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Taste Of Chicago, Air And Water Show Canceled? There’s Zero Budget For Iconic Chicago Events In 2021

“There’s total devastation of the cultural landscape,” the city's special events leader said.

File Photo: The U.S. Navy Blue Angel fly over Lake Michigan during the 2017 Chicago Air and Water Show.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — There’s currently no money in the city’s budget for the Taste of Chicago and Air and Water Show, signaling they could be canceled in 2021.

The events, staples of Chicago’s summer events schedule, are not officially canceled. But Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s “pandemic budget” didn’t include funding for them, Mark Kelly, commissioner for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, said during a Thursday budget hearing.

Not budgeting for the events could save the city nearly $9 million on its face, Kelly said — but he indicated the city and its businesses would lose much more through the revenue that’s generated through the events.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the Air and Water Show this summer. Taste of Chicago was a shell of itself; normally a large festival with crowds of people eating and listening to music, it was celebrated through virtual cooking demos and to-go orders at restaurants.

Credit: Brittany Sowacke/Block Club Chicago
Taste of Chicago 2019

If Taste of Chicago is canceled in 2021, it would have a huge effect on the city, Kelly said.

“The value to the city is over $100 million in economic value,” he said.

Cancellation would also do damage to more than 3,000 Chicago vendors, artists and musicians that rely on the event, Kelly said.

Kelly suggested other large events could be nixed in 2021, saying his department would be operating on a “bare bones” budget.

When asked about the events, Lightfoot on Thursday deflected, saying “now’s not the time for us to be thinking much about big, outdoor events,” as Chicago sees a second surge in coronavirus cases.

“It’s way too premature for us to be able to speculate about what events may or may not happen next year,” Lightfoot said. “But it’s not like DCASE is sitting on a stack of money and then hoarding it in the hopes better times come.”

The department’s budget is proposed to be cut nearly in half, down to $24.9 million in 2021 from $42.1 million in 2020. Unlike other departments, the events agency is self-funded, relying on internal revenue and outside grants, Kelly said.

Officials have said large, in-person events and gatherings of people — like the festivals the city plans — are not possible until Chicago’s coronavirus outbreak is under control and there’s a vaccine or highly effective and available form of treatment.

Experts have said a vaccine is likely to come in early 2021, but it won’t be widely available for months, with life unlikely to return to normal until the fall or later.

The city will eventually lose over $1 billion in revenues from its cultural spaces due to the pandemic, Kelly said.

“There’s total devastation of the cultural landscape,” he said.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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