The Chicago Arts Census is a comprehensive, cross-discipline data collection effort in the city created by and with the art workers of Chicago.
The Census is built to amplify our voices as art workers in Chicago, serve as an advocacy tool fighting for better working, living, and making conditions, and create opportunities for coalition-building across art sectors.
It does so by collecting, mapping, and visualizing data sets identified by and with art workers to better illuminate the reality of our living and working conditions. At present, a complex and intersectional account of our labor does not exist. The collected data will be translated into a series of maps, a website, a publication, and public programs that demonstrate the interwoven and dependent relationships that make up Chicago’s art ecosystem. Read Our FAQ here.
To collect and unify legible data identified and determined by the art workers of Chicago so that we can use the information to name, support, and defend healthier labor practices in the city’s various arts and cultural institutions for ourselves and our peers.
To create an expanded definition of art workers to acknowledge and hold the labor of our visible and invisible work. This includes, but by no means excludes other possibilities, those that define themselves as artist, arts writer, art handler, educator, fabricator, custodian, preparator, intern, docent, administrator, security guard, designer, and/or curator.
As funding institutions, both public and private, look to redistribute resources across geography, media, and demographics, we want the data collected by the Census to guide and recalibrate these funding streams toward the livelihoods of art workers in Chicago, specifically to create more opportunities to support collaborative and community-based projects.
As art workers we live in an ecosystem that is full of complex relationships. We balance tending to basic needs and nurturing our creativity while navigating complex systems of power and resources. The past year and a half has, in particular, illuminated the interconnectedness of the arts ecosystem and its inextricable links to larger, systemic issues that influence all aspects of our lives.
The arts ecosystem does not exist in a vacuum. The Chicago Arts Census focuses attention on the diverse experiences of Chicago art workers and is a snapshot of our lived experiences in the City. The collected stories and data of the Census reflect the impact of larger socio-political concerns on our lived experiences, including: racial justice, affordable healthcare, labor rights, gender equity, the nonprofit industrial complex, capitalism, elitism, and white supremacy. The pandemic has further revealed the precarity of the arts ecosystem and the long-standing challenges for those who work in it. As art workers we are often working for a low wage. Many of us juggle multiple jobs and are without health insurance. We are intermittently navigating unemployment and moving every year. We are tired. We feel the strain and scarcity of resources in our everyday lives, and yet what we feel and what we need is continually unaddressed within existing structures of support be they nonprofit or for-profit.
The Chicago Arts Census seeks to address this precarity. We can’t do it without you. This project attempts to better understand the position of the arts labor force in Chicago. This data is essential to making change because it allows art workers to understand and demonstrate the challenges we face to sustain and thrive in our work. We want to collect the voices and lived experiences of our peers because a complex and intersectional account of our labor does not exist. Our work and corresponding livelihoods are a missing dataset.
Data is insufficient on its own. But data combined with context, maps, and stories turns into actionable knowledge. With knowledge, and the wisdom it carries, we can provide a better understanding of circumstances for those working in the arts, and make the ways in which systemic inequities impact the arts sector.
There have been other attempts to collect our data—to represent us in numerical form. However, it is unclear if these studies truly represented the values and interests of the arts workforce in Chicago. Data is often used to flatten us when its means of collection are not made with us. At worst, data is used to “promote and perpetuate inequality, injustice, violence, wars, capitalism, structural racism” . Often, attempts to produce data on the arts sector take top-down approaches— don’t include stakeholders in the creation and distribution of the surveys, myopically define labor, employ a hypothesis that offers solutions from existing models mired in the inequities described above.
The Chicago Arts Census asks, “What happens with the Chicago arts labor force itself asks the questions?” When we—artists, musicians, writers, designers, actors, handlers, educators, fabricators, dancers, custodians, preparators, interns, docents, administrators, security guards, and curators—mobilize the potential of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom?
We believe we must name ourselves, articulate what resources are needed for us to live healthy, sustainable lives, and advocate in partnership with organizations, institutions, and legislators to do better in meeting the needs of the arts labor force. The Chicago Arts Census is a tool for all of us in the arts to do so, and through this strategy, we hope that we can offer a data process that is reflective of the sector’s living and working experiences.
Together we are louder, together we are making a clear case for fair wages, access to affordable healthcare, retirement plans , and improved job security. Together we can change the way our work, needs, and labor are understood and supported in hopes that our Chicago arts ecosystem will function in a way that deeply cares for all of us in it.
Over 150 arts workers participated in the creation of the first Chicago Arts Census and over 1000 arts workers gave it life by sharing their stories. We, the Lead Organizers (Kate Bowen, Alden Burke, Stephanie Koch, and Adia Skyes), of the Census, are immensely grateful for all your time and energy.
The first data collection cycle of the Chicago Arts Census was launched in November of 2021 and closed on June 27, 2022. The full comprehensive survey will remain open to Chicago Arts Workers with new responses updated on a quarterly cycle. Take the Survey.
