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Aldermen Approve Full Slate Of Summer Festivals, But Fate Of Taste Of Chicago And Air & Water Show Still Uncertain

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Despite no funding in this year's budget for Taste of Chicago or the Air & Water Show, a City Council committee on Wednesday signed off on the city's traditional slate of annual festivals and special events, hoping the COVID-19 stimulus plan approved by Congress will allow the city to pay for some popular summer gatherings.

Every spring, the Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation is asked to authorize the city's slate of festivals, cultural programs, and other special events.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the city to cut the budget for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) by 49%, due to plummeting hotel tax revenue the agency relies on, the city's 2021 spending plan does not include money for the Taste of Chicago or the Air & Water Show.

Both popular events were canceled last year as part of the city's efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

DCASE Commissioner Mark Kelly told aldermen a final decision has yet to be made on whether Taste of Chicago or the Air & Water Show will return in some form or another this summer, with an announcement expected in the "next couple of weeks."

"We will be making some announcements in the next several weeks that speak to an ambitious agenda for arts and culture as we hopefully emerge out of the pandemic," Kelly said.

City officials are working to determine whether any federal relief funds available through the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan approved by Congress will be available to use to pay for festivals and other cultural events this year.

"We are hopeful that there may be in the bill, when it's passed, some additional support for arts and culture," Kelly said.

While the ordinance approved by the Special Events Committee on Wednesday authorizes the city's full calendar of events for 2021, city officials said that could change, depending on whether the city can use any federal funding to pay for them, and whether there's another surge in virus cases.

"I think we're cautiously optimistic, but I'm not going to predict specific events taking place over the course of the summer. Obviously for some events we need to be making some decisions soon," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said later Wednesday afternoon.

The mayor said, regardless of how the city decides to move forward in terms of hosting summer festivals, people need to continue taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while state and city officials continue ramping up vaccination efforts.

"I believe that the summer of 2021 is going to look more like 2019 and less like 2020, but we've still got to be driven by and led by what the science and public health guidance tells us. We're in one of the best positions that we've been in through this years-long pandemic … but that progress could easily slip away if we don't continue to be diligent," she said.

Meantime, Kelly said since the start of the pandemic, about 60% of his staff has been reassigned to help staff city-run vaccination sites and testing facilities, and to otherwise help with the city's efforts to fight the virus.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said those staffers will soon be needed to return to their normal duties not only to resume some summer festivals, but so the city can help the entertainment sector in general recover from the pandemic.

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