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How Chicago Artists are Coping with the New Coronavirus Economy

Some businesses deemed essential are staying open as Gov. J.B. Pritzker orders residents across the state to stay home and help prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. But how are mom-and-pop operations weathering the storm? 
Among the many theaters, show halls and public venues to close in Chicago amid the pandemic is the family owned Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park. It was celebrating its 30-year anniversary before it was forced to close its doors to the public.
“Across the entire building there are about 500 different things happening, artistic events happening across the year,” said Lela Dyrkacz, who owns the theater with her husband Zygmunt Dyrkacz. “Primarily theater, but then there are literary events, music events and classical and jazz concerts.”
One of those events includes the original show “Verboten,” from the House Theatre of Chicago (the show was recently featured on “Chicago Tonight”) which had just announced an extend run. Despite these unpredicted hardships, the owners of the Chopin say one of their biggest concerns is for the production companies they work with year-round.

“We put everything we have into it personally,” Dyrkacz says. “So of course we’re worried about our viability, but we also have so many people that count on this institution being open, so we’re thinking about them too, and how we can be helpful.”
Producing artistic director Derek Van Barham of Kokandy Productions is one of the companies that performs at the Chopin Theatre. Their production “Hundred Days” had to close on its opening night. Nonetheless, Van Barham says he’s grateful for the Chopin’s dedication to their community.
“It’s been nice in the arts world for the past couple of days, just sort of seeing that step by step of self-preservation,” Van Barham said. “But also opening up to that broader big picture, ‘Oh, everyone’s hurting, everyone’s sort of in the same moment together,’ and seeing the way people start to look out for each other is very nice and very encouraging.”
Community is something independent photographer Chris Costoso also relies on as he faces financial hardships after purchasing a new storefront just three weeks ago for his business, Impact Images Studio.
"This is the extension of the studio, the new location,” Costoso said. “You can tell everything just, like, froze and put us to a stop.”
With an extensive photography background, Costoso now worries about how he’ll be able to continue the momentum.  

“My name got out there in Chicago and the Hispanic community and I started doing more Latin events in Chicago. From there I became Bill Daley’s campaign photographer, then shortly after that I became Mayor Lightfoot’s photographer for a short period of time. I think in the Hispanic community … a lot of people know who I am because of everything I’ve done in Chicago. But I feel even that, at this time, people want to make sure they have toilet paper at home before they have a nice picture by Chris at home.”
Costoso is also worried about how he’ll continue to pay his staff of seven.
“We’ve just been creating content and getting creative with this content to be able to book something,” he said. “The past couple of days we got three bookings and they came out of nowhere and we were like ‘Yeah!’ It’s kind of like a celebration.”
As both neighborhood businesses work to stay afloat despite a lack of income, Dyrkacz, at the Chopin Theatre, says they hope the community realizes how important their support is.
“Theaters are kind of economic drivers in neighborhoods,” Dyrkacz said. “So someone will come to see a show and then maybe they’ll stop at a restaurant. So it’s really important for local and small businesses to be supported.”
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