“This agreement confirms that government officials should not be the arbiters of what constitutes art.”

A debate in Cook County, the municipality that includes the city of Chicago, over whether or not DJ sets and modern live music constituted “live cultural performances” is to be settled after officials agreed to change existing rules.

The change was announced on Friday in a press release shared on Facebook by Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey. The rule change will amend the county’s amusement tax ordinance, which entitles venues holding fewer than 750 people to be exempt from a 3% tax on admission fees for “live cultural performances.”

Other parties agreeing to this change include Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s administration, representatives from the City of Chicago, and industry stakeholders. A hearing on this proposed amendment is scheduled for October 26.

“This agreement makes it clear that it was never the intent of the Administration for the County to play culture police and make decisions on what is, or isn’t, music or art,” Fritchey states in the press release.

The issue first arose in August this year after Cook County sought back taxes of $200,000 from Evil Olive and Beauty Bar, two small venues in Chicago. At a local hearing, a judge claimed that modern genres such as rock, rap, and DJ-based music did not necessarily constitute music within the scope of fine arts as defined by the county code.

The debate caused outcry in the city, and beyond, with The Chicago Tribune ridiculing it in an op-ed titled, Hey Mr. DJ, are you really an artist?.

Joe Shanahan, owner of Metro and Smart Bar, two of Chicago’s best known live venues, was also quoted in the press release. “These musical styles are all recognized as art around the world and Chicago is rightly recognized as the birthplace of some of the best-known artists. This agreement confirms that government officials should not be the arbiters of what constitutes art while affording small venue owners a sense of certainty as they continue to present musical talent to Chicagoans and the many visitors who flock to our venues based on our city’s international reputation as a music capital.” [Via Pitchfork]

The Chicago ruling follows other local debates about the merits of modern, and often electronic, music. Last month, a German court ruled that techno parties at Berlin’s Berghain venue should be classed as culture rather than entertainment. A week earlier, the London council of Islington voted to revoke the license of Fabric, a world-renowned venue.



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