Arts Alliance Illinois Statement on DCASE Transition

As some of you may have seen, last Friday, the Chicago Sun Times reported that Mayor Johnson is changing the leadership of the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Since 2021, when Commissioner Erin Harkey’s tenure began, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events has doubled the number of organizations receiving funding across city neighborhoods, significantly increased the number of Individual Artist Grant recipients, and prioritized supporting artists of color who face disproportionate barriers due to systemic racism and disinvestment. We are extremely thankful for Erin Harkey’s past leadership and hard work laying critical groundwork for the City to serve as a sustainable support structure for artists and organizations across every Chicago community.

With 63,000 creative workers in Chicago—and DCASE as the primary driver of direct city support to artists—this transition is a pivotal moment for our city’s creative future. Much is unclear about what will come next for DCASE, and for our city’s arts and culture scene, as a result of this unexpected transition in leadership. Our creative community must work together to ensure that the next Commissioner and their team maintains and continues expanding the City’s direct investment in equitable grantmaking.

We look forward to working with the mayor’s administration behind the rest of the City’s cultural community to support the next DCASE commissioner.

Artists and creatives built a strong coalition in support of Mayor Johnson. As the Mayor told Arts Alliance in an interview during election season last year, he is committed to expanding arts education in public schools and leveraging the benefits of arts and culture programming to invest in all of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods. During this transitional period, we encourage Mayor Johnson to remain committed to his promise that “Chicago’s artists, art workers, and cultural producers have access to the financial support and stability needed to continue shaping our city’s vibrant and innovative arts community.”

The arts in Chicago are a million things: they are a tourism engine, they are drivers of economic opportunity, they are an essential good. We have the power to build the arts and culture sector our city needs, which means a well-funded and accountable DCASE. 

Watch our website for updates as developments occur.

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