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What the $2 Trillion Stimulus Means for the Arts, Struggling to Stay Afloat

While leading museum associations petitioned Congress for $4 billion to buoy nonprofit museums, today Trump signed the controversial stimulus bill, promising the NEA and NEH a respective $75 million.

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, joined by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, addresses the emergency stimulus package during the coronavirus (COVID-19) update briefing on Wednesday, March 25. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

From the arts, to the hospitality industry, to agriculture, the economy continues to reel amid the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, March 27, in an attempt to bolster the declining US economy, the House passed a hotly contested $2 trillion stimulus bill, which was signed into effect by President Trump this afternoon.

Allocating a combined $50 billion in grants and loans for passenger airlines, and promising $1,200 checks to eligible citizens, its relief for the arts and culture sector includes a respective $75 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); $50 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services; and $25 million for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. Regarding the NEA and NEH, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act stipulates that 40 percent of the funding “shall be distributed to State arts agencies and regional arts organizations and 60 percent of such funds shall be for direct grants.” Also among the emergency aid provisions is $377 billion for small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, which may offer a boon to eligible arts businesses and nonprofits.

The largest federal stimulus package in history, its explicit arts funding falls profoundly short of suggestions outlined in urgent petitions led by respected museum organizations. Worldwide, art festivals and fairs have been postponed, museums and galleries shuttered indefinitely, and workers are being furloughed or let go by institutions bent on preserving their own financial resources. Last week, the American Association of Museums (AAM) and the American Association of Museum Directors (AAMD) signed a letter addressed to Congress and Senate leaders asking that $4 billion be diverted to support nonprofit museums during this uncertain moment in history. They estimated museums nationwide are losing $30 million daily, with nearly one-third of museums in danger of closing permanently after the crisis.

In an email to Hyperallergic, Chris Anagnos, Executive Director of the AAMD, contended that while the cultural sector is “grateful for the stimulus funds that have been designated for the NEA, NEH, and IMLS” his hope is “that Congress will re-evaluate the level of need for the arts sector and recognize that the $200 million allocated falls far short of the need.”

“Museums, theaters, performing arts venues, and other arts organizations are, collectively, major employers; without additional financial relief, they cannot continue to employ people during this crisis,” Anagnos continued. “Just as importantly, these organizations foster vibrant communities — something that we will all need, wherever we are, once the pandemic is finished.”

In support of the AAM and AAMD’s plea to Congress, earlier this week, the Metropolitan Museum — which estimates a $100 million loss during its indefinite COVID-19 closure — launched a #CongressSaveCulture campaign, encouraging supporters to send letters in favor of emergency cultural funding to their representatives.

Daniel Weiss, Metropolitan Museum President and CEO, told Hyperallergic, “We are all in this together, and we remain hopeful that in future legislation Congress will bring relief to the thousands of shuttered arts and culture organizations that employ over 700,000 Americans.”

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