Oct 4, 2023 - Culture

Chicago warns that its arts scene is in peril

Illustration of a theater stage, with a dollar bill printed on the curtains.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Chicago's art scene is in crisis, according to a new report from the city.

Why it matters: Theater and performing arts add to the cultural experience of our world-class city and employ thousands of artists and creative professionals.

Driving the news: The report, commissioned by Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, examines how organizations like theater companies and museums fared during the pandemic and how they're recovering.

  • What they found: Dwindling ticket sales, increased costs and private donations that didn't keep up with inflation.

By the numbers: In 2022, performing arts audiences fell 60% from pre-pandemic levels.

  • At museums, visitors decreased by 14%.
  • Subscriptions for both arts companies and museums have dropped almost 30% over that time period.

Between the lines: Subscribers and members are a big way arts organizations generate revenue. Several high-profile theater companies that have relied on subscription models scaled back or shuttered from financial difficulties this year.

Zoom in: The drop in audience was just one area that resulted in less revenue. Educational program tuition and admission fees also fell, resulting in a 46% decrease in total revenues in 2022 from 2019 levels.

Yes, but: The report notes some growth, mostly for small to mid-size performing arts companies that have increased staff. Also, BIPOC organizations saw a rise in private donations.

What's next: The city is launching a marketing campaign to encourage more people to visit arts venues.

  • Also, The Bayless Family Foundation just announced its 2023 Stepping Stone Grant application, which will give $180,000 to two winners in December. The grant was paused during the pandemic and now is offering a 20% increase from previous years.
  • Applications will be accepted through Oct. 26.

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