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Arts funding faces challenges in new landscape
by Matt Simonette
2020-05-13

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Equality Illinois invited local advocates to address the implications of the coronavirus pandemic for the state's arts community for a May 5 online discussion.

The talk was part of Equality Illinois' weekly town hall meetings series, which the organization has been holding over the duration of the state's shelter-in-place orders.

Speakers in the May 5 discussion expressed both grave concern but reserved optimism for Illinois arts professionals as socio-economic landscape undergoes a seismic shift.

"The livelihoods of so many creatives are in peril," said Marcia Festen, a member of the board of directors at 3Arts, which provides relief to artists and arts agencies. "I think we're going to lose a lot of really good organizations."

Ian Martin, artistic director for Haven Theatre, added, "The ground has fundamentally changed. ... It's very hard to see so many in the community struggling."

Festen said that, despite myriad and isolated shows of generosity, arts organizations have fallen "to the bottom of people's list of priorities," which was especially unfortunate since many of those organizations sponsored work addressing social justice issues.

But the participants discussed how artist communities have mobilized over the course of the pandemic, taking advantage of technology to showcase their work with online performances and exhibitions, for example.

"There is a lot of seed-planting," said Jared Lewis, co-founder of Pride South. "…I'm excited to see what kind of fruit those seeds will bring six or 12 months from now."

But while such activities might hold promise for stretching the boundaries of expression, few offered prospects of financial stability. Discussion participants were asked how organizations and community members with no connections to arts-funding could best support local artists. Their answer was straightforward: Give artists jobs.

"Art is everywhere," said Lewis, who said that organizations need creative work done all the time. " … It's about listing the jobs to be done, and looking at how to plug folks in."

Martin added, "Any opportunity that can be made to hire an artist—by all means, go for that."

Lewis opined that a vibrant arts scene can play a key role as the community eventually tries to heal from both a medical disaster and the socio-economic wreckage in its wake.

"Art is centered in everything we do, in [both] a formal and informal economy," he said.


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