Chicago’s Mainstream Art Coverage Reduced to Zero
On April 22nd the Chicago Tribune announced it was cutting 53 positions in its newsroom. And according to the Chicago Reader blog “News Bites” one of those let go is the Tribune‘s only art critic, Alan Artner. That’s leaves absolutely no one reporting on Chicago’s vibrant and massive art scene in our daily newspapers or other mainstream media.
I haven’t always agreed with Artner’s commentaries or criticisms, but it’s important for the Tribune to cover the art scene here in Chicago. Chicago has a massive visual arts community that is dynamic and active on all levels, from local apartment spaces to international exhibitions. The city of Chicago is also increasingly marketing itself as a center of culture, particularly linked to the international scene. This has been crucial in our Olympic bid. An indication of our internationalism is we have both the Cultural Center and Millennium Park currently featuring contemporary Chinese artists (it’s even notable that the dual timing was coincidental). And yet despite the city government’s growing emphasis on the arts and Chicago’s massive culture scene, Chicago’s newspapers have pulled away from culture coverage.
Ironically, the elimination of Artner was accompanied by this staff memo from Editor Gerould Kern: “Our thinking was driven by the Tribune’s goal to be the Chicago region’s top destination for news and information and grow especially in the digital space. . . [we must] cover the Chicago area better than anyone else across all of our media.” Despite the popularity and importance of visual art in Chicago, and in the minds of Chicago’s citizens, the Trib has effectively and completely withdrawn from visual arts reporting.
In an era when newspapers are struggling and folding all over the country and looking for ways to reinvent themselves, committing to more arts coverage rather than less seems an obvious and easy way to go. An increase in cultural reporting would be an easy way for a newspaper to gain a particular identity and voice. In addition to regular gallery reviews, there could be comprehensive looks at the city’s cultural programming finding crossover interests between institutions or disciplines. It would be an easy way to appeal to younger readers also, assuming there was a particular focus on emerging art and artists. An increased focus on the visual arts would facilitate a logical move into cyberspace also, as both easily accommodate images. The move to the web is something newspapers have voiced a desire for (even in the above memo from Kern) but seem confused on how to do it. Oddly Christopher Knight’s “Culture Monster” blog on the Los Angeles Times site is well done and seems popular, but was not followed here in Chicago, despite the fact that both papers are owned by the same parent corporation.
Chicago is really the latest casualty of arts coverage, though one may hope it could lead the way revitalizing cultural reporting. As Chicago reinvents itself as a culture capital it would only make sense that its media follow the play, but they haven’t and it’s disappointing to see Chicago’s mainstream arts coverage decline to nothing.