Chicago's newly appointed Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events happens to be one of the city's most influential jazz advocates.
But Michelle Boone's impact extends far beyond the music she has championed in the job she's about to leave: senior program officer for the Joyce Foundation.
Though Boone commands a stellar reputation among arts professionals citywide, she knows she's about to take on the toughest job of her career.
"I'm not fooling myself into thinking this will be easy and lots of fun," says Boone, 49. "It's going to be tough. There's going to be a lot of work to do.
"Number one is kind of rebuilding the department. The reality is that there are these two massive departments that have been kind of thrown together," adds Boone.
She refers to Mayor Daley's recent, controversial merger of Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor's Office of Special Events (the latter produces the summertime music festivals), with some Cultural Affairs staffers shifted to the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture.
"So how do you bring some unity and some sense of a unified theme to (the) two camps?" asks Boone. "While they've been working together on some things, they've really been functioning independently, and they have very different cultures."
How well these factions cooperate will affect the quality of cultural life in Chicago, for the city presents hundreds of arts events, large and small, through the course of a year.
"I've got to wrap my mind around an enormous amount of programming that's being produced in both departments," says Boone.
Moreover, Boone realizes she'll need to form a unified vision for the non-profit arts in Chicago – and how city government can use its shrinking budget to promote it.
Those who have worked with Boone during her career in the arts believe she's up to the task.
"She knows the arts, she knows the artists, she's got an incisive mind, she's straightforward," says David Hawkanson, executive director of Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
"She is a collaborator – she believes hugely in institutions working together, artists working together, people working together," says Malik Gillani, founding executive director of the Silk Road Theatre Project.
"Michelle's greatest asset is her knowledge of how the arts are happening throughout the city, beyond the Loop," says Deepa Gupta, program officer of the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation.
"She's got a real understanding of neighborhood-based organizations and the role individual artists play. … She's going to be that bridge-builder. She's already active and visible on the scene, and it will be great to have her in this role.
"And that's not saying anything against Lois Weisberg," adds Gupta, referencing Boone's recently resigned predecessor. "But it's a different era now, and if Rahm Emanuel is serious about not having (cultural) competition between downtown and the neighborhoods, I think he picked exactly the right person."
Not that Boone expected to find herself in this critical post.
"I was probably as surprised as you are," says Boone, with characteristic directness.
Self-styled 'arts crusader'
Michelle Boone prepares for toughest job of her career as Chicago's cultural commissioner
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