Commission considers $ 575 million in ARPA funds for state arts and culture


A panel of lawmakers and industry leaders recommended that Massachusetts spend $ 575 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to help the arts and culture sector recover from economic devastation during the pandemic .

With nearly $ 5 billion in stimulus funds in the state’s pockets, the COVID-19 Cultural Impact Commission asked in a final report released Wednesday that Beacon Hill use a large portion to stabilize museums, performance venues , galleries, individual artists and more, and to revitalize public interest in activities that supporters believe drive major economic activity.

“The work of this commission confirms what we already knew – the arts and culture sector is the lifeblood of the Massachusetts economy and needs substantial investment to help its recovery,” said the senator. of State Edward J. Kennedy, D-Lowell, co-chair of the commission, in a statement Wednesday. The recommendations of the report and of the bill entitled “An Act to Reconstruct the Cultural Future of the Commonwealth” that it tabled, he said, “are essential not only to save and rebuild this hard-hit area, but also to position it stronger and more resilient. moving forward.”

Christine McCarthy, CEO of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, was one of six artists and leaders of cultural organizations among 13 members of the commission that has been meeting and holding public hearings since early May. She said the measures suggested by the group would help strengthen Provincetown, America’s oldest continuing arts colony, and its cultural community.

“These difficult times have proven the resilience of cultural non-profit organizations and we need to support art and artists more than ever before,” she said in a commission statement.

The pandemic has been “devastating” for the state’s arts and cultural institutions, the commission wrote, noting that the latest figures from the Mass Cultural Council – covering March 2020 through April 2021 – show a loss of $ 588 million per nonprofit and municipal cultural organizations, and $ 30.4 million in lost revenue reported by individual artists, teacher artists, and scientists / humanists.

Arts and culture is a huge draw for visitors and residents of Cape Cod and the islands, local officials said, and state figures show that arts nonprofits support more than 73,000 full-time jobs. They also generate over $ 2.2 billion in total spending and generate nearly $ 100 million in tax revenue for the state. Overall, Massachusetts’ creative economy, according to the commission, provides nearly 150,000 jobs.

Michael J. Bobbitt, executive director of the Mass Cultural Council and panel member, said in a statement that the state’s overall economy “will not fully recover without solid public investment to safely rebuild and reopen organizations. cultural institutions and strengthen the economic security of individual artists. . “

The panel’s report suggests earmarking about two-thirds of its $ 575 million request for grants that would help cultural institutions navigate reopening and recovery. About $ 100 million of that suggested $ 375 million in grants could be used to help individual artists. The remaining $ 200 million requested, the panel suggested, could be used for workforce and community development; youth education; a marketing campaign to rekindle interest in artistic events; and grants that organizations could use to upgrade facilities or expand virtual programming options.

State Representative Dan Hunt, D-Dorchester, who chairs the House Committee on Federal Stimulus, told the State House News Service on Tuesday that his panel will read the report as it prepares for hearings in this been on the distribution of ARPA funding.

“I think right now we’re very open to anything,” Hunt said when asked about the $ 575 million request. “ARPA legislation is quite broad in what you can spend, and the arts and culture community is specifically named in this document.”

The money derived from federal law known as ARPA, the commissioners wrote in their report, presents itself as “a beacon of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.”

“Although many grant and loan options were made available, federal funds were not distributed at a rate institutions needed it,” the commission wrote. “The difficult application process and slow delivery have left businesses frustrated with nowhere to turn. Commonwealth organizations need this funding now.

Lawmakers have not decided how to use most of the $ 5.3 billion the state government received in ARPA funding. The House and Senate rejected Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to spend $ 2.8 billion on housing, workforce development and other issues, then injected around $ 4.89 billion in a fund that legislative leaders say they will distribute after a public hearing process.

In addition to devoting around 11% of ARPA’s funding to arts and culture, the commission’s report included several other recommendations to support this sector in the future. They included:

► The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education allocating part of the relief funds it receives to arts education programs, arts educators and the safe reopening of artistic spaces in public schools.

► Have this education department help districts use the funding to support school performances, virtual and / or in-person field trips to cultural facilities, and the development of innovative and the integration of technology into art classes.

► Form a commission to focus on issues of diversity, equity, access and inclusion in the funding of arts and culture.

► Allocate $ 50 million to a workforce program that hires artists and cultural organizations to create new arts “in support of community cohesion and civic engagement, revitalize economic activity in main streets and city centers and disseminate information on disparities in public health ”.

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