The City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) supports artists and cultural organizations, invests in the creative economy, and expands access and participation in the arts throughout Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods. As a collaborative cultural presenter, arts funder, and advocate for creative workers, our programs and events serve Chicagoans and visitors of all ages and backgrounds, downtown and in diverse communities across our city — to strengthen and celebrate Chicago.
DCASE is proud to support creatives and expand access to the arts throughout Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods.
In 2022, DCASE saw a transformational influx of resources to help support Chicago’s creative economy. With these additional funds, and the restoration of our budget to 90% of pre-pandemic levels, DCASE was able to address the needs of the cultural community and support its ongoing recovery. Overall, DCASE granted more than 630 grants across seven programs, a 25% increase in the total number of grants awarded in 2021.
We also began the hard and necessary work of evaluating DCASE programs and operations to create a more efficient, effective, and equitable agency. We embarked on a new direction for cultural policy in Chicago, bridging partnerships with fellow City agencies to embed the arts in key initiatives across the city. We expanded support for artists, creative workers and businesses, and significantly improved arts equity citywide through our grants, public art, and other cultural programs.
In collaboration with the Department of Planning and Development and Chicago Department of Transportation, we’ve committed over $6 million for public art in all INVEST South/West neighborhoods. We commissioned a mural and supported an Artist-in-Residence program with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. We also created an Artist-in-Residence program at Legler Library with the Chicago Public Library and supported the Chicago Park District to increase cultural offerings in neighborhood locations. Last, but not least, DCASE and Mayor Lightfoot worked with the Department of Assets, Information, and Services and many others to rename Chicago’s oldest house in honor of the contributions of Bishop Louis Henry and Margaret Ford — now the Clarke-Ford House.
We are immensely proud of these shared accomplishments, and more essential work lies ahead. In 2023, DCASE will continue to position Chicago’s cultural vitality as a driving and defining part of our city. Priorities include:
On behalf of our Leadership & Staff, thank you for your advocacy, partnership, and participation.
Lori E. LightfootMayorCity of Chicago
Erin HarkeyCommissionerDepartment of Cultural Affairs and Special Events
*Estimated in 2019; expected to return to these pre-pandemic levels in 2023
In 2022, unprecedented investment in DCASE increased direct support for the arts sector from $2.7 million to $12.7 million through various grant programs. General operating support to nonprofit arts organizations through our CityArts Program increased 223%, with average awards increasing to just over $22,000, compared to just $6,798 in 2021. The Individual Artists Program, which provides direct support to artists, increased its average grant size by 60%. The Neighborhood Access Program provided $1 million in funding to 33 organizations and artists leading arts and culture projects in their neighborhoods, 85% of which are located on the South and West Sides.
Overall, DCASE granted more than 630 grants across seven programs, a 25% increase in the total number of grants awarded in 2021.
A survey and a series of input sessions in January organized with Arts Alliance Illinois and the Chicago Cultural Alliance gathered vital community perspectives to guide our grantmaking strategies and other work throughout this year.
2022 was also the Year of Chicago Dance. We supported the recovery of the dance sector, with 20 grants to dance and movement artists, and 60 grants to dance organizations and presenters including 14 CityArts Program grants focused on addressing critical issues facing dancers and the field of dance. Direct investment to dance organizations and artists through grants, marketing, programs, and performance fees was over $2.2 million.
DCASE grantees are now more reflective of the city of Chicago – 60% of Individual Artists Program grantees are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) as compared to 38% in 2016; grants to BIPOC-led organizations increased by 13% over 2021 and organizations on the South and West sides increased by 6%; and grants were awarded to artists and arts organizations in all 50 wards in 2022, compared to only 35 wards in 2016. In addition, 76% of our grant review panelists across all programs were BIPOC. Our community outreach and awareness efforts also paid off with over 690 new applicants, which made up 40% of the total applicant pool.
Additionally, DCASE received American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to support the city’s recovery. DCASE is deploying these funds to support new grant and relief programs, tourism and industry support, and citywide marketing efforts. The first grant program was designed in partnership with the Office of Equity & Racial Justice. The Together We Heal Creative Place Program recognizes the importance of the arts in promoting health, healing and safety for communities and recently awarded $5.5 million to 48 grantees whose projects will support artists in designing and implementing art projects that promote healing and transformation in Chicago’s neighborhoods.
