CHICAGO (CBS) — Joan Small, a former deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and a renowned champion for the arts in Chicago, has died.
Small, formerly of Hyde Park, died on Wednesday, June 24, at her home in La Quinta, California. She was 78.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot called Small a friend and mentor.
“Joan was my friend, mentor and constant source of support. I love her dearly and I will miss her,” Mayor Lightfoot said in a news release. “She was a true Chicagoan to her core – loved the city, gloried in its beauty, and was clear eyed about its challenges. She was a great public servant, with a profound intellect and a lovely wit, and is beloved by many.”
Small began her career in 1964, as a caseworker at the Robert Taylor Homes with the Cook County Department of Public Aid. Five years later, she joined the administrative staff of Metropolitan Family Services – originally the United Charities of Chicago – where she played a major role in the development program.
“Joan said that an outgrowth of doing social work was her realization of the need for Black children to be able to see their faces reflected on the walls of institutions, such as the DuSable Museum of African American History, which inspired her to do volunteer work for the Museum,” the release said.
In 1987, Small was hired as the director of development for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, where she organized fundraising campaigns, put together marketing strategies, and established partnerships for art agencies and cultural institutions.
The following year, Small was appointed First Deputy Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. She served in that position for 16 years – overseeing such programs as the Chicago Sister Cities International Program, and serving as a department liaison to the Mayor’s office.
While serving as first deputy commissioner, Small recorded an oral history with The HistoryMakers. She talked about traveling to the cities of Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town soon after Nelson Mandela’s administration came into power in South Africa.
“I first met Joan when I worked at the City of Chicago as the Assistant Cable Administrator,” Julieanna Richardson, Founder and President of The HistoryMakers, said in the release. “She was the First Deputy Commissioner working alongside the iconic Lois Weisberg. Joan could handle her own with anyone…but she was always fair, and she opened doors and opportunities for others to follow. Her imprint was felt far and wide in Chicago’s arts and civic communities and she will be sorely missed. She was one of our HistoryMakers.”
Small was also active of several local and national nonprofits – including 12 years as director of Americans for the Arts, and a term as chair of the Leadership Advisory Committee of the Art Institute of Chicago.
After retiring from the Department of Cultural Affairs, Small continued on a mission to support cultural civic causes.
Small was born Sept. 12, 1941 to Amos and Ella Flemings. She grew up in the South Side’s Woodlawn and Chatham neighborhoods and graduated from Hirsch High School in 1959. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for three years and then transferred to Roosevelt University, where she received a bachelor’s in psychology and social work in 1964.
While attending Roosevelt, she married her husband, Lynn Small, in 1962. Their marriage lasted 57 years until Lynn Small, a marketing and advertising executive, died in 2019.
Memorial services are being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In lieu of flowers, donations are being accepted at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools for the Lynn (and Joan) A. Small Class of ’52 Memorial Scholarship.