The feasibility of creating a countywide arts council will be examined over the next nine months through an intensive study led by the Wheaton-based DuPage Community Foundation.
The foundation and College of DuPage sponsored two information-gathering meetings with representatives from nearly 40 area arts organizations in 2011 and 2012 to learn more about the state of the arts in DuPage County, said Barb Szczepaniak, director of programs for the foundation.
It was then that the foundation saw there may be a desire to form a countywide arts organization.
"The information we learned from them is they do want to work together and they're just not aware of all the resources available in the community," Szczpaniak said.
Some other suggestions brought up at the meetings included having a shared calendar of events and finding ways to market to new audiences.
Szczpaniak said the foundation also decided to pursue the study -- supported by its JCS Fund -- because while the arts are abundant in Chicago, they are increasingly spreading to the suburbs.
"People in DuPage are starting to realize we have some fabulous arts programs right here in our community and they don't have to go to the city," she said.
Additionally, organizers hope the study will show how money could best be spent to bring the arts to more people.
"We're one of the few foundations in DuPage County that fund the arts," Szczpaniak said. "I'm sure there's other people out there that would be interested in supporting the arts, but they just don't know where that funding would be most impactful."
Cheryl Yuen, a consultant in the area of arts, will lead the study with the help of the foundation's arts intern, Sarah Daly. She will examine a large range of art mediums, including performing, visual and literary arts, interdisciplinary arts and arts education.
"Hopefully this will help them feel more united as a group and supportive of each other so all the residents in DuPage can benefit," Yuen said.
The study will be a multiphase effort starting with a look at existing statistics about the county, Yuen said. An inventory of the cultural and arts organizations in the area will then be created, including information about who is involved with them and what they're doing.
"It's trying to get an overall sense of what is happening in the county and who is participating and how best could those entities be supported so that perhaps more people could participate and more people could know about what's going on," she said.
In addition, the study will examine what types of art programs are happening in local schools or through social service organizations.
Another phase of the study includes focus groups, which will likely bring together people with similar interests, such as artists, arts educators and government and business leaders. Individual interviews with a variety of yet-to-be identified stakeholders will also be conducted.
Yuen has done similar studies in other areas of Illinois, including the Champaign and Urbana area and Peoria. Stakeholders determined from her data that they needed to change what they were doing, and shortly after both studies were complete new arts councils were formed, she said.
"In some sense, I can bring fresh eyes and I can listen and see what is happening," she said. The final ideas, however, have to "grow out of what people in the county want."
"If there doesn't really seem to be energy, then I think that's as valuable to find out than actually going ahead and doing it," she said. "You have to have a need. You have to have people who want to step forward."
A document with recommendations regarding a countywide council is expected to be ready in the first few months of next year. Yuen anticipates it will be reviewed by a group of about 15 to 20 individuals who represent different sectors of society who will then decide if there is enough evidence that a countywide arts council would be valuable to the community.
If so, the group will have to determine what its mission should be, what direction it should go in and who would be responsible for bringing it to life.
"We really want to be able to track the individuals that are interested in the efforts so we can get them involved," Yuen said.
Anyone interested in participating or receiving information should contact the foundation's arts intern at firstname.lastname@example.org or (630) 665-5556.