Its been asked, does art imitate life?political science professor asks, does art spark urban renewal?By Peter Schuler
The works of Seattle-based glass artist Dale Chihuly, which graced the grounds of the Garfield Park Conservatory between November 2001 and November 2002, may have influenced many of the positive changes that have occurred in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. That potential influence is one worth studying further, according to Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Assistant Professor in Political Science and the College, as it could be a source of valuable lessons for city officials and urban planners.
Under the aegis of the Harris Schools Cultural Policy Center, Harris-Lacewell is leading a team of researchers to use the unique exhibition to further explore how arts and culture can have a positive influence on community development.
Chihuly designed the exhibition to highlight both his own work and the vast plant collection at the 95-year-old conservatory. One of Chicagos neglected gems, the conservatory is situated in an economically depressed and severely depopulated neighborhood with some of the citys highest levels of unemployment and crime.
Harris-Lacewell noted that after decades of decline and neglect, both the East Garfield Park neighborhood and the conservatory itself had experienced a revival in the past few years. By the time Chihulys sculptures took up temporary residence at the conservatory, there had been changes in the conservatorys connection to the community, in the availability of transportation, in amenities offered to visitors, and in measures to promote safety, Harris-Lacewell said.
Glowing press coverage for the Chihuly in the Park: A Garden of Glass exhibition was enhanced by word-of-mouth referrals, which resulted in overflow crowds more than four times the size of the conservatorys usual monthly visitors.
Although Garden of Glass was unquestionably an artistic success, we need to ask the question whether it actually influenced the neighborhood that hosted it, Harris-Lacewell said. The study will examine the relationship between the exhibition and the economic and social development of the poor and predominantly African-American East Garfield Park community.
Harris-Lacewell and her team will analyze data that includes public and leadership opinions that are being collected through surveys and focus group interviews with exhibition visitors and East Garfield Park residents, as well as key economic indicators and investigations of similar strategies that use art as a tool for development.
As part of this ongoing study, Harris-Lacewell and Nick Rabkin, executive director of Columbia Colleges Chicago Center for Arts Policy, held a public discussion on Tuesday, Feb. 18, titled The Lessons of the Chihuly Show, at the Universitys Gleacher Center. The presentation was part of the Cultural Policy Centers Discussion Series for Arts Professionals and Policymakers.
The Packard Foundation and the Office of the Vice President of Community Affairs at the University provided funding for the first stage of the study.