The view out of Lois Weisberg's office window is of the dazzling art installations at the new Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world's great museums. For Weis-berg, commissioner of cultural affairs in Chicago, the view is a constant reminder of how important the arts are to the city.
And for the past 20 years, Weisberg has dreamed up scores of ideas to cultivate and promote the arts in Chicago. Now, with the city facing a US$220 million budget deficit and civic arts money slowly drying up, Weisberg is trying out another new idea: an online auction on eBay.
Next month, the city will hold what Weisberg said is the first charitable eBay auction to be sponsored by an American city.
Proceeds from the "Great Chicago Fire Sale" (a reference to the city's worst calamity, 1871) will benefit some of the city's cultural programs, which are increasingly strained by a reduced budget.
Since August, the Department of Cultural Affairs has been collecting auction items from Chicago celebrities and sports figures, businesses, hotels,restaurants and other benefactors.
"I think selling the city on eBay could be a big deal," Weisberg said. "This may be the most creative thing we've ever done. I'm sure that if this catches on, other cities will want to do it, just as they did with the cows."
Five years ago, Weisberg unleashed a stampede of 300 life-size fiberglass cows, decorated by local artists, onto the city's streets for a summer.
The items include: an architectural drawing of the Millennium Park band shell, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, signed by Frank Gehry, who designed it; an original 1960s Playboy Bunny outfit [one fetched $14,340 last year at Christie's] and pieces of Chicago memorabilia.
SALE STARTS THURSDAY
The auction begins on Thursday and runs for two weeks. A preview of all of the 300-plus auction items, with full descriptions, is available on the city's own Web site (www.thegreatchicagofiresale.org,).
Randy Cohen, vice president for research at Americans for the Arts, an arts advocacy group based in Washington, said the budgets of many city arts agencies are also on a downswing.
For example, Los Angeles' art budget fell to US$9.6 million this year, from more than US$14 mil-lion in 2002.