By The Board of Directors of the Arts & Business Council of Chicago

Rise as One by Max Sansing and Kayla Mahaffey, 1842 East 79th St., Chicago. “South Side artists … remind their neighbors the North Side isn’t the only place with a claim to Chicago’s art scene.” – Block Club Chicago

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on America’s cultural sector. Even as arts organizations begin returning to in-person programming, and employment conditions improve for creative workers, the sector is recovering more slowly than other industries. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey reports that “arts, entertainment, and recreation” businesses are among the most likely to take longer than six months to recover from the pandemic.

According to the Americans for the Arts’ Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 Report, before the pandemic, Chicago’s nonprofit arts and culture industry was the largest in the nation, employing over 85,000 residents and driving over $3.2 billion in spending annually. While it’s not yet clear just how deep the impact will be on the sector, one thing’s for sure: creatives will once again be economic engines as they rebuild the storefront theaters, galleries, boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and public art that make their communities vibrant. This vital culture, in turn, attracts the kind of top talent that the business community looks for in a global city, thus driving a virtuous cycle of community development and economic growth.

Focusing on creatives of color who have been historically marginalized will be essential to Chicago’s future growth and sustainability. Mayor Lightfoot’s call to ensure all Chicagoans can enjoy the arts, and to leverage cultural assets to foster inclusive economic growth, will require concerted effort. Beyond government interventions like the City’s $26 million in new arts and culture investments this year, and the Creative Workers Relief fund late last year, there will be an ongoing, increased demand for services in the sector.

The Arts & Business Council of Chicago’s (A&BC) efforts in South and West Side neighborhoods will be an instrumental part of Chicago’s recovery. Our focus is on historically excluded art-makers, entrepreneurs, non-profits, and small businesses because we know these are the people and organizations who will rebuild neighborhoods from the ground up to keep Chicago at the forefront of culture and pump new energy into the economy.

A&BC is no stranger to helping arts businesses prevail through tough times. We’ve provided recovery and rebuilding assistance during every economic disruption and national disaster since we were established in 1985. For 37 years, we’ve been bringing Chicago’s business and arts communities together to help our Arts Partners not only thrive in stable times, but also to weather the inevitable storms.

During these past two tumultuous years, we’ve fought hard to mitigate the ravages of the pandemic on the creative economy. Here are a few outcomes of our work:

  • 25 Arts Partners were served by our Business Volunteers for the Arts® Corps
  • 40% of those Arts Partners were led by and/or serve People of Color
  • 41% of our professional and leadership development workshop Content Experts identified as a Person of Color
  • 550+ arts staff and board members participated in one of our skills-building or leadership training workshops

A&BC is committed to championing policies and practices of racial equity that empower a just and creative Chicago. As part of that commitment, in 2019 we launched the “77 Communities Initiative” which has led us to focus on creative communities in Chicago’s disinvested South and West Side neighborhoods. The Initiative prioritizes projects that:

  • Primarily serve those who have been historically excluded from capacity building programs
  • Lead to larger sector-wide learning and case studies to help transform “best practices,” acknowledging that traditional “best practices” are often based upon white supremist paradigms
  • Take into consideration the demographics of the area(s) that the organization serves, the racial and gender composition of the organization’s leadership, and the ways in which the project balances A&BC’s existing projects by discipline, business needs, etc.

We serve our Arts Partners by supporting them in the management of the business aspects of their organizations. We provide onsite and online workshops, one-on-one counseling sessions, and offer up the 130+ professionals in our Business Volunteers for the Arts® (BVA) corps to provide their expertise on a range of critical functions—from finance and operations, to HR and board governance, to branding and marketing—all at sliding-scale rates.

Our programs focus on long-term, sustainable capacity building; what we call a “continuum of care.” By fostering inclusive leadership, balanced growth, and collaborative artistic expression, our programs have been instrumental to the development, survival, and success of the hundreds of Arts Partners we’ve worked with over the years. These programs not only touch the lives of those partners and the volunteers who support them, but also the people in the communities who benefit from their work. These programs include:

  • Business Volunteers for the Arts® (BVA): a consulting program connecting skilled volunteers from the business community with creative and cultural organizations in need of operational and management assistance
  • Learning Labs: professional development and skill-building workshops to enhance management and emerging leadership core competencies
  • On BOARD®: in-depth nonprofit governance and board leadership training program
  • smARTscope®: a proprietary diagnostic tool that assesses the management core competencies of creative businesses

This year we’re re-introducing Annexes to our offerings in order to make our support more accessible. A&BC, in partnership with Chicago Park District (CPD), will offer these Annexes in historically disinvested Chicago communities, designed to respond to the finding of CPD’s report “Reflections and Motions for an Equitable Artistic Ecosystem.” That is to provide “professional development resources … to help artists build their careers,” “supporting and programming community building projects and cultural initiatives,” and “supporting artists and culture workers to sustain and build mutual aid networks.” The first phase of Annexes will be held in neighborhood cultural centers selected in partnership with the Cultural Asset Mapping Project from August through October.

  • August – North Lawndale’s Sixth Annual Arts Festival
  • September – Austin’s Art and Music Fest
  • October – South Lawndale’s / Little Village

It takes a village. If any of this work resonates with you and you’re interested in learning about ways to get involved, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We welcome the opportunity to work with you on connecting Chicago’s arts and business communities to ensure a thriving and equitable creative economy.

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