2021 opens with a momentous transition in political leadership and the first phase of COVID vaccinations across the country, bringing hope to millions of people. While we know that the nation – and our arts and culture sector – face grave challenges, “there is always light,” as we were reminded yesterday by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman.
On the federal government level, there is good news with regard to funding the federal cultural agencies. In the appropriations bill passed in December, Congress increased the budgets of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities slightly, from their current budgets of $162.25 million each to $167.5 million.
National arts advocacy organizations will continue to push to increase those allocations. For now, it’s heartening to note that there was bipartisan support in Congress for the NEA and the NEH, despite the former President’s repeated calls for their elimination.
The Biden administration is expected to move quickly to address mounting economic losses from the COVID pandemic, which we hope will include relief for the arts. The December aid package (the Consolidated Appropriations Act, or “CAA”) included two programs that promise to deliver urgently-needed relief to arts businesses and nonprofit organizations. The Act authorizes additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. It also includes a new $15 billion grant program called Shuttered Venue Operator Grants – also known as “Save Our Stages” -- to provide aid to struggling live performance venues. The grants will offer a lifeline for the nation’s performing arts venues, movie theatres and museums.
Both the National Assembly for State Arts Agencies and Americans for the Arts are already meeting with legislators and representatives from the Biden team to map out key priorities for the coming year. We will keep our readers posted about any advocacy campaigns that are forthcoming from these national advocacy partners.
Locally, in Vermont, it’s clear that there are pressing economic needs in the arts and culture realm that will continue at least through 2021. We are actively exploring ways to address those needs, and with the energies and input from many stakeholders in the Vermont Creative Network, we have developed an action framework for advancing the creative sector and its role in Vermont’s future. We will continue to focus on convening, engaging, and amplifying the power and potential of our state’s creative economy; supporting diverse creative talents and voices; and finding ways for the arts to help us all to heal and rebound from the pandemic.
Our top priorities are as follows:
- Equipping artists and cultural organizations with tools to navigate the various COVID relief programs and requirements on the federal and state levels;
- Ensuring that artists and cultural organizations are considered when COVID relief packages are developed;
Supporting individual artists (especially to develop the skills and financial strategies that will put their creative businesses on firmer footing);
Providing cultural organizations with the resources, equipment, and training they need to adapt to COVID and beyond; and
- Advocating for the powerful role the arts must play to help Vermont communities to heal, recover, and revitalize our downtowns.
Reflecting these priorities, we are joining with other public and private funders to invest in Better Places (a community place-making initiative); we are supporting additional Artist Development Grants; and we are keeping the field informed and up to date on COVID resources and funding opportunities through webinars and the Arts Council’s COVID webpages
I know you share my belief that the arts --and the gifts of creativity, joy, and compassion that they bring-- are essential to envisioning a hopeful and just future for Vermont. As our communities weather the next phase of the pandemic, we know that the creative sector will be at the heart of community recovery and re-opening. I look forward to working with you all to support, advocate for, and tell the stories of the amazing artists and cultural organizations across our state.