property. The MIP institutions include Adler Planetarium, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum of African American History, The Field Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Science and Industry, the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and the John G. Shedd Aquarium, all of whom fund the program collectively through contributions from their individual budgets.

Art Talk Chicago’s editor and head blogger Kathyrn Born (who is also a frequent contributor to Bad at Sports) raised some interesting questions about the agreement that exists between the Park District and the MIP institutions. In an email to me this morning, Born wondered, “Why is the relationship between the Park District (which represents city government’s support in this case) a handshake deal? Why is there no legal, binding obligation between these entities? They [the MIP coalition] pay $1 a year as rent as a part of their deal with the park district…so why are there no legal safeguards?”

What we do know is that the number of Chicago families who have participated in this unique public arts program was not insubstantial. According to the MIP’s 2008 Annual Report, in the year 2008 the Park Voyagers program served 595 families (1635 individuals total including parents and children), providing them with 15,761 contact hours with Chicago cultural institutions.

Borne notes the difficulty of determining to whom the MIP museums ultimately answer in cases like these: is it the Park District, and if so, which person or office? I myself am curious if the Chicago Park District has an opinion about its loss of the Park Voyagers program, given that, according to Norman’s ATC post, there are currently no plans to replace it.

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