A final decision on whether the Taste of Chicago and the Chicago Air and Water Show will take place this summer is coming in the next few weeks, city officials said Wednesday.
While several members of the City Council’s Special Events and Recreation Committee said they were cautiously optimistic that the accelerated rollout of COVID-19 vaccines could mean an end to the pandemic in the coming months, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Mark Kelly reminded aldermen that the city’s 2021 spending plan includes no money for the festivals.
Unless that funding is restored, the city’s typical slate of festivals would be canceled for the second year in a row by the pandemic. The city held “re-imagined festivals” in 2020, with virtual concerts replacing in-person events.
The committee unanimously endorsed a measure, approved every spring by the City Council, that gives the department the authority to hold the city’s usual slate of summer festivals, including Blues Fest, Jazz Fest and Gospel Fest.
Pressed by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward), the owner of Ann Sather’s restaurant, Kelly said a “final determination” on whether the much-beloved festivals will take place this year after being canceled in 2020 is coming in the “next several weeks.”
The 2021 city budget slashed the budget for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events by 49%, since restrictions designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 prohibit large gatherings and the department is largely funded by revenue from hotel taxes, which fell off a cliff amid the pandemic.
Kelly said he was working with the mayor’s office to determine whether federal relief funds could be used to restore the department’s budget. Nearly 60% of the department’s staff has been reassigned to respond to the pandemic, including at city-run vaccination sites and testing facilities.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) said it was time for the department’s staff to return to their normal duties and help the city’s arts and entertainment sector recover from the pandemic’s devastation.
It costs the city $9 million annually to put on the Taste of Chicago and the Air and Water Show, offset by spending from tourists and residents who attended the events, officials said.
The Taste of Chicago typically takes over Grant Park in mid-July, and the Air and Water Show roars over the Lakefront in late August.