Chairman's Corner: June 18, 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. This is where we'll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more

Even though artists and arts organizations, particularly in the performing arts, are struggling with questions, literally, about their survival. They've also been leading the way in re-thinking organizational structures and their content, migrating work online quickly and creatively. Here's Mary Anne Carter to tell us about some of the research the arts endowment has conducted around this.

Jo Reed: The National Endowment for the Arts just released a summary of findings from a survey the agency conducted with our national arts service organizations. These are membership associations that serve a specific artistic discipline or interest group. And you can find this on our website with other COVID-19 resources. But, you know, there were some really interesting findings there. For example, more than half of respondents mentioned incorporating virtual or digital elements as an additional business strategy, such as digital performances, subscription-based digital content streams, virtual education events and, now, virtual summer camps.

Jo Reed: Which will be immensely helpful to many parents…not to mention kids!

Mary Anne Carter: I think so, too. And you want to keep our youth engaged. And, you know, some members are re-evaluating their terms of subscriptions to be more flexible for audiences or visitors who won't be able to attend performances once the economy does re-open. And, in some cases, their shifting programming online has opened up untapped audiences to arts organizations. You get online and, all of a sudden, you're discovering a new dance or a new way of dance or new theatres. You can see shows. So, people who may have never walked into a theatre and seen a live performance are now watching them online, or taking a dance master class online. And, so, you know, we've heard from so many in the arts community that bringing along these new audiences to post-pandemic programming is going to be vital to the growth and the diversity of their audiences.

Jo Reed:  Yes, because people who have challenges physically, geographically, and financially and can’t physically get to a theater or museum have been able to access their content online. But as we know content is a double-sided coin

Mary Anne Carter: Absolutely. And it brings up a really important point and it's something that we know and so many of the arts organizations have noted: Pivoting to digital, it raises the issue of inclusion and equity regarding who has access to online programming. So, broadband access across the nation is going to be vital to maintain schooling and, of course, all of these fabulous programs that we're seeing online now, because we don't know how long we're going to be in our homes and we don't know that once the economy re-opens we might not have to come back into our homes. So, the issue of online access and broadband access across the nation is really crucial.

Jo Reed: Yes, I agree. It is essential for economic, social and cultural parity.

Mary Anne Carter: There's no question it's necessary. Just the schools-- so many of the nation's schools moving to an online platform to finish out the year shows just how important it is. And just for people's own personal health and well being, being able to listen to music online or, again, watch a performance online or, in my case, my daughter continues her dance classes online. So, it is a very important factor and it's no longer a passing fancy. I mean, this is our life now. And it's got to be a business strategy for our arts organizations moving forward. And, in fact, we expect to see many grant applications coming in for the next fiscal year to address moving a lot of their content online.

Jo Reed: Exactly.  And In the midst of this, I have been heartened by how much the arts community    embraced the idea and is moved forward with online content. AFI Docs for example has gone to virtual festival. Everything is online: films, panels, talk-backs, forums which are co-sponsored by the arts endowment.

Mary Anne Carter:  Yes, there are great projects.  But there's also some sobering news, Jo, from our Office of Research and Analysis. According to our survey and the responses gathered, this was between May 24th and May 30th, and it's from the US Census Bureau's Business Pulse survey, 57 percent of small businesses in the arts sector and 41 percent of all small businesses expect more than six months to elapse before they will resume their normal level of operations. And even a little more scary is 12 percent of arts small businesses do not expect the sector ever to recover to normal levels.

Jo Reed: Well, I think there is going to be a new normal and we just have no idea what that's going to be.

Mary Anne Carter: That's right. That's exactly right. But the-- just as the arts community pivoted so quickly to go online, they're also moving very quickly and aggressively to make sure that their physical spaces are going to be safe. And we've done another survey on that, on what does re-opening look like. And that's up on our website as well. And, you know, little things that you don't think about, but touchless soap dispensers, the touchless sinks. Just a lot of the things of what it's going to take to have a safe environment, both for our performers and for the audience.

Jo Reed: Absolutely. Meanwhile many organizations are taking incremental steps to open back up to community and I know you wanted to highlight a couple of them.

Mary Anne Carter: Yep. There really are some innovative projects. So, in Bozeman, Montana, for example, the Intermountain Opera Association. They had planned to do a production of Bernstein's "Candide". It's been cancelled and, instead, the organization is planning to bring four of the original guest artists to Bozeman sometime in the fall, obviously depending on travel restriction guidelines, but they'll perform in small venues that are compliant with social gathering restrictions. So, they're changing a full stage production to a more intimate recital format which I think will be fantastic.  And let me just mention the Trans Art and Cultural Services in New Paltz, New York. They're moving forward with the Kingston Pinkster Festival. It's celebrates African-American history, arts, and culture in the Hudson Valley region. The festival will be virtual with the goal remaining to engage residents by integrating arts and culture into strategies for addressing challenging local issues there.

Jo Reed:  That is a great marriage of art, technology and community engagement.

Mary Anne Carter: Absolutely.

Jo Reed: Well, Mary Anne, I think that's a good place to leave it. I will talk to you next week.

Mary Anne Carter: Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed: Thank you.

Jo Reed:  That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.  Don’t forget to check out our website for Covid 19 resources at; and, as always, for the latest about the arts endowment, follow us on twitter @neaarts. I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.

The chairman discusses innovative ways artists and arts organizations are revamping programming to connect with their communities.