Chicago government officials don’t think rock, rap music qualify as “fine arts”

Cook County wants local music venues to pay six years of back taxes


    Rock, rap, electronic, and country don’t qualify as “fine arts” in the city of Chicago.

    As the Chicago Reader reports, Anita Richardson was appointed by the Cook County Department of Administrative Hearings to head a hearing about whether or not a number of Chicago venues are subject to an “amusement tax.” Venues with sub-750 person capacity are exempt from the 3% tax so long as they’re selling tickets for “in person, live theatrical, live musical or other live cultural performances.” The county code further defines “live music” and “live cultural performances” as “any of the disciplines which are commonly regarded as part of the fine arts, such as live theater, music, opera, drama, comedy, ballet, modern or traditional dance, and book or poetry readings.”

    “Rap music, country music, and rock ‘n’ roll” do not fall under the purview of “fine art,” Richardson concluded, according to the Reader.


    By contesting that things like DJs and rock bands don’t qualify as “fine arts,” Richardson is arguing that venues such as Beauty Bar and Evil Olive, which are among a number of small venues the county is targeting, should be forced to pay up to six years of back taxes. Including fees and interest, the total comes out to about $200,000 per venue.

    Beauty Bar’s attorney Matt Ryan argued during the hearing that it’s not the Department of Administrative Bearings’ job to determine what should be classified as fine art. He added that music of all kinds should be exempt. “Your argument is honestly a stretch,” Richardson retorted. “I’m going to be looking for some rather persuasive legal arguments that will persuade me … that all music falls within the category of any of the disciplines regarded as fine arts.”

    To do so, attorneys for the venues plan on bringing DJs and musicologies to testify at an October 17th hearing. Their goal will be to convince Richardson that something like a DJ performance is indeed fine art, and therefore should be granted the tax break. (She could also just read the actual text she’s arguing about, which clearly classifies music as a fine art.)


    Evil Olive attorney and Double Door co-owner Sean Mulroney said that levying the taxes on these venues is a shallow attempt to fill the county’s coffers. “They’re broke,” he said. Bruce Finkelman, who’s a managing partner Beauty Bar and Empty Bottle owner 16″ on Center, added that attempting impose the tax “strangles everything we’re trying to achieve.”

    Lucky for them, Cook County commissioner John Fritchey agrees. “No pun intended, but I think the county is being tone deaf to recognize opera as a form of cultural art but not Skrillex,” he said. He added that any debate otherwise is an attempt for the county to dig its way out of budget constraints and counteractive to what the county should do in terms of cultivating the arts. “Personally, I think we need things to incentivize musical talent and venues that present it, rather than make life more difficult for them.”