1. How do you define the importance of arts and culture to the city of Chicago? And what do you see as the city’s role in funding the arts and fostering growth in the cultural economy?
A vibrant arts and cultural scene is key to Chicago’s economy and its place as an exciting global city. This atmosphere encourages tourism, employment and entrepreneurship, and attracts the professional workforce necessary to our vibrant economy. While downtown arts and cultural offerings are crucial, neighborhood and ethnic festivals of art, music and theater are also important and greatly contribute to our diverse city. These venues help define a sense of pride and place in our “city of neighborhoods,” and preserve the cultural legacy of the many immigrants that have comprised the rich fabric of Chicago. The city should use its investment in the arts in a balanced way, drawing people both downtown and to our neighborhoods, promoting access to the arts for all Chicagoans. The city should also take an active role in encouraging corporate and philanthropic investments into the arts.
As I learned years ago when I was executive director of Association House, a social service agency in Chicago, the arts feed the soul. Even as we struggle in this difficult economic environment, we must not undervalue the arts.
2. Where do you stand on the proposed promoters’ ordinance, which aims to increase the regulatory and insurance requirements on local event promoters?
This question calls for distinctions between large commercial events, the major nonprofit institutions, community festivals and small venues. It is reasonable to consider increased regulatory and insurance requirements for the promoters of huge, highly profitable mainstream productions. But I would not want to create more barriers to small promoters seeking to grow their businesses or to nonprofit and neighborhood-level arts efforts.
3. Where do you stand on legalizing cook-on-site food trucks, as many other cities have done?
Cook-on-site food trucks represent healthy competition and open up more entrepreneurship opportunities in a city in need of job creation. These food trucks could also be used to bring more food access—including nutritious options—to underserved neighborhoods. For years, I have supported the food vendors in Humboldt Park. And I have supported regulations to allow mobile food carts to operate while complying with all health and safety requirements.
4. Where do you stand on the merging of the Department of Cultural Affairs with the Mayor’s Office of Special Events?
I am fundamentally in favor of promoting government efficiency and considering where realignments could save the city money without inappropriately diminishing services. I would study whether such a merger is the best thing for the city. Regardless of the structure of departments, it is crucial that the city empower nonprofit arts and community-based organizations and not compete with them. Good coordination is in order and will help to maximize offerings, diversity and access to a range of Chicagoans, and it will promote the most efficient use of scarce public resources.
5. What was the last live local performance you attended? When? And what did you think of it?
I recently attended Jersey Boys, and I loved it! The music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons took me back to my early youth.
6. What was the last local cultural institution you visited? Are you a member of any cultural institutions?
Most recently, I visited both the Th!nkArt Salon in Wicker Park to see the Richard Hunt exhibit of drawings and sculpture and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen. I have a family pass to all of Chicago’s major museums, and I and my family, including my grandchildren, frequent them often.
7. What is your favorite local band? How about your favorite theater company? Restaurant? Artist? Comedian or other performer?
I love comedy, have been to Second City, and particularly enjoyed their Rod Blagojevich Superstar show. (I’m laughing out loud as I think about it!) I can’t say I have a favorite band, but I tend to enjoy attending the annual Puerto Rican Cuatro Festival musical performance put on by the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance, an organization I was proud to help support with funding when I served in the State Senate. I don’t have a favorite restaurant, but I love all kinds of food. Thai food especially comes to mind, as well as all kinds of seafood, and various Latin American cuisines, including Mexican, Cuban and my native Puerto Rican.
8. What will you do to bring the arts to underserved communities, as well as to children, around the city?
My education agenda includes promoting the arts in schools, ensuring that all Chicago Public School children receive arts education as a regular part of their curriculum. It is key to their academic success and to self-expression that is also crucial to their development, as I have witnessed in my own children. I am also a big fan of neighborhood festivals. I will do everything possible to retain them in the face of rising Park District fees and the cost of police security and city services that have been threatening the financial feasibility of these festivals. I will seek ways to catalyze, limit barriers to and publicize locally based performances and exhibits. I will also promote the availability of free arts education and activities in community centers and parks serving Chicago’s neediest children.
