Taste plan cuts culture for cash

By Editorial Board

The city of Chicago announced it would be turning over control of the Taste of Chicago and several of the city’s summer music festivals to the Chicago Park District in a Feb. 10 press release. Four of the city’s annual festivals—the Viva Chicago Latin Music Festival, the Chicago Gospel Music Festival, Celtic Fest Chicago and the Chicago Country Music Festival—will all be rolled into the Taste, rather than held as separate events throughout the summer. The Chicago Blues and Jazz festivals will not be affected by this decision and will continue to run as standalone annual festivals.

While this may be a smart move financially, the loss of these festivals will greatly damage the city’s cultural diversity. Part of the city’s appeal in the summertime is the plethora of free and accessible music events, each spanning a whole week or weekend and catering to a specific demographic. The audience who shows up in droves for Celtic Fest, for example, is not the same crowd who shows up for the Gospel Music Festival. Eliminating the full festivals and combining them into one incoherent mess of genres, styles and ethnic backgrounds undermines the value of each individual event.

It is a relief this deal will keep the Taste of Chicago’s admission free, and combining these festivals into the Taste is certainly preferable to doing away with them altogether. However, this plan may lose the city valuable tourist dollars, despite the money it saves on organizational and promotional costs for four separate festivals. Many people come to the city each summer for specific ethnic music festivals, and those people may not be willing to put up with Taste crowds just to see a watered-down version of the festival they once loved. Moreover, the Chicago Transit Authority could lose a significant amount of riders who would ordinarily use public transit to travel to the separate festivals each year.

Whenever governments face budget crises, arts programs are usually the first ones to suffer. However, we shouldn’t sacrifice our city’s cultural identity for the sake of budget cuts. If the city can’t afford to keep hosting culturally-specific music festivals, ethnic communities should come together to keep their cultural expression alive in the form of smaller festivals and neighborhood block parties. A lack of city funding shouldn’t keep residents from expressing their various and diverse cultures in the arts.