Elgin council OKs support for arts operations during COVID-19

Updated 7/24/2020 6:20 PM

Elgin is relaxing its funding criteria to provide money for operations, rather than specific programming, for local arts organizations that are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city has created a $10,000 grant program that would provide $1,000 each to organizations based in Elgin that have been in operation for a minimum two years, are in good standing and have not otherwise been funded by the city.


The city also will contribute $5,000 to a free art kit program through Side Street Studio Arts, an art nonprofit downtown. The art kit program initially served youths and was expanded to adults, particularly nursing home residents and other vulnerable populations.

In addition, the city is allowing three organizations -- Children's Theatre of Elgin, Hamilton Wings and Side Street Studio Arts -- to use for their operations a total $18,000 in art grants initially designed for programs that were canceled in the wake the pandemic, said Amanda Harris, assistant to the city manager for special projects and the arts.

The city council approved the moves in a 7-2 vote Wednesday night.

More than 50 people in Elgin's arts community signed an email sent to city officials saying organizations need support during the pandemic, Councilwoman Tish Powell said. "A lot of them obviously operate on a very slim margin," she said.

Nonprofit funders at the state and national levels agree it's important to help the arts community sustain its operations during COVID-19, Powell said. The Arts for Illinois Relief fund disbursed nearly $2.9 million from April to June to organizations throughout the state, but 80% went to organizations in Chicago, with two recipients in Kane County.

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Councilman Terry Gavin and Toby Shaw voted "no." Shaw said nonprofits should be funded by individual donations, not city money.

The city money comes out of the yearly budget for the cultural arts commission, which has suspended a variety of programs, Harris said: the neighborhood public arts grants; the new works program, which was supposed to feature a new mural outside the Edward Shock Centre; and the asphalt art program, for which city staff member had sought philanthropic funding. There are four cancelled events: a Juneteenth festival, Elgin Summer Theater, the Elgin Short Film Festival and Art Harvest.

That leaves the cultural arts commission with $58,000 in unallocated funds this year, Harris said.

Before the pandemic hit, grant-funded programming was completed by Chamber Music on the Fox, Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Independent Players, which are getting a total $18,000 or so, Harris said.

The cultural arts commission will continue funding several programs this year, including utility box wrapping, or about $5,000 for two boxes; individual arts grants with about $7,000 remaining this year; and the Elgin Fringe Festival in September, Harris said.

The performing and visual arts community is one of Elgin's strengths, Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger said. "It's one of the reasons I think this is a fabulous community," she said.


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