This first Census was just the beginning of the work. So often our information is collected and it is unclear what happens to it or how it will be used. We are committed to showing our work by sharing our research as we develop our first data report on Chicago Arts Workers' lives and livelihoods.
The data and stories collected in the first comprehensive Chicago Arts Census will inform a grassroots strategy for our research, help us generate relevant programs with our partners, and demonstrate opportunities for future targeted surveys within the arts sector.
In the next chapter of the Chicago Arts Census, the Lead Organizers will work with DataMade, the Census committees, and collaborators to synthesize the data and disseminate the findings. Our goal is to work within our values, meaning we create accessible data reports, generate new, co-produced knowledge, and work in coalition with policymakers and organizations which support resource redistribution.
Below is an overview of the work to be done. We hope to work with you soon!
Coalition building is a long process, as it depends on knowledge and trust. Our relationship methodology includes outcome-based invitations for engagement.
To succeed, we created a partnership outreach campaign that includes outreach language, documentation of organizational goals, pursuits, and systems, and a menu of engagement opportunities that is flexible to potential partnership capacity, time, and tools.
DATA ANALYSIS + VISUALIZATION
COMMUNITY RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT
The Census is made by and with the art workers of Chicago.
The project is necessarily co-authored in community with art workers who it serves, because without our distributed voices and perspectives, the collected information would continue to misrepresent how our needs are intertwined with the way public and private sectors understand our labor.
As part of this initiative, the Census depends on the participation of several Census Committees made up of art workers who represent a breadth of communities, disciplines, organizational affiliations, and zip codes who are integral to the creation, dissemination, and evaluation of the Census. The Census will not speak on behalf of but rather with and from the lived experiences of these communities.
The Census Committees create the space in which data, information, knowledge, and wisdom collide—where the lived experiences of art workers from all different sectors, zip codes, and backgrounds can give life and shape to a tool that hopes to serve their larger communities.
There are five Census Committees: Research + Census Building, Census Consultants, Community Outreach, Community Liaisons, and the Census Peer Review. For more about the Census Committees, read here.
Additionally, the Census is made with the knowledge and expertise of DataMade, a data and web consultancy that supports projects working toward democracy and equity. DataMade will offer research and discovery, strategic consulting, process improvement, visualizations, building and maintaining data management tools and APIs, and performing data analysis and modeling.
The Chicago Arts Census is a collaboration between ACRE and Annas and generously funded by the Walder Foundation, the ArtWorks Fund, and The Builders Initiative. We work in partnership with DataMade, C.A.M.P., Sixty Inches From Center, and you!
Interested in participating?
Our Feedback + Inquiries Form is for you to leave a note, provide feedback, ask a question, or tell us about something in the text. This form can be filled out anonymously, or you can share your information so we might be in conversation with you. Collected information helps shape our mission, FAQ, and project methodology.
Have more questions on our process and our approach to equity, accessibility, and data privacy? Refer to our F.A.Q. for more details on the Chicago Arts Census.
ACRE (Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions) is an artist-run non-profit devoted to providing resources to emerging artists and nurturing an expansive community of art workers. ACRE’s programs support this generative community with materials, equipment, expertise, conscientiously produced food, and opportunities to exhibit and share work.
ACRE’s annual summer residency in rural Wisconsin brings together emerging artists to live and work in a communal setting. A corresponding year-long program of exhibitions and events based in Chicago creates ongoing opportunities for idea exchange, feedback, and growth.
As a community-coordinated effort to provide emerging artists with an accessible, equitable, and interdisciplinary residency and exhibitions program, ACRE has welcomed over 1,000 visual artists, sound artists, musicians, performance artists, writers, curators, scientists, chefs, and others to its Wisconsin and Illinois communities.
The Census serves ACRE's mission of advancing new means of support for artists through socially engaged, community-centered programs and initiatives.
Annas is a multi-functional platform dedicated to collaborative making, process-based work, care in administrative practices, and creative sustainability.
Our active rotation is responsive and unfolding, with a yearly residency program, collaborative exhibitions, performances, gatherings, and teachings, hosted in-person and virtually. As Annas grows, it positions itself as a space that centers care in our administration practices to support the sustained, collaborative opportunities for emergent and established arts workers throughout Chicago and beyond.
These four core values necessarily determined Annas as a collective, method, and site. As a collective, Annas is a community of arts workers dedicated to supporting and sustaining the role of process, care, and collaboration in the visual arts. As method, Annas believes (1) collaboration expands supportive and reciprocal possibility for individuals and institutions (2) creating equitable art spaces means shifting structural foundations by defining and formalizing methods of care into its administration, and (3) that expertise is experiential and abundant within the Chicago arts community. As site, Annas is malleable and built to transform to the needs of its cohorts and community.