Advocacy Articles

October 29, 2014 - 10:44am PDT

Business and Arts Education in Chicago: A Perfect Partnership

Steven Crown, general partner of Henry Crown & Co. and a trustee of the Art Institute, is leading a $38 million fundraising campaign to beef up arts programming in Chicago Public Schools. It's the latest public-private partnership initiated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The Campaign for Creative Schools will fuel arts-education funding in public schools for the next four years.

“My family feels that it's important to support the educational system in Chicago and to help the Chicago Public Schools system continue to improve,” Mr. Crown told me. “We've been involved in education for a long time and believe it's important for arts education to be an integral part of every student's core curriculum.”

Mr. Crown and a group of Chicago business executives and civic leaders already have raised $11 million in a quiet phase of the effort. They went public this week.

The project came about after the Chicago Cultural Plan was released in 2012. Mr. Emanuel and arts and education leaders were faced with an overwhelming response from parents who spoke out at public meetings on the Cultural Plan.

“The vast majority said they wanted more arts in the schools,” said Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale. “So given the strains on the system, we came up with the idea of raising that money as a transition or bridge for our budgets from last year's base to the base we want to have in 2018.” He says by then, CPS will be able to find the $15 million it will take to fund arts programming each year.

CPS already has teachers in place, but extra funding is needed for programming and supplies. Some $8 million of the private funding will be used to expand and update arts curriculum and to incorporate an assessment system to track student learning in the arts. Another $27 million will go toward materials and supplies for students and teachers — everything from musical instruments to cameras to scripts. And $3 million will go toward running the program through a nonprofit group called Ingenuity. It was formed to address issues related to arts in education.

The Creative Schools Campaign also is bringing in cultural institutions to work on programming and leaders from the arts community, including Theaster Gates, director for arts and public life at the University of Chicago; Renee Fleming, soprano and creative consultant at Lyric Opera; Yo-Yo Ma, cellist and creative consultant at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and Damian Woetzel, a director at the Aspen Institute and a former principal dancer for the New York City Ballet.

The project is right in the sweet spot for many Chicago philanthropists who are interested in the arts and education.

Mr. Crown and his wife, Nancy Crown, are co-chairs of the fundraising campaign along with William Blair Chairman Emeritus Ned Jannotta and William Blair partner Richard Kiphart and his wife, Susan.

Organizers aren't releasing the amount of individual gifts, but I hear there are at least seven seven-figure donations. Committed donors include Reyes Holdings Chairman Chris Reyes and his wife, Anne; former Exelon Corp. CEO John Rowe and his wife, Jeanne; Wintrust Commercial Bank Managing Director Carlos Cardenas; Madison Dearborn Partners Managing Director Michael Cole and his wife, Elizabeth; and numerous other notable names, foundations and businesses. World Business Chicago also is among the donors.

The arts fundraising campaign is similar to another public-private fundraising campaign started last year to curb violence. That project, called Get In Chicago, had a goal of raising $50 million to fund programs that will get young people off the streets.

-- Crain's Chicago Business