Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lois Weisberg Leaves post as Cultural Affairs Commissioner

Lois Weisberg, the last remaining member of Mayor Richard M. Daley's origional cabinet is leaving her post.

An article from Greg H, from Chicago Business states:

Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lois Weisberg -- who has served as City
Hall's cultural czarina since the Harold Washington days -- has
submitted her resignation, effective Feb. 1.

She's not going quietly.

In an interview and a statement, Ms. Weisberg made it clear she
strongly opposes recent moves to charge admission to Taste of Chicago
and other downtown festivals, privatize festival operations and merge
her department with the Mayor's Office of Special Events.

And she's equally upset that, in her account, Mayor Richard M. Daley
didn't really seek her input on any of this.

"I am not on the same wavelength as these other people," Ms. Weisberg
said. "That's why I'm leaving. I felt bad that the mayor never asked,
never talked to me about how to fix Taste of Chicago. I don't believe
in privatization."

Ms. Weisberg, 85, came to City Hall in 1983, when Mr. Washington named
her head of the Mayor's Office of Special Events. The daughter of a
prominent family, who to a large degree had her own political base,
Ms. Weisberg apparently impressed. When Mr. Daley was elected in 1989,
he brought her along, making her head of the new Department of
Cultural Affairs.

An arts maven who, as a New Yorker profile once put it "seems to know
everybody," Ms. Weisberg was a founder of Friends of the Parks and led
the stunningly successful renovation of the old central public library
at Michigan and Washington into the city's Cultural Center, where she
kept her office.

As commissioner, she not only expanded and nurtured festivals but
created the Cows on Parade public art display of a few years ago,
which went viral worldwide. Her department helped program Millennium
as well as numerous other venues.

More recently, as reports came out that the festivals have lost money
in recent years, Mr. Daley ordered changes. The city already has ended
Venetian Night, the only firm bidding to run Taste and other fests
wants to charge a $20 admission fee, and the new city budget merges
the department and the special events office.

Ms. Weisberg says the latter won't work because the two city units
have different DNA: One belongs to the politicians, the other to the
fine-arts set.

Ms. Weisberg reminded me that Richard J. Daley's special events chief,
Col. Jack Riley, once famously turned down Time magazine when it
asked for tickets to an event honoring Queen Elizabeth of the United
Kingdom during her visit here. "He said, 'How many votes do they
have?' " she recalled.

More seriously, Ms. Weisberg said charging admission to the big
downtown festivals will change their very nature.

"The festivals have given the city an image of being a place where the
people of Chicago can be together and be uplifted, all the different
races and religions," she said. "You can't do that if it's not free."

Beyond that, she continued, there already is an admission fee of
sorts: a surcharge on Taste food tickets. Some city departments may be
charging too much for their services, she added, and either way, "I
looked at the festivals as a city expense, just like picking up

Ms. Weisberg says she's now going to work on writing a book -- "about
my experiences." If she's candid, it could be a good read.

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