October 24, 2020
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CHICAGO — Across Chicago, the state and the country — stages, theaters and museums are facing uncertain futures due to the pandemic.

Actor and writer Matthew-Lee Erlbach grew up in the Chicago area and is now one of the leaders in a push to Congress to help save a multi-billion dollar industry.

“The constellation of arts institutions are failing right now,” said we’re facing a galactic economic catastrophe if we don’t do something immediately.”

In August, Erlbach penned an open letter to the US Senate, urging passage of The Dawn Act. A petition called Defend Arts Workers Now has been signed by over 16,000 people online.

“Being a Chicagoan, knowing that 30 billion dollars is Illinois’ arts economy and 2 billion dollars in household income in Chicago alone,” Erlbach said. “If we don’t act soon, we’re facing an economic catastrophe in the City of Chicago.”

The internet is playing a critical role in the push, calling for the Senate to extend unemployment, health coverage and investing $43.85B in grants to support the millions of Americans who make their living in the arts.

In July, those who work behind the scenes in Chicago’s live events and theater industry called on Congress to pass similar legislation. The US House approved a bill, but the Senate has yet to pass it.

“This is really a lifeline for them. This is not something they want to be on ..this is something they need to help their families,” said Complete Crewing owner Dan Kantor. “It’s a real shame that the economic engine for this city are these folks standing here and the government can’t figure out a way to take care of them when they’re in most need.”

A movement called “be an arts hero” works to press lawmakers on taking action immediately to help the industry that was one of the first to shut down.

“This is about museum workers, theater, opera, dance, cultural spaces and all the related businesses that support this highly inter-dependent eco system,” Erlbach said.

A system that hits a city like Chicago hard, with arts and culture as a major economic draw that’s not likely to reopen until next year at the earliest.