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Mayor Lightfoot and Gov. Pritzker announce Arts for Illinois relief initiative

The fund has already raised about $4 million from the public and private sector, and is a partnership between the city and the state, along with the local philanthropic community.

Hundreds of local residents, tourists and jazz enthusiasts gather at Millennium Park Labor Day weekend each year to enjoy the largest free jazz festival in the world
The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events has contributed $1 million to the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund.
Patrick L. Pyszka/City of Chicago

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday announced a new relief program to provide financial assistance to the city’s creative scene and cultural organizations impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Arts for Illinois Relief Fund, which has raised about $4 million from the public and private sector, is a partnership between the city and the state, along with the local philanthropic community.

Through the relief fund, the city’s creatives — stage and production members and part-time cultural workers — can apply for one-time grants of $1,500 distributed by 3Arts, an organization that supports artists of color, disabled artists and women artists. Grants will be awarded through a lottery system and will be disseminated quickly, according to the official announcement.

Nonprofit arts and cultural organizations of any size will be able to apply for relief through the Arts Work Fund. Based on financial need, organizations will be awarded grants from $6,000 to $30,000.

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) has contributed $1 million to the relief effort. Local charitable organizations such as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Field Foundation and the Walder Foundation, have also made donations.

Fundraising efforts will be co-chaired by Illinois first lady M.K. Pritzker and Chicago first lady Amy Eshleman.

“Art has always been of incredible importance to me and to my family,” Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 statewide press conference on Wednesday. “But of course so many of the usual ways of enjoying art together have had to be put on pause, and tragically, our creative communities have felt the financial hardship. [When] M.K., who has always put others front of mind in any hardship, told me that she had an idea to support art and artists in the fight against COVID-19, I was really excited to see what she would come up with. Honestly, she’s blown me away.”

The initiative has also launched artsforillinois.org, a website showcasing the work of Illinois creatives — artists, performers, singers, poets, painters and writers as well as dance and theater companies and museums — available for free viewing to the public.

“Artists live in relationship to their audience,” said DCASE commissioner Mark Kelly. “And for the audience to have disappeared in that visceral way of real life, it’s pretty shocking. And then on top of that, is just the economic devastation of lost jobs and lost income. In Chicago, without our music clubs, our theaters, our dance stages, without our films, poets, and painters, we’re not the great city that we live in every day.”

The financial impact of the pandemic on Illinois’ arts/creative community is staggering. According to survey by Arts Alliance Illinois, organizations closed under a statewide mandate are poised to lose more than $84 million in revenue; more than 24,124 individual events or performances have been canceled or postponed. A total of 3,563 full-time and 13,144 part-time/contract jobs have been impacted.

“This fund is so deeply appreciated,” said Amanda Williams, a Chicago-based visual artist who also spoke at Pritzker’s press conference on Wednesday. “To my fellow artists, I speak to you now. My hope is that this emergency fund can help you keep your lights on, or bridge you until the next cell phone bill is due, or to put food on your table. This is a crisis, and we understand the severity, but our hope is that this provides some light; some beacon of hope.”

Anyone who is interested in making a donation through the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund can visit www.artsforillinois.org.