January 20, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 8

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    Enhancing Assets: Dean leads division in assisting Chicago’s South Side arts groups

    By Jennifer Carnig
    News Office


    The Division of the Humanities is kicking off the New Year by teaming up with South Side arts and humanities organizations.

    Danielle Allen, Dean of the Division of the Humanities, and the Civic Knowledge Project she established last year, are undertaking a new project: Enhancing Assets, a resource-sharing and capacity-building network for small-scale arts and humanities institutions on Chicago’s South Side.

    When Allen became Dean last year, one of her goals was to enhance the University’s relationship with its surrounding neighborhoods. With that objective in mind, she created the Civic Knowledge Project, a branch of the Division of the Humanities designed to disseminate knowledge from the University to the community, and from the community back to the University.

    The Civic Knowledge Project also runs several successful programs, including the Odyssey Project, a one-year course in the humanities for adults living at or below the poverty line; tutoring programs in the William Carter School; and an oral history project on the South Side.

    As part of the Civic Knowledge Project, the new Enhancing Assets program will kick off Saturday, Jan. 29, with a one-day conference designed to bring small-scale arts and humanities organizations on the South Side together so they can network with one another and receive the tools they need to run healthy arts and humanities organizations.

    The all-day event will offer classes and panel discussions on such topics as grant writing, curatorship, technology and the arts, law and the arts, and public relations. The goal is to make the conference a biannual event and, ultimately, help South Side arts and humanities institutions serve as anchors to their communities.

    “Arts, humanities and cultural organizations are key to securing neighborhoods and preserving and advancing a community’s culture over time,” Allen said. “They expand participants’ intellectual opportunities, increase their capacities for self-expression and self-confidence, and help them envision new possibilities for the future.”

    The idea for Enhancing Assets grew out of a conference Allen hosted last spring, titled “Cityspace: The Past of Urban Renewal and the Present and Future of Community Development.” The purpose of that event, which drew nearly 450 scholars, activists, city planners and community members, was to assess urban renewal projects of the 1950s and 1960s and to discuss the goals of today’s community development projects. At Cityspace, Allen met members of several cultural and arts institutions, and they all expressed the same concerns: No one knew where to turn for help when problems with insurance, legal issues or management questions arose. Many expressed a desire for contact with other not-for-profit arts organizations with which to share advice and stories.

    That was when Allen realized the University could provide what these arts organizations were seeking—a place for a large group of leaders to meet, talk and pool resources, as well as an opportunity to consult with legal, financial and public relations professionals to learn how to lead their organizations to their maximum potential.

    In creating Enhancing Assets, Allen’s hope is that the University will be a resource “to strengthen and support the social and intellectual capital” that small arts and humanities organizations are building all over Chicago’s South Side.

    “I am proud of the cultural, artistic and humanistic traditions of the South Side and wish to help sustain them for the future,” Allen said.

    So far, around 25 organizations have signed up for the conference, including museums, artist cooperatives, libraries, dance groups, video companies, theater troupes and youth art groups. Ideally, this will be the first in a long line of events for local humanities organizations, and as time goes by, each conference will include representatives from even more organizations.

    “The goal is to create a highly functioning arts network that just happens to have its nexus at the University,” said Elizabeth Babcock, Associate Director of the Civic Knowledge Project and the conference’s lead coordinator. “This is just the kickoff of a resource network that will continue and grow.”