Monday, March 4, 2024

Who Decides: Is it Art or Entertainment?

Cook County has a three-percent amusement tax on admission fees to entertainment events, with a special exemption for performance of “fine arts.”

The “fine arts” exemption includes: “a live performance in any of the disciplines which are commonly regarded as part of the fine arts, such as live theater, music, opera, drama, comedy, ballet, modern or traditional dance, and book or poetry readings. The term does not include such amusements as athletic events, races, or performances conducted at adult entertainment cabarets.” 

Cook County is demanding back taxes from small music venues, claiming the music they book is not “fine art.” A county official has declared venues that host musicians performing rock, country, rap, and electronic music are not exempt from the entertainment tax under the “fine arts” clause. This decision leaves many small Chicago venues baffled by hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes.

The Department of Revenue responded, stating the demand for back taxes likely only applies specifically to DJ events, regardless of the genre of music, under the assumption that a DJ event is neither a “live performance” nor “fine art.”

Cook County’s utter confusion as to their own live performance of fine arts tax exemption echoes many court’s similar uneasiness with the time-old question: what exactly is “art” for purposes of law? 


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