Random thoughts about watching, working and living in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein. "In The Moment" offers a quick 60-second read about new ideas, events, shows and productions in the HMS world, and "Adventures In Yes" takes a deeper dive into how art and media reflect, define and inspire our world. Enjoy!

April 2, 2019

ADVENTURES IN YES: "The Art of the Appeal"

It's Election Day in Chicago, and there's an art to determining who I voted for.

Chicago Mayoral Candidates Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle

It’s a historic day here. No matter what happens at the ballot box, today Chicago will elect its second female mayor and second black mayor in one fell swoop, and may well also elect its first openly gay mayor. Both Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle bring genuine bona fides to their candidacy.

I’ve met them both. In fact they’re the only two candidates I’ve met. And that only happened because of my involvement in the arts.

Towards the end of January, Bette Cerf Hill and Bruce Sagan, both extraordinary advocates, activists, citizens and philanthropists, created an evening at their home where folks could hear Toni speak and engage her about any issue that came to mind.

A couple of weeks later, brilliant Steppenwolf ensemble member Amy Morton and noted composer and sound designer Rob Milburn, who have both long been Lori Lightfoot fans, wanted to introduce Lori to as many of their friends as possible. So they hosted a “Meet Lori” gathering at their house, with a similar format as the Toni evening.

Because each event was hosted by people with strong arts backgrounds, the attendees were especially interested in the candidates’ views on the arts.

That a candidate for any office speaks about the arts is important and noteworthy; howthey speak about the arts reveals loads about who they are, how they interact with others and how they visualize and approach problem solving.

The more someone running for office speaks about them as window dressing, for example, the less they comprehend not just the cultural and social value the arts bring to a community of any size, but also that they’ve failed to do some serious homework about the arts’ positive impact on education, the economy, health care, technology and a wide array of other issues.

For reference, look no further than President Trump. For the third year in a row, the man who prides himself on his business acumen has called not just for the zeroing out of the budgets for National Endowment for the Arts (and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcast, Museum and Library Services and all arts and culture related programs and agencies), but for these agencies’ complete elimination. This, in spite of the fact that the arts are bigger business than even most artists understand.

In signing his death warrant for the arts and culture (which Congress will surely rescind, as it has since he took office), Mr. Art of the Deal declares, to what should be his eternal shame, that he clearly doesn’t know that:

• The arts account for 4.2% of America’s GDP.

• They generate $763 billion in economic activity.

• They account for nearly 5 million jobs.

• Those jobs generate in $370 billion in pay.

For the measly $167.5 million being requested by Americans for the Arts for the NEA (which is about half of Bryce Harper’s contract and just over a third of Mike Trout’s), approximately $9 billion in federal tax revenue related to the arts is generated. That’s just federaltax revenue and doesn’t include that $20 billion or so generated for state and local governments.

Further, if President Trade Deficit bothered to look or listen, he would know that the arts export $20 billion more than they import.

Money is my least favorite way to talk about the arts, but it’s the President’s favorite way to talk about everything, so the fact that he glibly dismisses arts spending as “wasteful and unnecessary” (actual words used in his budget proposal) tells me a lot more than how often Trump goes to a theater or a museum; it also tells me that even when it comes to subjects he says are in his wheelhouse, he is profoundly ignorant and unforgivably incurious. If he were neither of those things, he’d see that investment in the arts would provide the one thing he seems to care about: money.

The arts themselves are not the defining issue that gets a candidate elected Mayor of Chicago; rumor has it we have at least a couple of other pressing issues facing our fair city. But they are, along with education, one of the subjects that can give voters some of the keenest insights into how candidates view the job, the collaborative process of government and the people they aspire to serve.

So I can’t possibly overestimate the significance of these two candidates being supported and hosted by some of the most thoughtful artists and arts supporters Chicago has to offer. Nor can I over-appreciate the candidates’ choices to accept invitations to meet Chicagoans and discuss their perspectives on government and leadership, especially with these prospective voters who know their way around an honest story and an honest storyteller.

This is why events like Arts Alliance Illinois’ Arts Mayoral Forum, which both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle attended and during which they distinguished themselves greatly from the rest of the pack, are so valuable.

Both candidates, for example, referenced the Chicago Loop Alliance’s landmark arts economic impact study, which determined that the arts have a $2.25 billion impact just on the Loop alone.Both made efforts to talk about the arts from a variety of perspectives. Both left their fellow (male) candidates in the dust.

Lori made a particular impression on me that night. She’d clearly done a lot of homework about the arts since we met at Amy and Rob’s house, and studied them from a multitude of angles. She spoke not only of the arts and all the good they do, but also of the artists who make that work, and how we can make Chicago an affordable place for them to live, create and teach. She spoke of all the other jobs and sectors that benefit from the arts, she shared her thoughts on how the arts are an essential part of Chicago’s need minister to its people, solve its problems and thrive as the world class city it is.

And, with great political savvy and genuine sensitivity to the room, she ended with a brilliant quote by the late great Martha Lavey, the brilliant former artistic director of Steppenwolf Theatre, who was a close friend of Lori and her wife Amy’s.

I’ve cast my ballot for Lori Lightfoot. Not because I agree with every position she’s taken, not because I think she walks on water, not because there was something inherently awful about another candidate and certainly not because Toni Preckwinkle isn’t a worthy opponent who could do good things for Chicago.

No, it was because Lori impressed me by approaching the arts as a way to embrace an essential part of our humanity, and a force through which we can shape and improve the way we talk with each other, work collaboratively and solve problems with as much unity as possible.

I’m proud to live in a city where a once-sprawling field has been narrowed down to two capable and compelling competitors.

I’m appreciative that I got to know them and better understand them because of a life rooted in the arts.

Most of all, I'm gratified that the arts helped one candidate in particular reveal not just what she wants to do for our city, but how and why.

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