New cultural affairs chief vows to emphasize city’s musical roots

SHARE New cultural affairs chief vows to emphasize city’s musical roots

Mark Kelly, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s choice to serve as commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, prepares to testify at his City Council confirmation hearing Monday. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Newly appointed Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Mark Kelly vowed Monday to update Chicago’s cultural plan, bring the arts to more neighborhoods and build upon the city’s historical and too often overlooked musical roots.

Kelly called artistry and creativity “as fundamental as the air we breathe” and “how we become more human.” He argued that the arts and culture “define the character of great cities” and that Chicago needs to do a better job emphasizing its musical strengths.

“There is something special about Chicago. We are the birthplace of storefront theater, modern architecture, footwork, improv, gospel music, house music, the urban blues and more,” Kelly told the City Council’s Committee on Special Events and Cultural Affairs during his confirmation hearing.

Calling house music one of Chicago’s “great contributions to the world,” Kelly said, “It’s our responsibility to honor those contributions.” He noted that he recently asked someone to identify the artist on the Muddy Waters mural and was astounded to get a blank stare.

“They don’t know who it is. Here is one of the greatest musical icons,” he said. “We have to know our legacy. We have to know what we created and be more proud of it. I hope to support that.”

The mere mention of house music was music to the ears of Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

“We need to bring the underground community above ground and help them get more exposure. We also need to have more entertainment venues as far as Latin music venues in Chicago, which we are missing,” Burnett said.

“If you go to New York, you can go into a jazz joint, a hip-hop place, all type of places all times of day and night . . . Most of the dancing and music that’s around this country originated in Chicago. And unfortunately, a lot of the stars — Common, Twista, all of those guys — ended up . . . leaving Chicago and going to New York or L.A. because we don’t have enough smaller venues for those guys to get into. What goes with them are the people who press records, press CD’s, the graphic guys. All of those guys leave and we’re losing a large economy of things that could be here in Chicago.”

Prior to his appointment, Kelly served as vice president for student success at Columbia College Chicago. He spent more than three decades overseeing “an immersive arts experience” for Columbia students.

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