This past weekend, I visited the great windy city of Chicago, Illinois. It wasn't my first time to Chicago, but I'd never been to the Art Institute of Chicago, which I would consider the best art museum I've been to (mainly because the MOMA in New York cost $45-some-odd to get in).
Now, my best man Colby (though I'm not getting married anytime soon) can attest to this, I'm no art nut. In fact, it's one of the few areas, I completely defer to others when discussed, though I can tell you it's not called the Sixteen Chapel! Regardless, I do enjoy art and I spent considerable time viewing the paintings and sculptures of the Impressionism period.
Degas, Duchamp, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley and, of course, Monet who basically started the Impressionism art movement (check out the painting Impression, Sunrise for a quick reference) were all among the greats with work in the Art Institute. In fact, some of Renoir's, Sisley's and Degas' most notable works are in Chicago.
Being there, in front of some of the most magnificent and well-recognized pieces of art in the world, was something I felt deep down. Something Kodak couldn't capture. So standing in those halls, walking from classic to classic, masterpiece to masterpiece ... I got to thinking about the city of Chicago. And about that city's leaders.
Sure, longtime Mayor Richard M. Daley (first elected in '89, still in office) has a mixed bag (good = CTA is better than Subway in New York; bad = poverty and crime in South Side) as the nation's third-largest city's top official, but you just can't minimalize his impact, along with that of his father Richard Daley, who held the same title from 1955-76 and helped get the Sears Tower built along with Chicago's O'Hare Airport, which is still one of the nicest airports in the country.
Still, Chicago has benefited largely from the creativity, consistency and, at times, carte blanche its City Hall leadership - led by Daley (and Daley) - have been allowed for close to four decades in office. In other words, the people of Chicago have entrusted the future of their city in elected leaders. No wonder even the people of South Side can't complain about their long-term prospects when a guy like Sen. Barack Obama is storming up the presidential prospect lists.
How Mayors and Monets connect, you ask? Simple. Without strong and capable city officials, namely Mayors, your city lacks vision and, subsequently, long term prospects of both commercial and industrial growth, tourism and trade, and culture. Look at Gavin Newsome in San Francisco or Luke Ravenstahl in Pittsburgh and tell me those city's aren't already reaping the benefits from sound, visionary mayoral leadership.
With vision, Monet's paintings represent more than a donation from a wealthy donor or corporate sponsor. Those paintings become symbols of pride and prestige, beauty and balance, grace and good will. Symbols become language; language helps form culture; culture encourages inspiration.
In a city like Chicago...excuse me ... in Chicago, you can't help but be inspired to achieve great things when you have leaders that are committed to both aesthetic and practical achievement. When building the world's tallest building is matched with the idea to build the nation's best railway system and when corporate sponsors are as likely to donate a million dollar painting as they are to pay a CEO a million dollars.
Someday, maybe I'll have a Monet or Renoir in my own home, but hopefully I'll be able to have great leadership and vision in my hometown or resident city. One day, you might catch me doing my best Monet, I mean Daley impression...