How the Work of Americans for the Arts Is Addressing the Urgent Challenges of 2020


Americans for the Arts is committed to a vision of the arts being recognized as integral to the lives of all people and essential to healthy, vibrant, and equitable communities across the nation. The work of the organization is guided by a board-approved strategic plan with the advice of our leadership councils, strategic partners, local and state arts agencies, and many other decision makers, all of whom have a stake in advancing the arts as core to transforming lives, communities, workplaces, and education systems. 

The urgency of this vision has never been more apparent than in 2020—amid a global pandemic, heightened focus on social justice and racial equity, a huge economic downturn, and a contentious presidential election. These issues have impacted every community across the country and devastated artists, nonprofit and for-profit creative businesses, educational systems, healthcare, and trust in government. And because of long-term systemic inequities, these challenges have more severely affected people and communities of color.

In 2020, Americans for the Arts continued its commitment to our vision and planned work, while also pivoting and taking on new, urgent work like so many of our 5,000 member organizations. The end of this statement contains supplemental links to both the planned and new work our organization carried out this year, much of which is in partnership with other organizations, leaders, and stakeholders.

Below are highlights of some key areas of the new and urgent work of Americans for the Arts in 2020 that are in addition to our planned work portfolio.

Pandemic Research

Within a week of closing offices in DC and NYC in March and transitioning to work-from-home, Americans for the Arts began surveying the field and releasing information about the effects of the pandemic on the arts community nationally and locally. Since then, we have conducted four major pandemic-related research initiatives to track the human and financial impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on cultural organizations and creative workers. These research projects have helped the field understand and explain the enormous impact of the pandemic on the creative economy and continue to be crucial tools for advocating for artists, creative workers, and the arts community. These research results have been cited by The New York Times, Barron’s, Washington Post, NPR, Artnet News, Business Insider, Hyperallergic, and hundreds of local publications.

To date these 2020 studies by Americans for the Arts show:

  • Financial losses to nonprofit arts and cultural organizations are an estimated $14.1 billion with 476 million lost admissions due to cancelled events. The economic loss of spending by nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences is 847,000 jobs and $4.9 billion in government revenue. 
  • 41% of nonprofit arts organizations are currently open; 59% of organizations remain closed. 10% are “not confident” that they will survive the pandemic (a potential loss of 12,000 organizations).
  • Artists and creative workers are among the most severely affected segment of the nation’s workforce, with 63% having become fully unemployed and an average financial loss per artist/creative worker of $22,000 (nationally, they expect to lose $50.6 billion in income in 2020).
  • Black, Indigenous, and artists of color have higher rates of unemployment than white artists due to the pandemic (69% vs. 60%). They also expect to lose a larger percentage of their 2020 income (61% vs. 56%). 
Pandemic Priorities

Armed with this data and our long history of working within the arts and culture field and with other sectors, Americans for the Arts has identified at least four urgent COVID-related priorities. It is critical that each of these priorities acknowledge the need for policy and practice changes to address and mitigate the disproportionate effects of the pandemic and economic downturn on BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQ creatives:

  1. Local, county and state arts agencies need targeted research, messaging, and technical assistance to support their communities, advocate for resources, and persevere through the pandemic;
  2. As local, state, and federal governments set relief and recovery policies, those policies must be inclusive of the full creative economy;
  3. The incoming Biden/Harris administration must be educated on the importance of pro-arts policies that put creative workers to work; and
  4. Our field must preserve and protect funding for arts education that supports arts educators, teaching artists, community culture bearers, and others who are charged with in-school and out-of-school arts education.
Tools and Information Sharing

Shortly after the pandemic began, Americans for the Arts created an online Coronavirus Resource and Response Center. This online center of Coronavirus-related information and research has been a crucial tool for the field and has had more than 200,000 unique page views since its inception, and an average time on its pages of nearly five minutes. In addition to this online tool, each week we send email updates to our members and partners that share and catalogue Americans for the Arts’ work and related pandemic work in the field. We have also offered free office hours to members and non-members alike, through which staff has provided one-on-one support to thousands of people and cultural organizations since May as they navigated COVID-related relief program guidelines, assisting them in accessing much-needed resources.

