|Photo by Patricia Martin|
It was the last Saturday evening of the summer. A breeze off the lake cooled the crowd gathered in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion to bid farewell to the summer. A former dancer turned politician, Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced the Chicago Dancing Festival. He radiated pride as he welcomed his electorate to a night of world-class dance where all the seats were cheap seats…free, in fact.
I jostled my way to the front to get this snap. Noting my presence, Emanuel turned and made eye contact with my camera lens, smiling serenely. For a guy noted for his intensity, it was a subtly commanding gesture.
Pundits wonder whether Emanuel can fill the shoes of the passionate, straight-talking Mayor Daley. Time will tell. But on one account, he’s already delivering in spades–he IS the brand. Hard-working, hard-charging and wielding a reliable contempt for phonies, Rahm embodies Chicago’s brand.
Civic marketing is helping cities tap the economic benefits of expressing a brand identity. Art and technology are key assets in that equation, as I discovered while undertaking an ethnographic study of Houston’s creative economy. In an age of social media and 24/7 news cycles, big cities need big personalities to break through the clutter.