In 2022, DCASE proudly awarded grants to artists and arts organizations in all 50 wards of the city.
In 2022, unprecedented investment in DCASE increased direct support for the arts sector from $2.7 million to $12.7 million.
DCASE is pleased to introduce and celebrate four Chicago artists who received 2022 Individual Artists Program grants.
(she/her), Oakland neighborhood
An artist, writer, and teacher, Mallory Raven-Ellen Backstrom creates Fairy Tales for Sun-Kissed Women, an anthology of short stories and immersive audiobooks.
What does this grant award mean to you?
This award means that I can publish my stories in accordance with my highest vision. It has provided me with creative freedom, financial agency, and artistic access to the tools required to release my best work. I have been empowered to share my fairy tales and to pursue my unfettered potential with joy.
(he/him/his), Portage Park neighborhood
Geof Bradfield plays saxophone, bass clarinet, and other instruments and composes music inspired by Charlie Parker, Melba Liston, Lead Belly, Shona mbira music, and Gullah spirituals.
What does this grant award mean to you?
[Receiving this grant award] will allow me to record and document a new body of work integrating African instruments — the Zimbabwean mbira and Brazilian berimbau — into a 12-piece jazz ensemble. And it might mean I can rent a nicer van the next time I’m in Europe (instead of the milking truck we used when I first toured Europe in 2001).
(she/her), Ukrainian Village neighborhood
Ayako Kato creates dance movement works that “convey people’s common and fundamental beauty and dignity as humans and as a part of nature and nature themselves."
What does this grant award mean to you?
This award means a lot to me, by sensing some people care what I am doing through dance. I can develop and create more opportunities for myself and my colleagues, paying them as professionals. I can courageously go for what I imagine — to nurture my current ETHOS project, as my peaceful weapon to contribute to social change.
(she/her/hers), Irving Park neighborhood
Isabel Quintero “performs in plays or with music or in films that others have written or that I have created, in English, Spanish, or both."
What does this grant award mean to you?
When I think about what it means to be chosen for this award, I weep. Every single time, I weep. Being an artist is a constant internal struggle. But I have kept at it consistently — but probably not gracefully — for 20 years. I’m embarrassed to admit I haven't had a voice lesson since college, but I can do that now! Receiving this award feels like I’m coming up for air, taking a deep breath, and slowly exhaling; and then... I feel the warmth of the sun on my face.
Our public art program continued to see record growth this year. We’ve committed over $6 million for public art in all INVEST South/West neighborhoods. In partnership with the Department of Aviation, DCASE will deliver $3.5 million for public art projects at O’Hare International Airport. There were also a record number of aldermanic menu-supported public art projects in 2022. We have worked collaboratively with aldermanic offices to facilitate public art installations that will enhance the exterior of libraries, schools, parks, community spaces, and other neighborhood assets. And the Chicago Monuments Project final report was released, announcing grants to support the creation of new works that celebrate our city’s diverse history.
Mayor Lightfoot’s signature community development initiative to reverse decades of disinvestment on Chicago’s South and West Sides, INVEST South/West (ISW) celebrated its 3-year anniversary in 2022. DCASE mounted arts projects with Artists-In-Residence in three of the ISW neighborhoods: Dorian Sylvain (Auburn Gresham), Eric Hotchkiss (Englewood) and Fernando Ramirez in partnership with Project Onward (New City/Back of the Yards). DCASE collaborated with the Department of Planning and Development and the Mayor’s Office to commission artwork on construction fencing surrounding shovel-ready projects in ISW community areas. In Phase 1 of the project, DCASE collaborated with Rahmaan Statik in Auburn Gresham, Isiah “Thoughtpoet" Veney in Englewood, and Keith Brownlee and Dwight White in Austin.
In 2022, DCASE worked with the Department of Planning and Development as well as Englewood Arts Collective, Floating Museum, and VS Creative Consulting to launch P.A.R.T.Y. (Public Art Reimagining Tour with You) — an initiative to develop a Public Art Vision Plan for each INVEST South/West neighborhood. Each plan will outline public art themes, types, and locations unique to each neighborhood, contributing to its revitalization. Throughout the summer and fall, artist teams collected community input via surveys and in-person pop-ups in Auburn-Gresham, Austin, Bronzeville, and Englewood.
