COVID-19 Closures Pause Chicago’s 2019/20 Cultural Season

Virtually all of Chicago’s stages, concert halls and museums went dark almost simultaneously last week when Governor Jim Pritzker announced state-wide closures of non-essential businesses in an effort to stem the tide of COVID-19 infection rates in Illinois. Programming for the 2019-2020 cultural season came to a screeching halt and audiences typically accustomed to an ocean of wildly diverse performance opportunities found themselves in isolation with mandatory stay-at-home orders from the state.

Yesterday, Governor Pritzker announced that his initial order, originally intended to expire March 31, would be extended through April 30. With much of their early spring programming impacted by the closures, cultural institutions throughout Chicagoland have begun to respond by taking their programming online to keep audiences connected and engaged.

The Auditorium Theatre announced an online campaign called “Keeping Up with the Aud” that offers live streaming of performances from one of the talented singers, dancers and musicians from the Auditorium Theatre community. Streaming Sundays at 6 p.m. (CDT) during the closures, the performances are tagged on Facebook Live with the hashtag #StreamingSundays.

Steppenwolf Theatre recently announced Half Hour: A Steppenwolf Theatre Podcast, ensemble member hosted, interview-style podcast that takes audiences behind the scenes for candid, intimate, one-on-one conversations between members of the nation’s premiere ensemble theater.

Amid its own closure and cancellation of concerts through early May, Symphony Center has announced a variety of online programming, including broadcasts of prior CSO concerts, as the Symphony Association noted “to help keep music in patrons’ lives. “ This programming can be found both on CSO Radio and the CSO’s YouTube channel.

Other venues like The Second City are offering a sprawling variety of online programming that engage viewers and listeners from their homes while the state observes COVID-19 stay-at-home measures for a minimum of 30 days. Lyric Opera announced yesterday that the balance of productions from their 2019-2020 season have been successfully moved to upcoming seasons.

One potentially devastating impact to the arts and culture community itself in Chicago is the economic impact on the venues, companies and artists themselves. Just recently Congress passed a measure to address to the broader economic impact of closures throughout the country with a historic $2 trillion economic package. The first of what is anticipated to be a multi-pronged legislative slate of packages, this legislation provides for stimulus funds for individuals who have lost employment due to the COVID-19 outbreak and small businesses impacted by closures. The package reportedly includes $100 million allocated to the arts, $25 million of which has been allocated to Kennedy Center alone. Yet the benefit to the broader arts and culture community remains unclear.

During his announcement yesterday, Governor Pritzker also announced the launch of Arts for Illinois— a collaboration between the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, and members of the philanthropic community to support the statewide creative sector during the COVID-19 crisis.

The new platform will raise money for and provide direct relief to the creative professionals and cultural organizations that have been impacted by the shutdown throughout Illinois. It will also serve as an online community where creatives share their work, connecting with the public while at home during these challenging times.

Through the newly launched Arts for Illinois Relief Fund, individual artists and artisans – including stage and production members and part-time cultural workers – experiencing an urgent need are able to apply for one-time grants of $1,500 distributed by 3Arts (3arts.org). Grants will be awarded through a lottery system and will be disseminated quickly. Additionally, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations of any size will be able to apply for relief through the Arts Work Fund (artsworkfund.org). Based on their demonstrated financial need, organizations will be awarded grants from $6,000 – $30,000. More information about application guidelines and eligibility can be found online at artsforillinois.org.

Undoubtedly, these measures mark just the beginning of a cogent effort to address the pervasive  impact COVID-19 has had on the Chicago arts community. As the days and weeks go by, we will no doubt begin to see the broader, perhaps longer-term impact. Fortunately, these swift initiatives indicate a commitment by the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois to sustenance of both the arts and culture communities here in the state and the audiences devoted to their work.

Clef Notes will continue to report on the ongoing effort to deal with the devastating impact of COVID-19 and the resources made available to support the arts and culture community throughout the area.