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spacer.gif   Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs Launches ChicagoPublishes
Posted by : cj on Friday, October 29, 2010 - 05:49 PM
Chicago Poetry Letters Section .
Yes, it’s true. Chicago as a city is home to some of the finest artists in this country. Ah, but the City of Chicago itself--yeegads--it has a horrendous reputation for being anti-art. Many of us who were part of the poetry scene in the early 1990s can still remember when this city tried to shut down the Weeds open mic. because Gregorio Gomez didn’t have a “poetry permit.” In May of 2003, the Hot House (then on Balboa) featured a band that they shipped in from Cuba, and the City of Chicago raided the joint and closed it down, a few minutes before the show was to begin. In July of 2007, the Chicago police swarmed into the Zhou B. Art Center and kicked everyone out of the annual Printers Ball. In May of 2009, the city’s graffiti blasters trespassed on private property and painted over a gigantic piece of mural art that had been commissioned and paid for, because some bigoted Bridgeport alderman didn’t like it. And in December of 2009, a man named Chris Drew was arrested for attempting to sell one dollar pieces of art on State Street, and subsequently he was charged with a felony for audio taping his own arrest; this Chicago artist could spend a decade in prison and that’s how much the city really supports the arts!

Stories like these go on and on with no end in sight. They illustrate this city’s underlying hostility toward the art scene. The art scene scares the shit out of the City of Chicago. It’s not good for tourism. It’s not good for Olympic bids and whatnot. In fact, the city wants to establish something called a “promoter’s license” that would make it illegal for an unlicensed individual to host a literary event if there are more than 50 audience members in attendance. So! When the City of Chicago announces it “will provide Chicago’s thriving publishing industry with a new website” (as if we don’t already have dozens upon dozens of our own websites)--called (sort of a city takeover of the already existing me if I must take the news with a huge block of salt.

On Tuesday, November 9, 2010, the Chicago Cultural Center will launch its new website, with an event to be held at 4 PM. Of course, most of you will be in work at that time, but it’s the thought that counts, right? The event will feature The Paper Machete, hosted by Jonathan Messinger of TimeOut Chicago. There will be tea. The event will also serve as the launch party for a new section of the already existing city sponsored website “CAR-Literary” promises to include job postings, calls for submissions, links to resources, articles, essays and even a forum for “open” dialogue. Wow. This all sounds like your birthday has come early, doesn‘t it. But hold the phone for a minute. Let’s not forget that all of this razzle-dazzle is going to be published and edited by (drum roll please)--the government. In case it matters to you, that's the same government that is trying to throw Chris Drew in prison for attempting to sell a one dollar piece of art on State Street. If anyone is expecting anything more daring than, say, Southwest Airlines’ Spirit Magazine, they are deluding themselves. How long will it take before some independently run zine called Shit Fuck or something posts a call for submissions only to find itself deleted by the City of Chicago from Chicago’s “significant role in the rapidly changing national publishing landscape.” How many of the city’s “links to resources” will lead to anything even remotely associated to anything critical of the City of Chicago? Come on! I’m probably losing my link on that page right now!

Realistically, as city sponsored gentrification continues to cleanse Chicago of diversity and dissent, one has to wonder. Is this huge endeavor being set into motion to actually help Chicago’s literary scene as it already exists or is this an attempt to gain some control over one of the last remaining sub-cultures in Chicago that this city has yet to tame. Honestly. As artists, since when do we allow the government to decide for us who the “industry professionals” are? And should we participate in yet another attempt to establish a redundant yet just a bit safer “literary events calendar”? Here’s a question for the website editors. Does a “help fund Chris Drew's defense” poetry show get listed in your calendar? How about a Naked Biker Poetry Slam?

If the City of Chicago “enthusiastically supports” Chicago’s “vital publishing and literary community” (as Commissioner Lois Weisberg claims it does), it should prove it. For one thing, it could hold more than four book events a year in the Cultural Center’s Publishers’ Gallery; or instead, perhaps the city could allow taxpayers their own use of that Cultural Center, the building that they themselves fund--without having to pay rent. And garsh darnit, someone has to say it! If the City truly supports the literary scene, why doesn’t it take all that money that it is using in its attempt to control the literary scene with a website, and instead give the money to the actual publishers. I’d come out on a Tuesday at 4 PM for that launch party. Click here for my other editorial.

Silence kills slowly,

CJ Laity

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