9. Do you see Lollapalooza as a boost for the local music scene or a challenge to local venues?
It is both. I believe an event like Lollapalooza taking place once a year is reasonable and contributes positively to Chicago’s cultural economy. But the high price of Lollapalooza and the fact that it takes public space out of use for its duration make it a model that should not be expanded upon. Also, when participating musicians’ contracts limit them from performing at other venues while they’re in town, local clubs and all of Chicago loses cultural opportunities.
10. Do you favor privatizing city festivals?
I am not necessarily opposed to limited privatization, but the recent privatization of parking meters reminds us that such decisions need to be entered into with great care and consideration. Both the residents and the city need to get a good deal. I would be concerned that privatized festivals may offer some financial benefits to the city, but would cost so much to attend that many Chicagoans would be shut out. As such, I would be opposed to admission fees for Taste of Chicago. We must not lose the diverse nature of festivals.
11. Where do you stand on allowing a casino within the city limits?
I am in strong opposition to video gambling because of the social costs associated with having such temptation within easy reach in every bar in Chicago. I don’t want to enable so many Chicagoans to so easily gamble away their paychecks. Additionally, I believe that the video gambling legislation that was passed at the state level is a bad deal for taxpayers; it won’t generate enough revenue. Nonetheless, I have called for an advisory referendum on video gambling because I think Chicago residents should debate the issue. I believe the voters would turn it down and the city council would follow the voters’ lead. I would prefer to generate revenue for the city through other means rather than a casino.
12. Would you support the sale of naming rights to Soldier Field or Wrigley Field? How about more advertising signage at Wrigley?
I believe that Wrigley Field has a very special heritage and nostalgia which attract visitors in a way that it might not if its name were changed. However, as it is privately owned, I leave the name issue to the owners. As for additional signage requests or any other changes that must be considered by the city council because of Wrigley Field’s historic landmark status, I feel strongly in allowing the neighborhood to have a say. I would follow the lead of the alderman and would expect that neighbors and rooftop owners would be part of the discussion. Changing the name of Soldier Field is a different matter because the stadium sits on a public site which honors our heroes, and a very complex deal already was put together in fairly recent Chicago history to accommodate the team and its needs within the context of the site. I believe the name should remain as it is.
13. Do you have a personal connection to the arts community (i.e., are you an artist yourself, or do you have friends/family in the arts community)? If so, what is it?
My 25-year old son, Esteban del Valle, of whom I am very proud, is an artist. He has a Master of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. His artistic pursuits are multi-faceted, including video, music, sketching and oil painting. He also participates in poetry slams. My son got his first exposure to the arts through arts and crafts activities like the ones we provided to neighborhood youth at Association House when I served there as executive director and at the Barreto Boys and Girls Club where I once worked. My son has won awards, and he recently exhibited at Art Chicago at the Merchandise Mart. His journeys in the art world have taken him all over the world, including places I’ve never seen. I would like all children to have such opportunities.
14. Should the number of available liquor licenses for bars and clubs be increased, reduced or stay about the same?
The issue is not necessarily the number, but the location. It is about land use, zoning and healthy neighborhoods. And I am committed to allowing neighborhoods to have a say in the matter. Certain blocks and neighborhoods may already be saturated or may simply not be appropriate locations for bars and clubs. Some areas may not have the capacity to keep out the negative influences that can be related to the presence of bars. But other neighborhoods can support a healthy mix of land uses and types of businesses, including bars and clubs, which can help prosper the neighborhood and the city’s fee and tax revenue base. Well-run places are fine. But when noise, violence or other problems are present, neighbors have a right to act on that.
15. Mayor Daley cites the Theater District as perhaps his most cherished cultural accomplishment. What cultural achievement would you hope to see as your most important legacy?
My vision and passion is to ensure that all children receive arts education as a regular part of their school curriculum. This would provide for a more well-rounded education for youth, help them experience greater success in school and/or identify healthy extracurricular activities to keep them positively engaged, and open up pathways for arts-related career opportunities. The arts help youth build self-esteem. I have watched youth who had been set aside flourish because of their participation in mural activities and other cultural programming. My own earliest fond memories are connected to my 5th grade participation in the musical “Oklahoma,” during which my teacher treated me as if I were an essential part of the production. Greater youth participation in the arts also would enhance the pipeline of local residents who grow up to participate in and enrich Chicago’s arts and culture community, like has happened with my son.