Monday, May 12, 2008

Arts crisis in Chicago

Several people have alerted me to this matter of grave importance to anyone who cares about the continued survival of the independent arts scene in Chicago.

A proposed ordinance now pending in the Chicago City Council could decimate the city's creative community. Small theater, music and comedy venues all over town would be saddled with a draconian new law placing unnecessary hurdles before them and effectively giving the city the power to shut them down at will.

It's been quietly rushed through committee with no solicitation of public feedback, reminiscent of the Soldier Field renovation funding bill (and look how well that turned out). The full City Council will consider the ordinance Wednesday.

The goal of the ordinance is actually worthwhile—to curtail a small minority of promoters whose impromptu music shows are unsafe—but as drafted it's a catastrophically overbroad statute, a hair-trigger bazooka aimed at a fly.

A grassroots consortium of Chicago artists is organizing a petition drive against the proposed ordinance. Here's their take:
Stop the promoter's ordinance

May 9, 2008

Imagine a Chicago with no Metro or Double Door or Schuba’s. Imagine a Chicago with no Royal George or Bailiwick or Athenaeum. Imagine a Chicago where local music is only heard in the suburbs and theater is limited to Wicked and Jersey Boys.

Scary thoughts. But if the City of Chicago’s City Council doesn’t hear your voice by Wednesday, May 14, they’ll become reality.

On that date the council will vote to approve an ordinance that has the power to stifle creativity in Chicago’s musical, theatrical, and general cultural scenes. With no public discourse or commentary, this proposal has been approved by the City Council Committee and is on the fast track to be pushed into law. It is up to us to let our elected officials know that Chicago’s creative scene is too rich, too varied, and too vital to be regulated in such a blanket fashion.

The details:

The “Event Promoters” ordinance requires any event promoter to have a license from the city of Chicago and liability insurance of $300,000, but that’s just the start:

  • The definition of “event promoter” is so loosely defined it could apply to a band that books its own shows or a theater company that’s in town for a one-week run.
  • “Event Promoter” must be licensed and will pay $500 - $2000 depending on expected audience size.
  • To get the license, applicant must be over 21, get fingerprinted, submit to a background check, and jump over several other hurdles.
  • This ordinance seems targeted towards smaller venues, since those with 500+ permanent seats are exempt.
  • Police must be notified at least 7 days in advance of event.

For the complete ordinance, check out Jim DeRogatis’ blog on the Chicago Sun-Times.

We are collecting signatures to present to the council voicing our opposition to this ordinance. YOUR VOICE IS NECESSARY TO ENSURE CHICAGO’S CULTURAL SCENE CONTINUES TO THRIVE. Please leave a comment as your expression of disapproval. These will be presented to the City Council and to all Chicago Aldermen prior to Wednesday’s vote.

Thank you for helping to protect Chicago’s Culture.


Theresa Carter, The Local Tourist: THE Website for downtown Chicago
Michael Teach, Chicago Acoustic Underground
Michael Narvaez, Chicago Acoustic Underground


Anonymous said...

i gather this is all about establishing a plan of accountability for the next E2 Club massacre? i know the council wants to be seen as taking action, but they'd be throwing babies out with bathwater. that arts coalition should come up with at least a sketch of an alternate proposal that would more narrowly satisfy the council's intent. that would take some kind of artsy-fartsy attorney... hmm... do you know one?????

Jenny Blair said...

Thanks for bringing this up, Ben. This won't be much of a city without an indie arts scene.

Interesting, isn't it, that artists here must protect themselves from government interference, while artists in much smaller cities like Nashville and New Orleans are supported and give the city a better name. Chicago could be an unimaginably wonderful cultural mecca were it not for the wrongheadedness of its leaders.

Jenny Blair said...

Ben, consider linking to yesterday's article by Greg Kot. It sums up the issues nicely.,1,2274350.story