Chicago comes to its senses, recognizes music as art

Chicago venues will no longer be on the hook for $200,000 in back taxes


Photos by Gina Reis

Back in August, government officials in Cook County, the municipality that includes the City of Chicago, caused an uproar among local music fans when they suggested that rock, rap, and electronic music may not count as “fine arts.” The distinction may sound silly and arbitrary, but it really matters for tax purposes; venues with sub-750 capacity are exempt from the county’s 3% amusement tax so long as they’re selling tickets for “in person, live theatrical, live musical or other live cultural performances.” By refusing to acknowledge the cultural value of live music, the county was effectively asking venues such as Beauty Bar and Evil Olive to pay up to six years of back taxes totaling up to about $200,000 per venue.

On Friday, Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey — who has been on the side of the venues all along — announced that the debate is over: Live rock and hip-hop shows and DJ sets are now officially considered “fine arts” in the eyes of the law. Fritchey’s office announced via a press release that the agreement was reached by a group including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s administration, representatives from the City of Chicago, and industry stakeholders.

“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,” read Fritchey’s statement in the release. “By bringing together public officials and music industry representatives, we were able to arrive at language that all parties agree recognizes 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.”

A hearing on the amendment to the county’s amusement tax ordinance will be held on October 26th.

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