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A shake-up at Department of Cultural Affairs–Michelle Boone exits

July 5th, 2016

Michelle Boone, commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), is stepping down and will be replaced by Mark Kelly, currently the vice president for student success at Columbia College.

Neither returned a call, but I hear Boone isn’t leaving the city scene just yet. Might Navy Pier be a good spot to land? We’ll see.

Boone was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011. Her exit follows the recent departures of David Spielfogel, Emanuel’s senior adviser and a close confidant, and Thomas Powers, commissioner of the Department of Water Management.

“For five years Michelle has worked tirelessly to expand and innovate arts across the city. She has successfully reimagined our most revered cultural traditions—including the Taste of Chicago and Blues Fest—and brought new experiences like the Architectural Biennial to our city. I can’t say enough about the work Michelle has done for Chicago, and while she’s pursuing another great opportunity she’ll always be part of our family,”  Emanuel said in a statement issued by his staff. “I’m excited to welcome Mark aboard a ship that’s steaming full-speed ahead. His deep experience in the arts and academics will allow us to continue building on our work to make Chicago a global destination for the arts and a great place to call home.”

Along with Blues Fest and Taste of Chicago–which was cut in half during her tenure–Boone led the city-wide effort to craft the Chicago Cultural Plan, which includes 240 initiatives to create cultural programs throughout the city.

The Great Chicago Fire Festival, which was billed as the “fiasco on the river,” also happened under her watch. The 2014 spectacle on the Chicago River was supposed to showcase houses bursting into flames. They failed to ignite and the event, that received funding from Boone’s department, flopped.

Boone saw better success in supporting the city’s first architecture biennial, which ran Oct. 1 through Jan. 3 and featured 120 architecture and design exhibits from 30 different countries. It drew a reported half a million visitors and raves from architecture lovers.

She worked with civic activist Jack Guthman on that project. A foundation headed by Guthman’s wife, Sandra Guthman, is the major funder of the Navy Pier redevelopment.

Boone also previously worked at the Joyce Foundation and oversaw the city’s Gallery 37 arts program.

Mark KellyKelly is a smart pick to replace Boone as he’s been involved in cultural work around the city for some time, most recently as chair of the Wabash Arts Corridor. That organization teams Columbia College with community, cultural and business groups to create art where there are empty storefronts and bland-looking parking lots.

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