In the US, ASHRAE sets the minimum outdoor air ventilation rates for buildings under the ASNI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1 and 62.2 guidelines. These standards specify how much outdoor air should be brought into a room every hour and are based on occupancy and room size. These standards also specify the number of "air changes per hour" that are needed to reduce the presence of airborne pathogens. Air changes per hour can be achieved through the use of high quality air filters, which "scrub" the entire volume of air in a space a certain number of times per hour.
Clean Air Club aims to achieve 6 ACH at all of the partnered events. However, due to the varying sizes of venues, this is not always possible. We nonetheless feel that some air purification is better than none, so all Clean Air Club endorsed events will have at least one large purifier running. If you ever want to know the ACH for a specific show, email us and we will send over more detailed stats.
We use HEPA filters for Clean Air Club. A recent CDC study shows that the use of HEPA filters in communal educational spaces reduces the rate of Covid infection by 42%!
The purifiers we use are typically between 43 and 49 dB, depending on the setting used. For reference, this places our purifiers somewhere between a "soft whisper" and a "quiet office" on common decibal charts.
The pandemic, and respiratory diseases in general, have not impacted us all equally. Black and brown communities, low-income, and disabled people have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. Majority Black and brown neighborhoods in Chicago were already health-disadvantaged by disproportionate levels of pollution and low air quality due to the systemic and long-term racism that exists in Chicago’s infrastructural and zoning choices. This is why we see higher incidences of asthma on the West side and in Little village, for example – our city is structured to make majority-POC neighborhoods bear the negative health costs of the most polluting industries in Chicago. So when the pandemic hit, Black and brown Chicagoans were already at a health disadvantage.
Now that Covid has been with us for years, we have seen the effects: low-income, POC, and disabled people have died at higher rates; have been hospitalized at higher rates; have suffered long-Covid at higher rates. Simply put, the pandemic has reproduced the very forms of racism, classism, and ableism that existed before it began.
The Chicago music and arts scene has also grappled with its involvement in and perpetuation of different forms of oppression – racism at beloved music venues, lack of accessibility for disabled and neurodivergent people, and sometimes exorbitant ticket costs that exclude low income people from the joyful and healing spaces that arts spaces, at their best, can be. Many of us have enthusiastically contributed to efforts to make these spaces materially and emotionally safer for the marginalized among us. Now it is our time to extend this progressive commitment to the question of health safety at our venues.
Focusing on safer air quality at Chicago arts venues is a way to merge all of these commitments: a commitment to anti-racism, to disabled liberation, and to anticapitalism. After all, a venue without safer air is not truly accessible; it reproduces racism and ableism and classism in all of the ways described above. And it does so through a facade of normalcy. Clean Air Club insists on recognizing that we are in a new normal, and that this new normal requires us to adopt new practices. We have chosen to focus on air quality because it is the kind of infrastructural intervention we can support that has resounding impacts for our entire community, and especially for those members of our community excluded or harmed by existing practices. And our hope is that this is one intervention among many that helps the Chicago arts scene thrive as one of the best in the US.
Most of us are familiar with the impact that the first year of Covid had on our music and arts spaces – many beloved venues shut down during prolonged absences of live music, and musicians and other workers in arts spaces lost the sources of revenue on which they depended.
Fewer of us are aware of what the ongoing pandemic, now in its fourth year, has done to our community. Many performers have been forced off-stage by long-Covid, unable to tour and perform at the level they were once used to. Those who have been lucky enough to avoid long-Covid nonetheless face difficult decisions when booking shows: are we risking our health every time we perform in a venue with mostly-unmasked patrons? Do I have to choose between my music or my health? My livelihood or my health? Guests in these spaces face similar calculations, as each choice to attend an event poses a risk to their longterm health, whether they acknowledge this or not.
Clean Air Club insists on believing that there is a third way – that we can have a thriving arts community while also working to protect the health of everyone who wants to be a part of it. By ensuring that the air in the space is adequately filtered, we are making those spaces a little bit safer. And by making them a little bit safer, we are putting our values into practice.