Film production revenue hit a record high of $630 million in 2021, shattering pre-pandemic levels by $70 million. This signals a strong recovery and positive economic impact for communities — including projects such as the Regal Mile Studios, a state-of-the-art media campus in the South Shore neighborhood. Revenue is projected to exceed $700 million in 2022, with 48 wards hosting film productions and 1,562 permits issued. Beyond permitting, and as part of Chicago’s COVID-19 Task Force report, the Film Office spearheaded “Chicago Made," a new workforce development program that seeks to reimagine the region’s workforce infrastructure and create a plan to invest in displaced young workers; its first cohort included 25 participants, across 12 career pathways.
In 2021/2022, DCASE launched an ongoing public awareness campaign using the “Chicago Made" brand to highlight the vital role Chicago’s TV and film industry plays in the city. The campaign showcases the industry’s enormous economic impact, introduces local film workers as neighbors and friends, and highlights the diversity of “reel" jobs available across our city.
Nina Escobedo credits her grandmother for sparking the childhood interests that ultimately led to her becoming a professional costumer working in Chicago.
“My grandmother taught me to sew at the age of four," recalled Escobedo. “It started with buttons and embroidery. Once I had legs long enough to reach a sewing machine pedal, she taught me how to make pillowcases and aprons."
That early tutelage inspired a deep passion for wardrobe and costumes in Escobedo. After two years as wardrobe supervisor for Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated that she pivot. So Escobedo, who lives on Chicago’s North Side, is now taking part in the City’s “Chicago Made" workforce development initiative linking residents with film and television productions shooting in the city.
Escobedo received on-the-job training from Local 769 costumers Jennifer Jobst and Angela Verdino as they prepared for an upcoming Netflix feature to be filmed at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios...
In 2022, we saw the return of our beloved summer festivals and special events, such as Taste of Chicago, the Air & Water Show, Gospel Music, Blues, Jazz, House Music, and World Music Festivals, City Markets including the historic Maxwell Street Market, the 25th Chicago SummerDance series featuring a special Teen Village hosted by SocialWorks during the SummerDance Celebration, the Millennium Park Summer Music Series, the Millennium Park Summer Film Series, the Chicago Presents program, Chicago Band Roster, and many others.
In the fall, Mayor Lightfoot and DCASE launched a new program, the Chicago Sings Karaoke competition, supporting 18 neighborhood venues and showcasing Chicago’s talent, boasting more than 500 participants.
This year, all DCASE festivals and events incorporated neighborhood components, which resulted in over 130 events and programs providing $2 million in direct support to artists and organizations participating in cultural events in communities throughout the city, and special event permitting reached pre-pandemic levels in 2022, with the team issuing 539 permits.
DCASE and its partners presented a vast array of free cultural programming for the public in Millennium Park, at the Chicago Cultural Center, and on the Chicago Riverwalk. Special projects included the launch of a Millennium Park residency program for four organizations next year — and several notable exhibitions, a new dance studio residency, and audience engagement programs at the Chicago Cultural Center.
DCASE is grateful for the steadfast support of our partners. Our work in the areas of Cultural Grants, Public Art, TV & Film, and Festivals & Events is made possible by corporate sponsorships as well as corporate, foundation, and government grants. In 2022, we reopened the meticulously restored Grand Army of the Republic rooms at the Chicago Cultural Center, made possible by a generous anonymous gift of $15 million. (The yearlong restoration has since been lauded by numerous historic preservation groups.) All told, DCASE raised a total of more than $3.7 million in 2022, including City matching funds.
*Includes one-time Federal funding from American Rescue Plan (ARP)
Appointed by Mayor Lightfoot, our 30-member advisory board met quarterly, and both advised and supported Commissioner Harkey and the senior team in their efforts to support creatives and drive meaningful impact. Cultural Advisory Council members were embedded in specific projects — including the development of a new DCASE mission statement, the launch of a new recovery grant program (Together We Heal Creative Place Program), and recommendations for the We Will Chicago arts and culture pillar. And members played a critically important role as ambassadors to raise awareness of the DCASE resources and opportunities available to the arts and culture community. We are grateful to this dedicated group of arts leaders for their invaluable guidance and advocacy.
This hard-working and talented team of 66 creative workers strive to fulfill the mission and charge of DCASE on a daily basis. In 2022, special staff-led projects included setting and advancing racial equity priorities for the Department, crafting a new Mission statement, and convening the Performing Arts industry.