Local Public Emergency COVID-19 Relief Funding Excludes Washtenaw County Arts + Creative Nonprofits

. September 9, 2020.
Arts + Cultural Sector Ann Arbor
Stock photo courtesy of Andrew Neel.

Artists, Creative Workers and Leaders Look for Change for our Arts

The Arts Alliance released the Emergency COVID-19 Relief Funding for Arts + Creative Industries in Washtenaw County Report, which states that not one penny was distributed to an arts or cultural nonprofit organization. This report pulls from the $5.56 million in total grants, including two that were administered by Ann Arbor Spark (the Michigan Small Business Relief Program Grant and the Michigan Small Business Restart Grant), the Washtenaw Small Business Emergency Relief Fund, and the Washtenaw United Way COVID-19 Community Relief Fund for local nonprofits. Although the Washtenaw United Way emergency fund was for nonprofits, it specifically excluded arts nonprofits.

Washtenaw’s Arts + Creative sector was among the first to respond reasonably to the need to flatten the curve of the greater Ann Arbor Area. They did this by shutting the doors of performance venues, galleries, and museums across Washtenaw County. The financial impact of the pandemic in the art sector was immediate. Revenue ceased and the artists and creative workers were out of work without warning. For our local artists, there is no safety net to help. A safety net for arts funding exists from government, a foundation, or a commission.

Although it may not seem like it, the arts and creative industries in Washtenaw County are big businesses. On March 19, 2020, just days after COVID-19 arrived in Washtenaw County, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that in 2017 the arts contributed 4.5% to GDP and $13.9 billion in value added to Michigan’s economy.

The County Report tracked grants from March 16 through September 2. In this time, other sources provided 30 nonprofits (of 200 total eligible) $318,750 in grants: $92,500 of this was in private grants plus $80,000 in public regional grants, and $143,500 were in National Endowment for the Arts CAREs act grants. Local public emergency relief funding of a total of $245,500 reached 52 Washtenaw County for-profit arts + creative businesses. Two private sources provided $11,943 directly to support 31 individual artists, creative, and gig workers: Creative Washtenaw Aid ($10,943) and CAFE for the Arts ($1,000). The Arts Alliance reports that it receives requests for support every day.

The Arts Alliance points to Washtenaw’s arts and cultural assets as adding greatly to the region’s quality of life and place, driving the regional economy and attracting visitors to the area. A recent DataArts report calculates an economic impact of $127.4 million based on just 32% of the county’s arts nonprofits with 2.5 million attendees, have more than 5,100 employees and expend $55.3 million annually ($30 million of that in wages.)

“Imagine the total economic impact if all 200 of our county arts nonprofits were included in the DataArts report,” remarked Deb Polich, spokesperson for The Arts Alliance. “We are so grateful for any and all of the support that has been made possible. But given our sector’s economic impact, the exclusion of emergency COVID-19 funding for our nonprofits is so befuddling. I’ve heard some colleagues intimate that ‘it’s demoralizing after so many years of serving this community.’ Our community claims it values arts and culture. We invest community resources in other things we value: parks, libraries, transportation and education. Why then not arts and culture? Especially in a time like this when this sector is so vital to our economic recovery.”

The Arts Alliance has been charged with two actions. Its first charge is to continue to raise funds and distribute aid to those needing assistance through Creative Washtenaw Aid. The Arts Alliance’s second charge is to present a series on the arts + creative industries in Washtenaw County that informs, engages and challenges residents, elected officials, community leaders, decision makers and artists, creative workers, organizations and businesses to look at the future and sustainability of Creative Washtenaw. The series dates will be announced in The Arts Alliance e-newsletter and on its social media. Those interested may sign up for an announcement here

For more information, contact The Arts Alliance at info@a3arts.org or call 734-213-2733.

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