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The plan to bring equity to Rockford's cultural landscape is taking shape

Resident giving feedback from group discussion.
Yvonne Boose
Resident giving feedback from group discussion.

Earlier this year, the city of Rockford brought the community together to give everyone the opportunity to take part in a Cultural Equity Plan. The progress results of this monthslong initiative were shared during a similar meeting on Wednesday Nov. 15.

The Rockford Area Arts Council hosted the first cultural plan meeting back in May. The organization hired Lord Cultural Resources to help with this journey. The purpose of the plan is to promote belonging in the city and to give everyone a voice when it comes to enhancing the city’s cultural landscape. Residents were invited to take a survey and participate in other meetings over these last several months.

“At the beginning of this plan, our consultants said you're going to get just as much out of this process as you are out of the plan,” said the executive director of the Arts Council, Mary McNamara Bernsten. “And I couldn't agree more. I think what we're finding is that there is a hunger for this interaction.”

Community members filled almost two dozen tables in a room at Rockford’s Veterans Memorial Hall for the most recent meeting. Rockford leaders including the Rockford Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director Yaniv Attar and Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara were mixed in with artists, advocates and other residents. They shared their notes on what opportunities were missed, what needed to be changed and how they could act as change agents for the equity plan.

Yvonne Boose

Bernsten said the voices of the normal players are good but it’s important to mix in the newbies.

“I do think what is so important about having the non-usual suspects present, is that they're going to bring such an important perspective,” she said. “If they're not plugged into the arts and culture community, necessarily, or you just attend things once in a while, you may not know that kind of underbelly struggle.”

Brian Harrington is a hip-hop artist. He goes by King Moosa. This was his first time attending one of these meetings. He said these gatherings give those who are normally under the radar a chance to speak up.

“There are issues that need to be heard. One that I spoke on today, which was like a transformative justice outlook on art,” he said, “and using art in the troubled communities with teaching the youth that this can be a tool, just as well as learning about anger management.”

The plan is currently in its third phase. This is where the group goes over the future arts plan and talks through the tactics for execution.

The results show that some strengths are Rockford’s public art, parks, and the city’s diversity. Weaknesses include economic challenges for artists, opportunities for youth art education and a need for a one stop informational portal.

Tim Griffith is a retired community worker. He said he moved to Rockford in 2021. He attended the first meeting. He said this one was better.

“A lot has come together,” he said. “But some of the main ideas are still popping up. It's number one on everybody's mind -- [a] central place to learn about events coming up.”

The final plan will be released next year but before that happens the public will receive a plan draft. This will give them the opportunity to comment.
A summary and a full report of the plan’s current findings can be found here.

Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.