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June 23, 2020: On Bottom Lines, Life Preservers and the Art of Mental Health

Good day,

Yes, there’s the hard and sometimes overwhelming work of analyzing when audiences are likely to return, creating new scenarios for their safe welcome back, imagining different programming for the near and far future — and all within the context of social, political and health issues.

But the bottom line is the bottom line.

What happens when donor appeals, lay-offs, cancellations, salary slicing, and even larger withdrawals from previously sacrosanct endowments are not enough?

There may be some financial life preservers being tossed into the swirling sea of unknowns.

Headlines were made recently when The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced a dramatic increase in its philanthropy, dedicating an additional $200 million — on top of its $300 million originally planned for 2020 grants. This largesse will help fortify “the infrastructure and reimagined programming of nonprofits in education, the arts and culture.”

Among other foundations stepping up recently, was The Shubert Foundation which announced grants for the remainder of the year totaling $32 million — ranging from $10,000 to $325,000 — to 560 not-for-profit performing arts organizations across the country, “particularly those companies dedicated to developing and producing new American work.”

Welcome news for sure, but at the same time states and cities in the U.S. are looking for ways to cut their own stressed budgets — and the arts are often among the first to be placed on the chopping block. Government response to the arts sector varies widely, with some offering support through special grants, while others slash existing cultural budgets.

In Philadelphia, for example, the mayor eliminated the $3 million Philadelphia Cultural Fund from the 2021 revised budget proposal, funding which supports organizations throughput the city — most of them modest and community-focused. He also cut an additional $1 million by eliminating the Office of the Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy.

Fiscal challenges are especially dire in the U.K. A new study by TRG Arts and U.K. arts data specialists Purple Seven compares the impact venue closures in North America and the United Kingdom, and finds theaters in the U.K. are in far worse shape compared to those on the other side of the Atlantic.

The economic arts crisis there has prompted urgent calls for help, and the words strike a chord everywhere. Stage and film director Sam Mendes laid out a plan of action that includes job retention, tax relief and credits, and government investments. Mendes called the crisis “the biggest challenge to Britain’s cultural life since the outbreak of the second world war.” Dramatic words? He's not alone. A bold editorial in The Guardian states there was “no more time to waste. Unless the government wants to preside over the ruination of the UK’s cultural institutions, it needs to step in with a proper arts recovery fund, and fast." Even Prince Charles added to the calls for arts support among the government's recovery efforts as much of the arts sector, according to one report this week, faces permanent shut-down.

They might look to Germany for ideas, if not inspiration, with that country just announcing 1 billion Euros targeted for the arts. "The funds, which will be made available this year and next year, will be widely distributed across cinemas, music clubs, memorials, museums, theaters, and festivals," reports ArtNetNews.

Meanwhile, European Union leaders are pressuring the EU executive branch and its 27-member states to be more generous to the arts in its new $826 billion economic recovery package. For an overview of global giving, The Guardian presented this timely report.

The pleas, lobbying, and strategizing for financial support no doubt will be going on for some time in tandem with institutional leaders addressing multiple needs and concerns. But an essay from The Conversation is a reminder to also promote the many core values the arts provide — including the fact that art promotes mental health. And who doesn’t don’t need that right now?

- Frank Rizzo


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