Kelly assumes new post as city’s Cultural Affairs czar

The city’s Dept. of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), of which the Chicago Film Office is a part, has a new cultural czar in Mark Kelly, who had spent 32 years at Columbia College.

Appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel last July, Kelly was confirmed as Commissioner Monday by the Chicago City Council. He had moved into DCASE’s Cultural Center offices Aug. 15, following the departure of Michelle T. Boone, who resigned this summer after five years to become Navy Pier’s program and civic engagement officer.

“Mark Kelly’s 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,” the mayor stated when making the Kelly appointment.

Kelly told the City Council at the approval hearing that his plans include updating Chicago’s Cultural Plan of 240 initiatives, bringing the arts to more neighborhoods and building upon the city’s historical and too-often overlooked musical roots.

“There is something special about Chicago,” Kelly said. “We are the birthplace of storefront theatre, modern architecture, improv, gospel, house music, the urban blues and more. It’s our responsibility to honor those contributions.”

Kelly was Columbia College’s VP/student success, the school’s longest standing and one of its most popular administrators. He was known as “Mr. Columbia” for being the face of its college-wide events.

An ardent advocate of public arts, he currently is the chairman of the Wabash Arts Corridor initiative to transform the South Loop into a hub for public art. He also served as artistic director of last year’s inaugural Halloween Gathering parade and festival along the lakefront and will reprise that role this year.

Michelle Boone, who succeeded the Cultural Department’s first and legendary Lois Weisberg, successfully and widely expanded and innovated arts programs across the city, reimaging revered cultural traditions, including the Taste of Chicago and Blues Fest, and brought many new experiences like the Architectural Biennial to the city.