Chicago’s small bars and clubs are sighing in relief as Cook County officials recently announced the performance of rap, rock, and dance music by bands, MCs and DJs would indeed qualify as “fine art.” Therefore, said music venues will continue to be exempt from a three percent tax on ticket sales, which in turn means they don’t owe the County hundreds of thousands in back taxes.
The issue arose in late August when small-capacity clubs like Beauty Bar and Smart Bar, fitting below the 750-person mark, received demand notices from the Cook County Department of Revenue that their DJ-heavy programming did not meet the tax exemption qualifications of providing a “live cultural performance.”
The backlash from dance fans, professionals, and artists was swift and vocal. Most of the clubs in question would be forced to close doors if saddled with such a heavy and sudden financial burden. Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey met with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s administration, representatives from the City of Chicago, and industry stakeholders to investigate these claims and get to the bottom of the issue.
In the end, the investigative panel ruled the loss of such venues and performances would be a loss to Chicago’s cultural identity, and so, DJing, rapping and rock music is indeed a “fine art.”
“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,” said Commissioner Fritchey in a press 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.”
Chicago’s findings follow similar rulings in Berlin and Vienna.
“These musical styles are all recognized as art around the world and Chicago is rightly recognized as the birthplace of some of the best-known artists,” said Metro and Smart Bar owner Joe Shanahan in the press release. “This agreement confirms that government officials should not be the arbiters of what constitutes art while affording small venue owners a sense of certainty as they continue to present musical talent to Chicagoans and the many visitors who flock to our venues based on our city’s international reputation as a music capital.”