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Artists Who Struggled Mightily Amid Pandemic Hope To Make Up For Lost Time At West Loop Art Fest

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Local artists hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic are hoping to make up for lost time during the last outdoor festivals of the summer.

As CBS 2's Jackie Kostek reported Saturday, one such festival is the West Loop Art Fest, which is back after two years.

For many local artists, street festivals like the West Loop Art Fest are their lifeblood - one of the main ways they interact with customers and make money. The artists Kostek spoke to said they can pull in anywhere from a couple hundred dollars on a bad weekend to upward of $40,000 on a good one.

"We're all in the whole pretty deep right now, so we've got to make it up today," said Andrew Christen.

Just before the pandemic hit, Christen was doing quite well. His work - mostly flags made from recycled wood found in city alleyways - was in about a dozen restaurants across town and he had just set up a small gallery inside Ogilvie Transportation Center.

"I was there for two months and at the beginning of February and I got COVID," he said. "I had to tear down the booth while I had COVID and I was sick for a month, and then everything collapsed."

Christen says 10 of the 12 restaurants he worked with shut down. Street festivals were canceled.

Meanwhile, he had to get roommates, six of them, to stay afloat.

"I literally went six months without money coming in," Christen said.

Christen said he did qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits and received about $175 a month. But as for other support, artists' grants, or Paycheck Protection Program loans, he says he didn't get anything.

"If you didn't own a restaurant - which seems to be the loudest people around here - they got the money and we didn't," he said.

For travel photographer James Cole, managing the dried-up revenue stream was one thing. Managing the pandemic's impact on his work another.

"I got to an area where I felt not creative," Cole said. "I put art on the backburner for a while. I never even looked at it."

Cole averaged about 35 art shows a year - some in Chicago, some out of town. Having festivals back, opportunities to connect with people is like a reawakening, Cole said.

"Makes you appreciate being an artist because it's what we like," he said. "We like interaction. Without interaction with the art, there's no art."

The artists said weather is also a huge factor in how successful these weekends can be. Luckily for them, the weather is expected to be just about perfect through Sunday.

You can check out the West Loop Art Fest on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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