Chicago Will Turbocharge Its Public Art Budget by 15,000 Percent as Part of a New $60 Million Cultural Recovery Program

It's the city’s largest support plan for the arts sector in years.

Photo of an installation by artist Ruben Aguirre from the 50 x 50 Neighborhood Arts Project (2017-2018), an initiative to bring public artworks to all 50 wards of the City of Chicago co-curated by Janice Bond.

The city of Chicago announced a new $60 million arts recovery and reopening plan today. Designed to rehabilitate an arts economy devastated by the health crisis, it’s the most expansive civic arts program Chicago has seen in years. 

The plan, according to an announcement from the mayor’s office, “signals a new direction for Chicago’s cultural policy, in which the arts are embedded in initiatives and strategies across city government.”

Arts 77, as the plan is called, a reference to the city’s 77 neighborhoods, constitutes numerous smaller initiatives, including grant programs for local creators and a hefty increase in the budget for public art.

“Before the pandemic struck, our arts and culture sector was a significant employer and economic driver that generated thousands of jobs and billions of dollars for our city,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “With this incredible program, we will not only be able to revitalize this critical sector and provide support to our artists, creative workers, and organizations, but also place the arts at the center of our city’s recovery efforts.”

Under the new plan, the city’s current public art budget of $100,000 will increase by $3 million for each of the next five years—marking a 15,000 percent increase in that time. The effort “will not only leverage capital improvements to spur local economic development and job creation, but also mark a major advancement in the standard of public asset maintenance, and, consequently, the quality of life and livability of all Chicago communities,” according to the city’s announcement. 

$1 million in city money is earmarked for the Neighborhood Access Program, which will offer up to 40 grants, ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, for creative projects that respond to community needs. Meanwhile, grants between $800 to $5,000 will be awarded to 162 local artists through the Chicago Cultural Grants initiative. 

For ambitious public art projects, five collectives and artists have already been awarded $100,000 grants, while an additional seven organizations are receiving $50,000 to $100,000 that they can put toward funding individual artists. 

The program is about “embedding the arts in the city,” Mark Kelly, commissioner of the city’s cultural affairs and special events department, told the Chicago Tribune“Think of this as a new Works Progress Administration project for the entire city.”

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