Aug 4, 2023 - Culture

Inside Mayor Brandon Johnson's plan for Chicago arts and culture

Illustration of a conference table in the shape of a paint palette, surrounded by chairs.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

In the final installment of our series dissecting Mayor Brandon Johnson's transition report to better understand the "blueprint" for Chicago's future, we explore arts and culture.

Why it matters: Local theaters and smaller arts organizations are struggling, cutting back productions and even shutting down shops.

The scope: The robust section highlights the need not just for arts and culture to be represented throughout city government, but also for artists to be paid living wages and for all Chicagoans to have access to arts programming.

Committee members: Poet Leslé Honoré, artist Monica Trinidad and producer Abby Pucker co-chair the 28-person group.

The big goal: Fully integrate arts and culture programs and strategies into all areas of city government.

Intriguing recommendations: Keep the $10 million in grant funding for DCASE that former Mayor Lori Lightfoot had siphoned from the Corporate Fund.

Reality check: Arts funding was dramatically increased toward the end of the Lightfoot administration to help art organizations cope with pandemic losses.

More intriguing recommendations: Look into creating a deputy mayor of arts, culture and heritage.

  • Create a deputy commissioner of nighttime business, namely to give nightclubs, theaters and other music venues a larger voice.
  • Reevaluate the status of public monuments in Chicago.

Reality check: Lightfoot had an active committee on public monuments, but she didn't follow all of their recommendations. The city just received a huge grant for more monuments.

Goal 2: Ensure that all Chicagoans have equitable access to robust arts and culture education at every stage of their lives.

Intriguing recommendations: Invest in arts programs across all CPS schools, especially in marginalized communities.

Between the lines: The committee suggests that the mayor implement new taxes to pay for such programs.

More intriguing recommendations: Revisiting the Cultural Bill of Rights, expanding it to promise equitable pay, health care, and affordable housing for artists.

  • Streamlining and simplifying the grant process at DCASE.

The bottom line: It's a bold plan with ways to maintain and create new revenue streams to pay for arts and culture for all Chicagoans. Hard to argue with that.

This story is part of a series breaking down key topics in Mayor Brandon Johnson's transition report, including immigration, transportation, public safety and environmental justice.

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