More than 60 people, including artists, arts patrons, art managers and business owners, not-for-profits, members of the faith community and policy makers in city and county government answered the call from the Waukegan Arts Council to participate in a conversation about the arts in Waukegan on the evening of April 10, 2014. The conversation was robust, frank, and engaging. It focused on three central questions:
- What do you see as the current state of the arts in Waukegan?
- What would you like to see happen with the arts in Waukegan in the next 3 to 5 years?
- What do we need to do as an arts council, an organization, a business, an individual and/or as a community to get there? In other words, how do we get there from here?
What do you see as the current state of the arts in Waukegan?
Three general observations emerged from the discussion about the current state of the arts in Waukegan.
- The arts are important to Waukegan. Through the years, citizens of Waukegan have enjoyed access to quality arts programming and cultural events provided by the schools, the park district, the library and the faith community. In recent years, the city has recognized the value of promoting the arts as a tool of economic development as evidenced by the city’s support of the Genesee, the galleries and theaters downtown, the Karcher Artspace Lofts, the monthly ArtWauks and the efforts of the Waukegan Arts Council, Main Street and the city to promote the arts.
- There is a renewed excitement about the arts in Waukegan. Words like “blossoming,” “innovative,” “grassroots,” “great potential,” “burgeoning,” “considerable growth,” “on the edge, ” and “it’s the best it ever was” were used to describe new arts initiatives in Waukegan.
- The challenge to sustain the enthusiasm about the arts in Waukegan is daunting.
Many commented that the effort to promote the arts is fragmented, underfunded, and underappreciated. There is a need for more effective marketing, more restaurants, better lighting, greater police presence, more attractions downtown, bigger audiences, more diverse participation, and an outreach to the community beyond the downtown arts district.
What would you like to see happen with the arts in Waukegan in the next 3 to 5 years?
The answer is simple. People want Waukegan to thrive as an arts destination with multiple arts venues, broad audiences, good restaurants, shops and hotels. They want a strategic arts plan for the city that builds on strong partnerships, creative marketing, youth involvement, and a unified calendar. They want Waukegan to be branded as the place where artists make a living and where people come to find interesting and creative things to do and see.
What do we need to do as an arts council, an organization, a business, an individual and/or as a community to get there? In other words, how do we get there from here?
- Develop a unified citywide plan to support and promote the arts that involves all stakeholders including artists, the city, the schools, the library, the park district, the faith community, Main Street, realtors, businesses, and our diverse population.
- Maintain a central calendar of art related events and create an easy system for updating the calendar.
- Develop and sustain essential partnerships with all stakeholders through social media and institutional connections.
- Lobby the city to improve infrastructure – more parking, better lighting, and more police presence.
- Develop a strong branding and marketing plan for the arts in Waukegan.
- Create staff positions either through grants or city resources to oversee the implementation of the citywide arts strategies.
- Plan events geared to the under 30 crowd.
- Make it attractive for entrepreneurs to stage events in Waukegan such as music festivals and art fairs.
- Find grants and develop corporate sponsorships for art related activities.
- Build an awareness of the value of the arts so that everyone supports the effort, attends events, talks up what is happening art-wise, and brings friends to performances.