Americans for the Arts has also conducted a variety of COVID-related field education webinars all free to member and non-member participants on our ArtsU platform. Many of these programs engaged upwards of 1000 participants during the live stream:

  • Arts and Culture Sector and the Coronavirus: What we Know and How to Move Forward
  • We Are Stronger Together: Navigating Crises and Sustaining Healthy Relationships in the Era of Coronavirus
  • COVID-19 Relief Package Briefing: An Americans for the Arts Virtual Check-In
  • Americans for the Arts CARES Act Update
  • PPP Loan Forgiveness
  • Guidance and Q&A on the NEWLY Released Paycheck Protection Loan Forgiveness Application Forms and Flexibility Rules

In the face of the pandemic, Americans for the Arts also continued to offer other crucial online gatherings to meet the needs of the field as well as hunger for our stakeholders to connect:

  • The National Arts Action Summit
  • The Nancy Hanks Lecture on the Arts and Public Policy
  • Americans for the Arts Annual Convention
  • Public Art and Civic Design Conference
  • Getting Creative Workers Working webinars
  • National Initiative for Arts in the Military Summit
  • LAA COVID Ex (changes)
  • Americans for the Arts Member coffee chats
Advocacy Efforts

Since early March, Americans for the Arts has also pursued COVID-19 relief for the creative sector through timely federal advocacy. Efforts we have supported include: 

  • Broadening access to unemployment benefits. We worked to ensure that all workers, including independent contractors and gig workers, could access Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). This is the first time such access has been made possible, and we are now working to extend and make permanent the inclusion of gig workers, independent contractors, and the self-employed in unemployment programs.
  • Protecting creative jobs. We worked to create favorable guidelines for both nonprofit and commercial creative businesses as well as individual gig workers and entrepreneurs to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which, along with concerted technical assistance from our staff, yielded at least $13 billion in funds to creative economy businesses, including $1.8 billion in forgivable loans to nonprofit arts organizations. We are calling for a second round of PPP, including set-asides and lower administrative burdens for very small businesses. 
     
  • Supporting local and state arts infrastructure. We helped secure $75 million each for the NEA and NEH in initial relief funding, which was distributed to all 50 states. We continue to push for much-needed further funding.
  • Supporting local and state government CARES Act funding. We supported supplemental funding for government to provide COVID-19 related economic relief, including arts-related businesses, and governmental programs.
  • Seeking direct relief payments. The 2020 CARES Act provided $1,200 in direct checks to individuals, and we continue to encourage a second round of payments. 

This is work we do not do alone. We are proud of the role we play in advocacy coalitions, and the collective work these coalitions have done to represent the field with a unified voice. Americans for the Arts has pursued these priorities in coalition with our members and a broad spectrum of for-profit and nonprofit partners to organize a united front in pursuing creative workforce recovery. On behalf of the full breadth of the creative economy, we have cultivated more than 150 strategic partnerships with cross-sector organizations and decision makers. These relationships continue to be a crucial tool for advocacy, information gathering and sharing, and awareness building for the power of the arts to address common challenges. Being able to communicate directly with mayors, for-profit and nonprofit arts leaders, chambers of commerce, state legislators, artists, and corporate leaders has been crucial during the pandemic and will continue to be important as we move from relief to recovery.

Increasing Our Focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Since our founding, Americans for the Arts has been raising issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our field, and we acknowledge that historically the nonprofit arts field, inclusive of ourselves, have failed to achieve true cultural equity. The disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on historically and currently marginalized communities; the ongoing murder of Black, Indigenous, and immigrant men and women; and the chronic systemic inequities that exist both within our field and broader American society today; require that cultural equity continue to be a top priority for our organization—and it is.

In 2016, building on the organization’s cultural equity and inclusion policy statements spanning the last 35 years, Americans for the Arts issued a new Statement on Cultural Equity with supporting tools and documentation. The statement reads, in part: to support a full creative life for all, Americans for the Arts commits to championing policies and practices of cultural equity that empower a just, inclusive, and equitable nation. The full document outlines various areas of focus for the organization related to cultural equity, including: driving internal and external cultural consciousness and knowledge; effectively resourcing, and prioritizing our internal and external cultural equity work; conducting research and evaluation on cultural equity for the field; supporting the transformation and opening up of leadership structures within the arts; and pursuing public and private sector policy that centers cultural equity.

This statement was designed not just as a guiding principle for our own organization, but also to provide a pathway to help our 5,000 local arts agency members and other organizations craft their own commitments regarding cultural equity. Since 2016, many of our member organizations have also completed equity statements.

