The Great Chicago Fire Festival and the Importance of Cultural Investment

Chicago’s art scene is internationally renowned in large part because of our willingness to take bold and creative risks. That’s why we applaud the spirit of the inaugural Great Chicago Fire Festival. While technical difficulties kept the event from reaching its full potential, the festival did stir the imaginations of tens of thousands of Chicagoans. We should highlight what worked well, including how the Fire Festival leveraged the power of the arts to activate our public spaces, bring diverse people and neighborhoods together, and celebrate our shared history of reinvention.

Support for culture and the arts in Chicago is essential to the city’s future growth and competitiveness. While a few critics have questioned whether public dollars would be better spent elsewhere, it’s important to remember that investments in Chicago’s creativity are investments that continue to pay huge dividends for generations to come. When Chicago’s arts and cultural sector thrives, it fuels growth; revitalizes our neighborhoods; empowers our young people; and attracts talent, tourists, and dollars to the city.

Simply put, great cities are known for their exemplary arts and culture. And since its incorporation in 1837, Chicago has been a city of cultural innovation.

The arts in Chicago – our architecture, theater, museums, dance, film, music, food, and festivals – are world-renowned civic strengths and a driving economic force for the city. More than 53,600 jobs and 4.31 percent of businesses in Chicago are arts-related. Travelers from around the country and across the globe visit Chicago because of our top-notch cultural attractions.

This is also why we are advocates for the thoughtful implementation of the Chicago Cultural Plan. In addition to spectacular initiatives that make experiencing our city unforgettable, the Plan identifies a number of common sense reforms and low-cost investments needed to help us reach our full cultural potential — from supporting grassroots neighborhood cultural planning to re-examining zoning, permitting, and licensing rules that affect artists and creative enterprises in Chicago. As leaders in the arts and cultural sector, we look forward to accelerating these strategic improvements.

We wholeheartedly support Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Superintendent Michael Kelly, and Cultural Affairs Commissioner Michelle Boone and applaud their courageous efforts to keep adding and contributing to Chicago’s rich cultural legacy. As a city, it is incumbent upon us to emphasize and elevate our cultural ambitions. Together, let’s continue to support Chicago’s great cultural institutions – large and small – and the bold and daring risks they take for the enrichment of our city each and every day.


Ra Joy, Arts Alliance Illinois
Jackie Taylor, African American Arts Alliance
Andrew Micheli, Arts & Business Council of Chicago
Heather Hartley, Audience Architects
Caroline Older, Chicago Arts Coalition
Suzanne Franklin, Chicago Cultural Alliance
Ginger Farley, Chicago Dancemakers Forum
Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim, Columbia College Chicago
Kate Lorenz, Culture Coast Network
Jan Feldman, Lawyers for the Creative Arts
Deb Clapp, League of Chicago Theatres
Sarah Jansen, The Recording Academy Chicago Chapter
Esther Grimm, 3Arts
Dr. Walter Massey, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Carolina Garcia Jayaram, United States Artists