How will Chicago artists make it through the pandemic? 85 years ago the Feds had an answer. Could it work again?

JUL 15, 2020  11:13 AM

How essential is an artist?

Art, you’ve noticed, has been idle.

The artist, in pandemic Chicago, has been stripped of stages, classrooms, materials. Many, who were already working two or three jobs for supplemental income, were stripped of second and third jobs. Some, seeing little light at the end of the COVID tunnel, have probably given up already.

Even a starving artist can last only so long.

And yet, remarkable as it may be seem in 2020, there was a moment, about a decade long, when this country and its White House, eager to get Americans to work, considered its artists essential.

You live everyday with that legacy.

Consider the South Side Community Art Center, an 80-year old institution in a 130-year old Classical Revival house. It rests in an unassuming lot on South Michigan Avenue. It is tall and austere, warm and a bit removed from its Bronzeville neighborhood, set off by stretches of green. And it is different. Gwendolyn Brooks wrote her first book of poetry here, and Gordon Parks used the darkroom in its basement. When Nat King Cole came to town, he played its piano.