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Five Chicago artists and artistic teams have been awarded $100,000 grants from DCASE.

Present Tense, 3-channel video installation, video still, 2019

Chicago announces Arts 77, a huge increase in arts funding, with $60 million for artists, concerts and new public art at O’Hare

In the biggest show of civic support for the arts in years, if not decades, City of Chicago officials are expected to announce Tuesday a major new initiative called Arts 77, drawing its name from the 77 Chicago neighborhoods. The plan, they claim, represents a new city investment of over $60 million to support local artists and organizations throughout the city.

“It’s unprecedented and it’s right for the times,” said Mark Kelly, the commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), in an interview Monday. “It means it is no longer ‘DCASE delivers the arts’ but the entire city government is now involved. It’s embedding the arts in the city. Think of this as a new Works Progress Administration project for the entire city.”

To illustrate what he said was a sea change in thinking, brought about by the pandemic, Kelly said that the past budget for public art in the City of Chicago has been a very modest $100,000 per year. Going forward, he said, the amount will increase $3 million a year over the next five years, with funds flowing from the city’s capital budget.

There will also be an additional $3.5 million in funding to acquire new public art for the new international terminal currently in planning for Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, designed to “celebrate the work of Chicagoland artists through large-scale commissions and acquisitions, and to provide international visitors a dynamic and welcoming first impression of our city.”

The city claimed that up to 30 Chicago-area artists will participate in this program, which it said will represent “the largest single acquisition of works by Chicago artists by the city in the last 30 years.”

The city claimed that up to 30 Chicago-area artists will participate in this program, which it said will represent “the largest single acquisition of works by Chicago artists by the city in the last 30 years.”

Arts 77 will be an overarching branding of multiple programs and initiatives, most of them new. In addition to the O’Hare project, other initiatives include the Neighborhood Access Program, the Chicago Band Roster, the Chicago Presents grant programs, a program called Culture in My Neighborhood (a $40 million collaboration by DCASE, the Chicago Park District, and Chicago Public Library), Individual Artists Program grants, Artist Response Program grants, and $18.5 million in other art and infrastructure investments.

The Neighborhood Access Program will offer $1 million in new grant funding in chunks ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. Chicago Presents will offer more small grants ($5,000 to $30,000) aimed at activating cultural programs (such as concerts) in Chicago neighborhoods (Kelly said the concerts could be either for-profit or nonprofit events). The Band Roster is a new database representing some 200 Chicago musicians who presumably could play such concerts.

The Culture in My Neighborhood program is a newly branded initiative designed to support cultural programming at the Chicago Cultural Center in Chicago’s Loop, the Chicago Park District neighborhood cultural centers, and the Chicago Public Library regional libraries — mostly through grants and commission opportunities for artists and organizations.

Mark Kelly, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, speaks in Grant Park in in 2019. Kelly helped announce the ambitious, new Arts 77 program to fund arts recovery in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

Notable for its size and scope and carefully designed to cover the whole city, the new initiative is separate from the $4.7 billion in relatively flexible federal money expected to flow to the City of Chicago in COVID-19 recovery funds from the Biden administration, although arts groups also are lobbying for an additional $25 million slice for the arts from that one-time-only pie. “Beyond all the loss and devastation the cultural sector has suffered,” said Claire Rice, executive director of Arts Alliance Illinois in an interview, “this sector will be a cultural part of the economic recovery. Rice also said that Chicago historically has lagged behind other major cities, such as New York, in city support for the arts. Certainly, New York officials have been more visible to date in highlighting the necessity for the recovery of Broadway and other arts sectors crucial to the local economy.

“We have felt the full throttle of the pandemic,” said Carlos Hernandez, the executive director and founder of the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance, in an interview. Hernandez is a member of the group, dubbed Enrich Chicago, lobbying for the piece of the coming federal funds.

City officials said that a determination as to the Biden recovery money has yet to be made, but they highlighted efforts they see as newly responsive and extensive, calling their Arts 77 “a new direction for Chicago’s cultural policy, in which the arts are embedded in initiatives and strategies across City government.”

“With this incredible program,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a prepared statement, “we will not only be able to revitalize this critical sector and provide support to our artists, creative workers and organizations, but also place the arts at the center of our city’s recovery efforts.”

As part of the Artist Response Program, announced in January, five Chicago artists and artistic teams have been awarded $100,000 grants from DCASE. Those moneys have flowed to Tonika Lewis Johnson; Santiago X; Kirsten Leenaars with Circles and Ciphers; Pilsen Housing Cooperative with Hector Duarte, Nicole Marroquin, and Gabriel Villa; and an artist team with Aquil Charlton, William Estrada, Andrés Lemus-Spont, and Marya Spont-Lemus. Other artists will be supported by $50,000 to $100,000 grants sent to other arts organizations and designated for “regranting” to artists. Those organizations were named as ConTextos, Folded Map Project/Englewood Arts Collective, Full Spectrum Features, Greater Southwest Development Corporation, Jazz Institute of Chicago, Kartemquin Films, and the National Museum of Mexican Art.

The announcement also included a promise of further programs in the near future, including advocacy and public awareness campaigns for the arts and film-production sectors, as well as additional recovery funds for arts organizations. It also heralded something called “We Will Chicago,” which it dubbed “the first citywide plan where artists will play a central role in creating public policy.” The idea, Kelly said, was to embed artists in the entire process by which the city engages with the public. As for the federal funds, Kelly said he “loved the advocacy that is out there” and said he recognized that even $60 million won’t solve the problems wrought by a pandemic that has closed venues, laid off artists and brought most of the cultural sector to its knees.

“I am confident,” he said, suggesting that Enrich Chicago has a high chance of success, “that the city will respond positively in its commitment to the arts.”

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.


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