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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Logan Square Venues, Arts Groups Create Grant Program For Musicians Out Of Work During Pandemic

The organizers behind Sustain Chicago Music are seeking donations to give $1,000 grants to Chicago-area musicians.

(from left) Lillie West (Lala Lala), Nnamdi Ogbonnaya (NNAMDÏ), Abby Black, Sen Morimoto performing at Sleeping Village in January of 2020.
Courtesy of Victoria Sanders
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LOGAN SQUARE — A grant program launched this week to help Chicago-based musicians through the pandemic.

Sustain Chicago Music was established by Billy Helmkamp, owner of Sleeping Village and The Whistler, and the people who run long-standing arts groups I AM Logan Square and the Logan Square Arts Festival.

Local venue owners and staff are struggling with prolonged closures because of the coronavirus shutdowns, but Helmkamp said communities also need to galvanize to support the artists and musicians who make livings performing at those venues.

“A lot of the attention has been on the venues and the venue staff who are out of work, and it’s not lost on us that the musicians are why we’re there in the first place. … This is an opportunity to help support that community,” Helmkamp said.

The organizers are inviting people to donate however much they can toward the cause. Those who give $40 or more can nominate a Chicago-based musician, artist or band to receive a $1,000 grant.

Helmkamp said once they hit $5,000 in donations, they’ll award the first round of grants. Moving forward, the plan is to give out the money on a rolling basis. The group is soliciting donations from corporate sponsors in addition to individuals.

The musicians can use the money any way they want: to compensate themselves for making music, or to pay for the many costs associated with making music, like mixing, mastering and vinyl-pressing.

New music created through the program will be posted to the group’s website.

“It’s quite open-ended and about really wanting to put a lot of that power, those decisions in the artists’ hands,” Helmkamp said.

The idea was developed after this year’s Logan Square Arts Festival was canceled due to the pandemic and all of the bands scheduled to perform were suddenly without a major gig.

The cancellation left festival organizers, Helmkamp and other local leaders looking for ways to celebrate the community and out-of-work musicians. The group landed on the idea of a nomination-driven grant program modeled after one in New York City, Helmkamp said.

The grant program is designed to “put musicians back to work” even as venues remain closed for the foreseeable future, Helmkamp said.

“It’s extremely hard for musicians right now in that they perform for large crowds and they are in the business, so to speak, of bringing people together. And during a pandemic, that’s sadly not possible,” Helmkamp said.

Helmkamp is among a group of independent music venue owners in Chicago desperately fighting for more federal relief in the midst of the pandemic.

Large gatherings, including concerts, won’t be permitted until there’s a vaccine, widespread treatment for COVID-19 or no new cases at all — which experts predict is months away.

Many venue owners are worried they won’t be able to reopen if they don’t receive more relief.

Helmkamp’s venues, The Whistler and Sleeping Village, have reopened in some capacity — but not for live shows. The Whistler is offering cocktails to go and Sleeping Village is open for patio service.

“It’s been a rollercoaster ride, that’s for sure,” Helmkamp said. “Every day seems to bring new surprises. … We’re trying to keep going and do some good with our time these days.”

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