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Chicago's Cultural Plan: Get To NY or LA ASAP

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Chicago's Cultural Plan: Get To NY or LA ASAP

Cindy Barrymore

Dennis Farina and Terrence Howard

Ward Room Blogger Edward McClelland often uses this space for satire. This is one of those times. McClelland did not actually reach the stars referred to in this column.

The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events is developing a 2012 Cultural Plan for Chicago, and it wants your input.

“The 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan will be the centerpiece to continue to elevate the City as a global destination for creativity, innovation and excellence in the arts,” according to the department’s website.

Ward Room wants to help. So we called some of Chicago’s most creative, innovative, excellent artists, and asked for their advice.

First, we reached Dennis Farina.

After an 18-year career as a Chicago police officer, Farina starred in a popular revival of Bleacher Bums at the Organic Theater. His currently has a role as a gangster in HBO’s horse-racing series Luck. When we got Farina on the phone, he was sitting by his pool in Los Angeles.

“Chicago has a great cultural resources,” Farina said. “For instance, it’s where I learned to speak in a Chicago accent. That’s made me very valuable to Hollywood producers who are looking to give a character a gritty, urban vibe.”

What advice does Farina have for Chicago actors?

“Get an agent who can get you a Hollywood film deal. Look, I loved doing Bleacher Bums, but I wouldn’t even be able to pay my hairstylist if I were still doing storefront theater in Chicago. You gotta move out of the bush leagues eventually.”

Then we called Kanye West, who grew up on the South Side and attended Chicago State University, where his mother was a professor. West recently rapped about Chicago on the song, “Murder to Excellence”:

    I feel the pain in my city wherever I go
    314 soldiers died
    509 died in Chicago

It was an international call, because West recently moved to London to pursue a career in fashion design.

“I started out in Chicago producing an album for a rapper named Grav,” West explained, when we asked him about opportunities for artists here. “That got Jay-Z’s attention, and he brought me out to New York to produce for Roc-A-Fella Records. So, as an artist, Chicago provided me with the opportunity to get the hell out of Chicago. I don’t think you can say that about Milwaukee or Indianapolis. Jay-Z wouldn’t have noticed a rapper from there.”

Finally, we got ahold of Gary Sinise, a Blue Island native, and one of the founders of the Steppenwolf Theatre. We reached Sinise in Manhattan, on the set of his hit television show, CSI:NY.

“Steppenwolf!” he said, when we asked about the company that moved from a storefront to a lavish theater in Lincoln Park. “You know what we secretly called it? Stepping Stone. The best thing that ever happened to us was when Malkovich and I debuted Sam Shepard’s True West, then took the production off-Broadway. We were made guys after that, man. Next thing you know, John got an Oscar nomination for Places In the Heart. Then, ten years later, I got an Oscar nomination for Forrest Gump. And look at all the TV work Laurie Metcalf has done. You can’t deny that Steppenwolf is a great Chicago success story.”

At post time, Jennifer Hudson, Tina Fey, Common, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, James Belushi and Hugh Hefner could not be reached for comment.  

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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