Chairman's Corner: April 2, 2020

Jo Reed:  I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with ‘The Chairman’s Corner — a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment, where we will discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more.

Today, we began on a personal note.

Mary Anne Carter: Well, I am so happy to report that no one at the agency has reported any symptoms of COVID-19 and I'm so thankful and grateful for that. But, like everyone else, I'm feeling a sense of isolation and looking forward to the day when we can get back to the office and just rejoice with each other. I think we all work better when we can collaborate in-person. But I'm really impressed with the job we have been able to do, almost seamlessly, continuing the mission of the agency.

Jo Reed: I agree. Well, we know Congress passed the two trillion dollar Recovery Act, which the president signed into law, and the Arts Endowment received 75 million dollars in additional funding. Can you talk a little bit about it? How is this going to be distributed?

Mary Anne Carter: Yes, first of all, I want to thank the members of Congress and the president for recognizing the value that the arts play to the nation in terms of not only the economy-- we add 4.5 percent to the GDP-- but also how devastated the arts community has been. We represent approximately 5.1 million jobs and, like so many industries, just like a restaurant, the minute you shut down, the domino effect of all the jobs that that hits is incredible. And let me just use the theatre for an example: When a theater closes, you automatically think, "Oh, well, the actors and actresses aren't getting paid." But think about everyone else involved. It is the people at the front who take your tickets, it is the people selling the concessions, it the ushers, it is the stage managers, it is the audio-tech people. It is the make-up people. It's all the people in the background as well. And these are all jobs that, right now, are at risk; and spread that across every theater across America and every dance theater and every concert hall and, all of a sudden, you see the multiplying effect. And, again, one of the biggest areas that have taken a hit is so many artists make a living by going into the public schools and working with our youth. And so many of the nation's schools are closed down and closed down for the rest of the year. So, you start multiplying and multiplying the devastation that this has wreaked upon the arts community. So, I'm very grateful that the president and the Congress recognized this. So, the bill provided 75 million to the National Endowment for the Arts. We will follow the usual practice of putting 60 percent, or 45 million, to direct grants from the agency and, then, 40 percent, or 30 million, will go to the states and the regional art organizations. That's by law. The good news, aside from the money, is that these new funds will not require the usual one-to-one match. And the funds can be used for general operating support, which is fantastic, because we want to save as many jobs out there as we can. And now that the bill has become law, we are starting to work with the Office of Management and Budget, OMB, and we'll develop an operating plan, which will include guidelines and, then, application and award timelines. And once we have that in place, those will be made public. And we hope to do that by the beginning of May.

Jo Reed: And this isn't the first time the Arts Endowment has provided emergency funding during a crisis to arts organizations.

Mary Anne Carter: No. In fact, back in 2009, the Arts Endowment was given 50 million in the stimulus bill to face the financial crisis. And we used that money to preserve jobs, again, in the non-profit arts sector. We obligated those funds in less than 20 weeks. We were the first federal agency to get all of its money out the door and that helped to preserve over 7,000 jobs. So, I feel really confident that we have the experience and the expertise to do a similar job here.
Jo Reed: Well, you know, the appropriation is an understanding, I think, of how deeply the arts organizations have been affected by this crisis, as you said. Non-profits, typically-- especially cultural non-profits-- typically operate lean and mean budgets. There's just not much wiggle room when the tickets aren't being sold.
Mary Anne Carter: That's true. And I am so fearful that some of our wonderful-- especially our local art organizations aren't going to be able to survive. So, we want to do what we can to help out. And, you know, who knows when people will be going back, when people will go back into a theater, when people will go back to the movies, when people will go to the ballet again, when our schools will re-open. And, so, unlike 2009, where there was a huge economic hit, there wasn't the physical distancing hit. And that really hits the arts community hard, especially for the performing arts. And if there's no audience, there's no show.  And, so, I think for-- as I view this, I think this is much more devastating than 2009, because while less people were participating in the arts, there were still people participating in the arts, because we didn't have the physical distance and we didn't have a complete shut-down of, basically, every organization across the nation.

Jo Reed: Exactly. The show could go on, as they say. It might be scaled down, it might be in a smaller theater, but it could play.

Mary Anne Carter: Yes.

Jo Reed:. And I know I have been impressed, and I know you have too, about how many artists we're seeing online, just individually or working together virtually, creating pieces, reciting poetry, making music. I find that amazingly moving.

Mary Anne Carter: I think it is, too. And I think it is-- it goes to show the creativity of what an artist is and what an artist does. And they're finding new ways to entertain and to share their gift. And whenever I see something that has come online-- for example, I found that the U.S. Army Field Band, every day at one o'clock, is doing a concert online. So, I tweeted that out. And I know, between my Twitter account and the agency's Twitter account, when we see these online shows or concerts or a master dance-class, or many of the Broadway stars are banning together and doing master classes and sharing their talents, we try to share those. So, if your listeners want to go to either my Twitter account or the agency's Twitter account, we are trying to showcase those as we hear about them. And I would also mention one of the things that I'm trying to showcase is how the arts community is actually helping with the COVID-19 response. For example, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, their parking lot, which is usually full, right now, with people walking in to see the museum, has turned into a coronavirus testing site. And so many now out-of-work costume makers have worked with doctors on how to make masks that they can then give to the hospitals, to our nurses and our doctors and our first responders. And, so, I'd like to showcase that as well, because I think it is fabulous the way artists have been able to step up and say, "How can I contribute to solving this crisis?"

Jo Reed: I think it's exactly that. Those moments of real hope and humanity that, right now, mean even more now than ever.

Mary Anne Carter: It really does. And post-to-this-crisis, it's going to mean a lot. And that's why we are going to do everything we can to preserve as many jobs and our arts organizations as we can, because the nation is going to need it once this crisis passes, because we are going to face issues that we're not contemplating yet. But there are going to be mental health issues down the road, I believe. And, so, a lot of things are going to pop up that the arts are going to be able to play a role in.

Jo Reed: I agree, because I think the world is probably going to look a lot different. And I think the arts are really great navigators of helping us move from one place to another in challenging times.

Mary Anne Carter: Absolutely. And, so, hopefully, this time next year all of this has passed and I believe what we will see are a lot of projects that reflect this time period in our lives.

Jo Reed: Mary Anne, thank you so much for taking the time to talk today and I will talk to you next week.

Mary Anne Carter: Okay, thank you, Jo. And I look forward to seeing you soon in person.

Jo Reed: You and me both. Take care.

That was the Chairman of the National Endowment for Arts, Mary Anne Carter. To find out the many ways artistic communities are stepping up across the country, you can follow Mary Anne @NEAArtsChair and of course you can follow the arts endowment @NEAArts. This has been the Chairman’s Corner.  I’m Josephine Reed stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug and Judy Smith.

Chairman Mary Anne Carter talks about the impact of Covid-19 on the arts community and the 75 million dollars the National Endowment for the Arts received from Congress in the CARES Act to award to the nonprofit arts sector.