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The City of Chicago showed itself to be a friend of the arts in the late ’70s when it passed a progressive ordinance giving birth to its Public Arts program. But more than the show of support the arts were receiving, artists themselves were figuring out that it was possible that they could do good work and make ends meet in the “City of Big Shoulders.”

The relatively low cost of overhead for studio and performance spaces combined with community and critical recognition gave rise to many of Chicago’s finest. Steppenwolf Theatre grew up on the north side while playwright David Mamet and Hubbard Street Dance Company claimed their fame downtown. The Imagists maintained a strong presence in Hyde Park on the south side. And even if you couldn’t afford a space, the smart, upstart alternative publication, the Chicago Reader, made a go of it around one of its founder’s dining room tables. The inimitable success of Chicago artists working in the ’70s and ’80s is a testament to the city’s motto, “I will.”

Photo credits:
Public art - Credit: Chicago History Museum
SMART Museum - Credit: The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago
Hubbard Street - Credit: Courtesy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Chicago arts - Credit: Kathy Richland
Second City - Credit: Second City
Steppenwolf - Credit: Steppenwolf Theatre
Mamet/American Buffalo - Credit: Photo courtesy the Goodman Theatre
Cinema - Credit: Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library
Chicago Reader - Credit: Courtesy of the Daily Herald

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