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Live music fine art after all, rules Cook County

Chicago’s small venues are breathing a sigh of relief following the decision by Cook County – the unit of local government centred on the Illinois city – to officially recognise popular music and DJ performances as legitimate forms of art.

As reported in August, several Chicago music venues were locked in a dispute with the county over US$200,000 worth of “crippling” back taxes after one official, Anita Richardson, said DJs, “rap music, country music and rock and roll do not fall under the purview of ‘fine art'”, making them ineligible for exemption from Cook County’s 3% amusement tax.

Thanks to the efforts of John Fritchey, a commissioner (roughly equivalent to a councillor) for the 12th district of Cook County, that position has now been reversed, with Fritchey, local music industry figures, the administration of Cook County board of commissioners’ president, Toni Preckwinkle, and the city of the Chicago all agreeing on “the validity of live music and DJ performances as recognised artforms”.

“This agreement makes it clear that it was never the intent of the administration for the county to play culture police and make decisions on what is, or isn’t, music or art, and that fact is bolstered by President Preckwinkle’s desire to co-sponsor my amendment,” says Fritchey. “By bringing together public officials and music industry representatives, we were able to arrive at language that all parties agree recognises the diverse and robust nature of live music while providing the county with the ability to collect those taxes that are legitimately owed to it.”

“This agreement confirms that government officials should not be the arbiters of what constitutes art”

Joe Shanahan, the owner of the Metro (1,100-cap.) and Smartbar (400-cap.) venues, adds: “These musical styles are all recognised as art around the world, and Chicago is rightly recognised as the birthplace of some of the best-known artists. This agreement confirms that government officials should not be the arbiters of what constitutes art while affording small venue owners a sense of certainty as they continue to present musical talent to Chicagoans and the many visitors who flock to our venues based on our city’s international reputation as a music capital.”

Fritchey’s proposal to amend the amusement tax code will be heard on 26 October.

Last month the city of Berlin afforded a similar tax break to the Berghain nightclub, ruling the techno mecca should pay the same 7% as museums, theatres and classical venues.


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