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Spike in grant funding didn’t keep pace with lost revenue for Illinois cultural groups

Workers tend to bees at Home of Miles East St. Louis (HOME), a museum primarily dedicated to preserving the legacy of jazz great Miles Davis. A report from Illinois Humanities detailed ways that many cultural groups adapted their programing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Illinois Humanities
Workers tend to bees at Home of Miles East St. Louis, a museum primarily dedicated to preserving the legacy of jazz great Miles Davis. A report from Illinois Humanities detailed ways that many cultural groups adapted their programing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Arts and culture organizations that received funding from Illinois Humanities have lost $24.3 million in revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.

A wide-ranging report released by the agency, which funds organizations with annual budgets of less than $1 million, states the nonprofit funder distributed a record $2.4 million between 2020 and 2022, largely due to federal pandemic relief funding.

But the total was dwarfed by the impact of factors like limits on public gathering and ongoing difficulty prompting audiences to return to venues and events — even as one national survey finds more people cite the importance of the arts now than before the pandemic.

“I think there's a lot of uncertainty about the revenue side and a lot of certainty about the demand side,” said Illinois Humanities Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon.

History is Happening: The State of Humanities Organizations in Illinois During COVID-19,” details programs that smaller organizations developed during the pandemic.

Leaders of House of Miles East St. Louis (HOME), a small museum in the home occupied by jazz great Miles Davis as a child, used emergency pandemic funding to pay utilities bills and ensure that its collection remained undamaged even as pandemic restrictions prevented the public from visiting.

“We were not hosting tours at the time. However, you still have to keep your utilities on. You still have to maintain your building and your grounds. And you have to continue to prep for upcoming tours and programming, whenever those were going to be engaged again,” said Lauren A. Parks, president and co-founder.

The organization began construction this year on a recording studio in an adjacent building. It also keeps bees and runs an organic garden, creating more opportunities for educational programming.

Other organizations shifted their efforts to adapt to changing needs during the pandemic. Many expanded access to programming with online materials and web streams

“Cultural groups kicked into action to help their communities,” said Mark Hallett, director of grants programs for Illinois Humanities. “They were sort of forced to question the way that they do everything that they do,” he added.

Between 2020 and 2022, Illinois Humanities distributed grants to 359 organizations. Other recipients include the Center for Racial Harmony in Belleville, East St. Louis Historical Society, Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in East St. Louis and the HUB Arts & Cultural Center in Quincy.

“Every county in Illinois has folks who are using the humanities in ways that really make their communities better. And those are organizations that can be very meaningful to their hometowns,” Lyon said, “but they aren't always understood to be part of an ecosystem. They’re part of a whole network of folks that are working in ways that really make Illinois better.”

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.