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Global Voices, Local Action (Arts & Culture): Speaker Information

Amanda Carlson (presenter)
Senior Strategist, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, City of Chicago
Amanda Carlson is a Senior Strategist with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, working on cultural policy for the City of Chicago in collaboration with the city’s cultural sector. Before returning to Chicago from Los Angeles in 2022, she designed and led multi-year, participatory planning initiatives with the Los Angeles Public Library on the topics of safety and security, and with the City of West Hollywood to develop a community-based cultural plan. Concurrently, she served as the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the artist-led social enterprise Public Matters, where she worked on creative, community-driven projects at the intersection of street safety and transportation equity; access to green space; neighborhood narratives, displacement, and equitable development; tobacco control and prevention; and healthy food access. Before her time formally in the cultural sector, Amanda worked for public health and immigrant rights organizations. She holds a master’s degree in Human Geography Research from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Wellesley College.  

Commissioner Erin Harkey (panelist)
Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, City of Chicago
Erin Harkey is the Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) — appointed to the post by Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot in November 2021. She holds 20 years of experience working in the nonprofit and government sector helping individuals and communities succeed through the arts.

Harkey has served the City of Chicago since 2016 as Projects Administrator, then Deputy Commissioner for Programming, then First Deputy Commissioner and most recently as Acting Commissioner at DCASE, following the retirement of Mark Kelly. In her dual role as Senior Policy Advisor for Arts in Culture in the Mayor’s Office, she advised on cultural policy and arts strategy across all City departments and agencies. She previously managed public art programs at Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Arts Council for Long Beach. Harkey holds two master’s degrees in Public Art Administration and Urban Planning from the University of Southern California (USC) and a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Howard University.

Photo caption: DCASE Commissioner Erin Harkey at the Chicago Cultural Center. Photo by Patrick Pyszka/City of Chicago.

Christina Harris (emcee)
Director of Land Use & Planning, Metropolitan Planning Council 
As Director of Land Use and Planning for MPC, Christina focuses on the intersection of planning, development, land use and open space and considers how these broad issues impact other MPC programmatic areas. She provides leadership and support for river related efforts, including Our Great Rivers, with highlights from the initiative recently documented in an Achievements and Priorities report. MPC is also playing an active role in We Will Chicago, the first citywide plan since the 1960’s. An MPC-hosted stakeholder workshop series resulted in co-created recommendations that are helping to shape an inclusive planning process.

Prior to joining MPC, Christina practiced landscape architecture and urban planning at Midwest firms. She leverages her knowledge to help develop sustainable, pragmatic solutions for communities and cities. As a landscape architect, she worked on projects at a range of scales, from managing neighborhood plans to detail design for parks, with several of her projects winning awards from local chapters of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Christina received her master’s degree in landscape architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) and her bachelor’s degree from Princeton University with a concentration in anthropology and environmental studies. Christina currently serves on the Harvard GSD Alumni Council and was a 2020 Chicago Urban League Impact Fellow.

Laia Gasch (panelist)
Senior Advisor of Culture and Creative Industries, Mayor of London, United Kingdom; Director of Partnerships at World Cities Culture Forum

Originally from Barcelona, Laia lives in London for over 25 years. As Senior Advisor for Culture and Creative Industries to the Mayor of London she has positioned culture as a key driver for good growth. She devised and led the UK’s first Night Czar, the world’ first Creative Enterprise Zones and the London Borough of Culture. She was instrumental for the most pro-culture planning legislation, with policies for affordable workspace and protection of grassroots venues.  She is Director of Partnerships for the World Cities Culture Forum, a network of 40 global cities. Previously, she worked for the BBC, the London 2012 Olympic Games, Tate Modern and London International Festival of Theatre.

Claire Rice (moderator)
Executive Director, Arts Alliance Illinois (moderator)
Claire Rice is currently the Executive Director of Arts Alliance Illinois, a statewide service and advocacy organization that champions arts-supportive policies and funding opportunities to benefit all Illinois residents. Under her leadership, the Alliance recently received a nonprofit innovation award for their work managing the $7 million for Illinois Relief Fund, a public-private partnership between the State of Illinois, City of Chicago, private philanthropy, and grassroots donors supporting the arts community in response to COVID-19. Previously, she was the National Director of Sustain Arts at Harvard University, a project that equipped communities with meaningful data on arts and cultural activity. She has also served as the Director of Education at UMS, a 131-year-old performing arts presenter bringing renowned artists in dance, music, and theater to Ann Arbor, Michigan. There, Ms. Rice was the associate producer on a Grammy Award-winning live concert recording and produced a month-long residency with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She was selected as an author for the arts leadership book 20 Under 40, published in 2010.  From 1998-2003, she was a management consultant for Accenture, working with Federal and State government clients in Washington DC. Ms. Rice received her BA from The College of William and Mary, and her MPA from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.