Chicago’s future is tied to the revival of the arts

The events of the last 20 months have put us in the lead roles of a horror movie or a Greek tragedy. Act 1: A mysterious plague invades the country, fear and panic rage, and life as we know it almost comes to a halt. Act 2: Heroes arise and bring aid and relief, while others sow mistrust and deception. Act 3: The flowers start to bloom, we mourn the losses, but hope is in the air, and we come together again. . . we come together once more.

Only it’s not a script, and the final act continues to unfold.

The continuing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on arts and culture cannot be over-dramatized. While some stages, halls, galleries and museums have welcomed clients again, we still face a long road to recovery. The reopening of these places is indeed a much needed stimulus for a return to dynamism in the city center and beyond, and like others provide incredible examples of innovation and resilience in the arts and culture sector. , the reality is this: we are not well. Not yet.

In 2020, Art Newspaper reported that attendance at the world’s 100 most visited art museums fell 77%, from 230 million in 2019 to just 54 million, as museums around the world were forced to close. Most performing arts organizations only reopened in the fall of 2021, after being inactive for over a year. With health safety a top priority for guests and performers, attendance is far from pre-COVID levels. Earned income is falling and expenses are increasing. Many small organizations with tight spaces and those based in communities heavily affected by COVID remain closed and do not know when, or if, they can safely resume operations.

Government grant programs have been essential to the survival of the organization, and generous donors have supported creative not-for-profit and for-profit enterprises. This has been a vital resource, as donations to the arts fell 8.5% in 2020 as donors shifted their support to education, social services and the environment to record levels, according to a recent report. from Giving USA.

This period of uncertainty and limitation in the arts has hurt our city’s economy and shrunk its creative workforce, pushing workers either out of state or into alternative occupations entirely. Without continued investment in the arts, we risk losing even more young creative talent. The real devastation for artists and cultural organizations is obscured from the public, because throughout the pandemic, artists have continued to do what artists do: create, fabricate and inspire. The performances have been uploaded; world-class artists created in fields, on rooftops and in parking lots; museums have made collections virtually accessible; and arts educators have generated thousands of hours of engagement for learners at home.

It’s tempting to focus on the positives: incredible stories of hope and help. But then we risk taking for granted the creatives who have done so much for us throughout this pandemic. The truth is, the problems facing creatives today existed long before COVID-19. Despite the incredible value that the arts and culture sector brings to our city and state, the arts have always struggled with a lack of funding, insufficient investment in black and brown communities, poor working practices. and non-life wages. Creatives have long put the work together and lived paycheck after paycheck, often without the basics like health insurance or stable housing, while often juggling crushing student debt.

These problems may have been exacerbated by the pandemic, but they certainly were not caused by it. The arts have a long way to go in “getting back to work”. And so, we are sending the rallying cry to our fellow philanthropists, elected officials, and civic and corporate leaders to mobilize the resources needed to support Chicago’s creative sector. If you accept that creativity plays a vital and essential role in our city and state, we encourage you to subscribe to a dance / theater / music series; become a member of a museum; buy a painting from a local artist; order a poem or song as a gift; or support the cultural venue in your neighborhood with a donation. Your active participation and advocacy is essential for the restoration of the arts, and you can play a big role in changing the narrative and position us all as the creators of our own powerful ending.


Michelle T. Boone is Chair of the Arts Alliance Illinois Board of Directors and President of the Poetry Foundation. Claire Rice is the Executive Director of Arts Alliance Illinois.

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