CHICAGO — The Expo Chicago art fair plans to expand to a full week, involving a number of the city's major cultural institutions and having the full blessing of city government.
Calling it an "outgrowth" of the "extraordinary first year," Expo Chicago President and Director Tony Karman announced plans Tuesday to hold Expo Art Week in Chicago from Sept. 16-22.
"This is just the beginning," Karman said. "We're opening our arms to all of what Chicago has to offer."
With the full support of the new Choose Chicago tourism agency, as well as the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Karman sees Expo Chicago: the International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art — to be held Sept. 19-22 at Navy Pier — as the "centerpiece event" of a festival "highlighting what the great assets of our city are."
At an event Tuesday at the Chicago Cultural Center, Karman and other officials said the festival will involve the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, as well as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, theater companies such as Steppenwolf and the Goodman, and top Chicago restaurants.
"We're particularly thrilled that we're going to expand Art Expo, and we're going to grow it, and it's going to continue to prosper," Deputy Mayor Steve Koch said. He said plans are to "integrate it into whatever else is happening in the city."
"We're not asking for financial support," Karman said, but he made clear he was drawing on his extensive contacts within the city's cultural resources as a "huge facilitator."
He previously served as assistant director of the Department of Cultural Affairs and was the director of Art Chicago at the Merchandise Mart. According to state financial filings, he contributed $200 to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's campaign two years ago.
His big-budget, high-end art fair plan is not embraced universally across the Chicago art scene.
"Art fairs are the new snake oil," said Tony Fitzpatrick, an artist known for his work capturing the city in all its brawny glory. "There was a time when they were run by art men rather than [public relations] men."
Fitzpatrick called the weeklong festival a "money daisy chain" involving the city's major cultural institutions.
"Artists are really an afterthought in the big equation," he said. "We may as well be busboys."
Cultural affairs Commissioner Michelle T. Boone said she is "absolutely thrilled to be a part of the week of activity," adding the festival aligns with many of the initiatives in the Cultural Plan released last year, including the involvement of neighborhood groups.
Karman called the festival a "work in progress," emphasizing that it's "going to be shaped in the next few months" and that he intends to involve neighborhood groups and clubs such as the Hideout and the Green Mill.
"The majors are important [as are] the minors and the emerging organizations in Chicago," Karman said. "That's the real opportunity here."
"Involving the whole city is, I think, a really good idea," Fitzpatrick said.