Americans for the Arts understands that creating a cultural equity statement is only one step on a path to cultural equity, with much work, listening, sharing, and planning to follow. In the four years since we adopted our cultural equity statement, the organization has taken steps forward in service to diversity, equity, and inclusion, while also recognizing the ongoing nature of our journey towards cultural equity.

  • We have adjusted and expanded our staffing structure, which now includes six staff members whose job descriptions include an explicit focus on equity (including two staff members whose entire portfolio is around equity in arts leadership), and mandate that all staff members integrate a cultural equity focus into their work.
     
  • We have increased both the amount of dollars expended directly on cultural equity-related initiatives (currently at about 5% of the total organizational budget, with a goal of 10% of the total organizational budget within 5 years), as well as the amount of money earmarked to support lowering barriers of access to professional development, particularly for those who otherwise would not have access to such training.
  • We require quarterly participation in monthly Learning Lab opportunities focused on building staff competencies around diversity, equity, and inclusion concepts, while also focusing on ways to build mutual respect and appreciation in the workplace; have implemented staff stipends for an organizational library focused on anti-racism and social justice; put a policy into place that has supported the creation of affinity groups at the organization; require staff participation in annual anti-racism training; and have set up a matching fund for staff contributions to social justice organizations.
     
  • To assess the impact of this work on internal conditions and opinions about the working atmosphere and culture, we have conducted a bi-annual Cultural Assessment, which will be fielded again in the first three months of 2021. This assessment helps inform the continued work of the Learning Lab and HR in addressing the needs of staff.
  • Americans for the Arts’ Animating Democracy activated Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change in the field. The framework, developed by artists and allied funders and evaluators, enhances understanding and evaluation of creative work at the intersection of arts and civic engagement, community development, and justice. By elevating 11 aesthetic attributes in civically and socially engaged art, it addresses historical domination of Euro-American aesthetic standards and promotes deeper appreciation of the rigor required for effective creative work.
  • We have expanded our Equity in Arts Leadership portfolio, including continuing the 20-year-old Emerging Leaders program, nationalizing the 28-year-old Americans for the Arts Diversity in Arts Leadership (DIAL) internship program, launching new virtual learning opportunities for mid-career leaders of color, building the Arts & Culture Leaders of Color Fellowship program, expanding the Arts & Culture Leaders of Color Network, and debuting the Johnson Fellowship Program. All of these are designed to amplify BIPOC, disabled, and/or LGBTQ+ voices and leadership in the arts.
     
  • We held a wide variety of diversity, equity, and inclusion related webinars in 2020 for knowledge sharing with our field on topics such as:

    • The DIAL Labs: Contextualizing Power and Creating Change That Can Last
    • The DIAL Labs: Re/thinking Mentorship in the Arts for POC
    • DIAL.studio | Creating Online POC Arts Communities
    • DIAL.studio | Antigone in Ferguson: Building a Chorus that Can’t Preach to Itself (By Design)
    • DIAL.studio | Self Advocacy and Self Care for Artists and Arts Administrators of Color
    • Shifting Power Through Crowdfunding
    • Supporting Individual Artists: Allies in Communities – How to Support Artist-Led Community Development
    • Leveraging the Arts to Achieve Equity, Justice, and Inclusion Goals
    • Investigating Representation in Public Spaces: Monument Lab’s Field Trip Project
    • ArtsU Intensive: Achieving Meaningful Engagement with Diverse Audiences
  • We provide regular field education programs and cultural equity updates to the field and offer resources through our Cultural Equity Resource Center, including bi-annual Field Demographics, compiled through a national survey, for benchmarking and knowledge-building purposes, and the quadrennial LAA Salary Survey, which provides detailed salary breakdowns, including by demographics, for the local arts field.
  • In 2020, in response to the murders of George Floyd and other Black men and women, as well as the release of documents like the Cultural New Deal, we have increased our efforts to support and advance racial and cultural equity, including sending comprehensive weekly resource emails around issues of social justice and convening field dialogues and conversations with our advisory councils, members, and committees for information sharing that will lead to shifts in values, policies, and practices.
  • In 2021, Americans for the Arts will introduce a new Cultural Equity Organizational Dashboard and comprehensive communications plan that will update the 2018 Mapping Our Progress Toward Cultural Equity report and translate it into a set of annual measurable benchmarks that will be shared with the field. In addition, an internal taskforce has been meeting frequently to develop a comprehensive programming plan with specific metrics and benchmarks to launch in 2021 that would specifically focus on the equitable distribution of resources within the field to drive change and greater participation from BIPOC communities, communities with disabilities, and the LGBTQIA+ community. And with support from the Ford Foundation and in partnership with Artist Relief, Americans for the Arts will conduct a second substantial research project specifically focused on the disparate impact of COVID-19 and the economic crisis on BIPOC, disabled, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized creative workers, with a goal of creating recommendations for systemic policy shift both broadly and within the cultural and philanthropic fields.
Board of Directors Recommitment to Racial and Cultural Equity

