MY Cultural Plan for Chicago? Share the Spoils

This is my submission to the request for a story or thoughts on Chicago’s new Cultural Plan: www.chicagoculturalplan2012.comWarning. It is fiery and opinionated and refreshing as hell to get it out of my system, since I gleefully, am an INDEPENDENT artist, and I ain’t “workin for the man!”

I have been a celebrated cultural artist, producer and activist in Chicago for 30 + years. My family has been making art, working in newspapers, been part of the teachers, theater and electricians unions for over 120 years. Chicago is our town! I was on the Friends of the Cultural Center Board for five years with the late Fred Fine and Al Booth, developed classes on self-promotion and career development for the artist at Columbia College. I was a teacher at ArtScape Gallery 37 Chicago, a regular presenter at the Chicago Cultural Center, and was a contributor to Chicago Artist Resource. I am a contributing radio producer to WFMT Fine Arts Radio, and more.

I am also an arts activist. I run my own business J. O’Reilly Productions from my home, where I also host the Roots Salon. My paying clients are post-college age adults whom I successfully coach in artist development and career management. I also provide them opportunities, collaborations, and PAY.

I have followed this transition in city culture – the grandiosity of this plan – with hope it was a refreshing effort after the nasty dealings in the previous administration.  I am unimpressed. I do not see the many gifted independent artists we have here being served with these objectives. It strikes me as for show. And more about aiming for a high profile in the business sector, than life giving in the creative one.

Though an internationally recognized artist, and named a Notable Chicagoan by the generous, dynamic Rick Kogan, I have NOT been invited in this conversation.  The last few times I was asked to participate in city cultural events it was for NO PAY.

The average performer is STILL receiving less than minimum wage – being asked to perform for nothing at farmers markets and city festivals.  I could go on.

Mayor and Committee: the tourism dollars you seek, will NOT go to the people who MAKE the art – but the people who market their art, landscape designers and florists, sound engineers, parking garages, and ADMINISTRATORS with full time positions and benefits. It is not my experience that these people ‘invited’ to the city’s party – who benefit from the art we make – pay it forward.

We who have stayed in this city, and developed our craft – who advocate for – and employ our peers – are consistently slighted, and underpaid. It may take a Red Moon or a Grant Park Symphony to court dollars, and tourism, but it is the rich resource of independent artists – people like us – that invest heart, mind, time and talent to the great city  – our city.

We make the memorable WORK that puts Chicago on the map.
That builds community.

I am blessed to have many Chicago artists in my own O’REILLY family – my late father James, (an award-winning actor, co-founder of the Court Theater), my mother Winifred (who at 88, has directed theater at Renaissance Dept of Aging for 20 years), my brother Beau (Co-founder of the Curious Theater, teacher at the School of the Art Institute), my sister Cecilie (Head of Voice and Speech at Columbia College Chicago Theater Dept), and yes, me.


I would love to see this acknowledged with real paid work, and appreciation – with funds going to ARTISTS – and not out-of-town consultants.

And I would love my displeasure at this whole business to be abated and my faith in Chicago restored.


Jamie O’Reilly
“A Voice for the Soul of the City