Regular readers of this column know about the long battle between local attorney Scott Hodes and the city over management of its public art program. For years Hodes, a founder of Lawyers for the Creative Arts, has been wrangling with the program, which spends public funds on public art. Among other things, Hodes has complained about the fund’s financial management and about public disclosure of its activities. Hodes’s last shot across the city’s bow was last fall, when he charged it with failing to carry out the most recent settlement reached in court. Now the city has fired back–with an attack on Hodes’s motives.
In 1999 Hodes challenged the financial management and record keeping for the program, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs that gets 1.33 percent of the cost of any new public building to spend on public art. That suit was settled when the city agreed to publish an annual public art financial report. Four years later Hodes sued again, charging, among other things, that the program wasn’t adhering to requirements of the Open Meetings Act. That suit was settled a year ago, but then Hodes was back in court again last fall. He charged that the city had failed to live up to the settlement on numerous counts, including the way the city gathered applications for commissions–through a registry of thousands of artists’ slides submitted from around the world.
The city not only denies that it has failed to uphold the agreement, it has filed counterclaims charging Hodes with fraud. It asserts that Hodes was operating in bad faith, fraudulently inducing the settlement while “he intended all along to bring a lawsuit . . . challenging the substantive way in which the city selects public art, including continued use of the slide registry.” It also accuses Hodes of filing the suit as a “springboard for generating publicity for himself and his law firm” while “casting the public art program in an unfavorable light.” Jennifer Hoyle, a spokesperson for the city’s legal department, says Hodes “came back with a lawsuit claiming we violated the settlement by not complying with terms that aren’t in the settlement agreement to begin with. We felt we had to call him on that. We believe he’s gone too far.” The city is asking for unspecified damages and wants last year’s settlement thrown out.
Hodes is represented by Robert S. Atkins and Jay Stewart of the Better Government Association. Atkins argues the personal attack on Hodes is unusual and falsely maligns him. “To suggest that this is a frivolous lawsuit and was done simply to create favorable publicity for Mr. Hodes and his law firm is irresponsible and outrageous,” he says. Last week Hodes filed a response arguing that the city’s countercharges are unsupported and asking that they be dismissed; a hearing’s scheduled for June 8.
Is the process fair? Last year’s settlement specified that the city must post upcoming commissions of more than $10,000 on its Web site, along with the selection procedure and physical parameters for each, and clear guidelines explaining what artists needed to do to be considered. Hodes argues that submitting your slides to be considered alongside those of thousands of others for any potential work isn’t the same as applying for a specific commission. Atkins says, “The artists have no way of knowing what’s going on and how they can apply for a project. The city says the slide registry is a form of open competition, and we say absolutely not. With thousands of slides, you’re leaving it up to the staff to determine.”
This week the public art program Web site listed five confirmed construction projects in “initial stages of artist selection,” with art budgets ranging from $27,000 to $104,000. The posting says the public art advisory panel will review slides of work by artists recommended by its own members as well as by artists “who have asked to be considered for the project.” It doesn’t say how artists might ask to be considered, and provides no specific information about the commissions except, in two cases, the overall square footage of the buildings.
Indiana real estate developer Cari Shein is backing a monthlong run of Imagine Tap! at the Harris Theater beginning July 11. Shein is producing the original dance review with partners Aaron Tolson and Derick K. Grant. The show will feature 18 dancers, eight singers, a nine-piece band, and mostly original music. Shein worked out a sublease with the city, which rents the Harris for the summer months, and says the show’s budget is “over a million.” She has her eyes set on Broadway or Vegas next. . . . Construction delays on the Hyde Park Art Center didn’t stand in the way of the opening last weekend. The 32,000-square-foot former printing plant is owned by the University of Chicago, which has made it available rent free for 25 years with two five-year renewable options. The deal is part of the university’s own community outreach efforts and perhaps its secret desire to be a little more like those artsy schools in the Loop. . . . Ina Marlowe has handed off the job of artistic director at Organic Theater to Northern Illinois University prof Alex Gelman, who says he’s working on rebuilding the board and staff and making plans to bring the Organic back to Chicago. Marlowe’s launching the Library Theater this weekend in a 60-seat space at the Feltre School, 22 W. Erie. She’s directing two Tennessee Williams one-acts in a “salon environment” that’ll include postshow discussion. Feltre cofounder Lawrence Lenza is the new company’s executive director.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Laura Park.