During the November 9, 2020 Americans for the Arts Board of Directors meeting, the board unanimously adopted a Statement of Recommitment to Racial and Cultural Equity, which had been developed over the preceding four months. This document reaffirms and further defines the organization’s commitment to racial and cultural equity, including the following commitments with correlating actions:

  • Require, resource, and fund continued internal work to drive fundamental systemic change within the organizations. 
     
  • Resource and fund specific field-oriented work around cultural and racial equity that sparks change within the arts and culture field. 
     
  • Prioritize fiduciary, mission, and vision leadership that centers cultural and racial equity, including cultural equity-inclusive policies for our investments, vendors and contractor selection, and staff recruitment. 
     
  • Require and support regular accountability, evaluation, measurement, and reporting related to these equity-related initiatives. 
     
  • Continue efforts to increase demographic diversity as well as expertise on racial and cultural equity issues and specific knowledge about systems transformation regarding cultural equity at both the Board and staff level. The Board of Directors of Americans for the Arts is currently composed of 48% BIPOC members, with 50% of its Executive Committee members identifying as BIPOC. As for the organization’s staff, 40% of members identify as BIPOC.

The adoption of this document, and the requirements it lays out, adds more intentionality and accountability to the organization’s cultural equity efforts, and sets out a 5-year timeline for additional measurable change.

ArtsVote and the 2020 Election

In this election year, and with so much at stake for both the cultural sector and the country, the Arts Action Fund, (an independent 501(c)(4) organization to Americans for the Arts), invested in a strong ArtsVote campaign that focused on getting out the vote and registering new voters. The Arts Action Fund created customized voter fact sheets for each state and six territories focused on voting and helping citizens understand how their votes can impact the arts and their communities. ArtsVote also invested in digital and social media ads for 19 battleground states, many of which were produced in English and Spanish. In addition, the Action Fund partnered with more than 70 local, state, regional, and national arts advocacy groups to help get out the vote; hosted a number of free ArtsVote webinars, each averaging nearly 1,000 attendees; and participated on panels in more than 20 webinars hosted by other organizations.

Advisory Councils

The harrowing events of 2020 increased an already ambitious slate of planned work for Americans for the Arts, as was the case with so many other organizations and businesses. We are fortunate that, to help advance Americans for the Arts’ mission and goals and the organization’s work, we have long-established network elected volunteer advisory councils to advise and guide staff on programs and services that build essential capacities, spark necessary conversations, and forge deeper connections within the arts field. Advisory Council members are national leaders who volunteer to give back to the field by creating a two-way connection between the national work of Americans for the Arts and the multiple work areas of local arts organizations. Council members are elected by Americans for the Arts members (or in the case of the State Arts Action Network and US Urban Arts Federation, their own networks).

Our current councils and advisory bodies include: Arts Education, Emerging Leaders, Private Sector, Public Art, State Arts Action Network, and US Urban Arts Federation. We also periodically convene networks addressing counties and rural communities, the Arts and Culture Leaders of Color Network, and the Business Committee for the Arts. These advisory bodies continue to illuminate and clarify sector priorities, trends, and field needs, which enable us to provide the strongest services. For example, Council members have helped shape the pARTnership Movement website, Arts Education Town Hall, the joint National PTA Arts Ed Leader’s Guide, Cultural Equity in the Public Art Field, and Public Art Network Year in Review

2021 and Beyond

As we look toward 2021 and a new presidential administration, Americans for the Arts is working with our councils and partners to ensure that we are squarely focused on imagining a new way forward for creative workers and the creative economy. We firmly believe, in this shift to integrating creative work in the national recovery, that such efforts will succeed best when they center BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQIA+ populations and when they are pursued with a unified voice from the full creative economy. During what will be a challenging next few years, we remain committed to working with our partners to advocate for arts agencies, for- and nonprofit creative businesses, artists, creative workers, educators, and other stakeholders. Working together, we can imagine a better, more supportive, and more equitable creative sector going forward.

Supplementary Resources 
Additional Websites related to Americans for the Arts





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