Aldermen signed off Monday on a broader scope for Bloomington’s Cultural Commission—a change that could help bring public art and other cultural programs to new parts of the city.
Bloomington’s Cultural District Commission will become just the “Cultural Commission.” Its membership will shrink from 14 to 11 but its geographic focus will grow from downtown’s Cultural District to citywide. Its new duties include integrating the “arts, in all their diversity into the fabric of civic life.” The Bloomington City Council approved the changes unanimously.
The commission has been around in some form since 2000, providing guidance on the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts area since its 2006 opening. But as Alderman Jamie Mathy pointed out Monday, the city never established a legal Cultural District surrounding the BCPA, leaving it an informal moniker.
Monday’s changes trace back to discussions started 18 months ago about the purpose of the Cultural District and its commission, said Mathy. There have also been questions about the lack of public art on the west side (beyond Miller Park Zoo) and on the east side (beyond Ewing Cultural Center), he said.
“We felt like the artists and the various cultural groups that already exist in Bloomington needed a champion to make sure their voices were heard,” said Mathy, who also serves on the Cultural Commission. “That doesn’t mean the city is going to buy all the public art or make things. But we can help fundraise. We can help put focus on and attention on the organizations that already exist.”
There are already several significant cultural attractions outside of downtown, including the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, said Bob Mahrt, Bloomington’s director of community development.
“The Cultural District may be like a misnomer. What you’re looking at is the concept of a physical structure versus a community-development approach to arts, culture, and special events programming for the community,” Mahrt told aldermen.
Mathy said one of the first Cultural Commission priorities should be to legally establish a cultural district in and around downtown. That would allow the city to apply for state and federal grants, something it can’t do right now because its cultural district doesn’t technically exist, Mathy said.
The Cultural Commission’s new focus could mean there are multiple “cultural centers,” districts, or subdistricts created across the city, not just one around the BCPA. An area like Front Street—with Anju Above, 8 Bit arcade bar, and Jazz UpFront—could be some sort of designated cultural space, Mahrt said.
“That is becoming a place where people want to congregate. Those are opportunities for us to do that branding of a specific area that will draw more people in through marketing,” Mahrt said.
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