Quick Study: October 21, 2021

Jo Reed: Welcome to "Quick Study," the monthly podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts. This is where we'll share stats and stories to help us better understand the value of art in everyday life. I'm co-piloting "Quick Study" with Sunil Iyengar. He's the Director of Research and Analysis here at the Arts Endowment. Hey, Sunil. 

Sunil Iyengar: Hi, Jo.

Jo Reed: Well, I know it's Arts and Humanities Month and because of that you wanted to focus on the really critical importance of local arts agencies and the roles they play in their towns and neighborhoods and especially now as the arts are struggling to find its footing in the post-pandemic. But I really want to begin before you launch into that really interesting stuff--

Sunil Iyengar: <laughs>

Jo Reed: How do we define local arts agencies? What are they?

Sunil Iyengar: Sure. So local arts agencies are often hidden gems within the community. So just allow me, stick with me for this sparkly metaphor, Jo.

Jo Reed: <laughs>

Sunil Iyengar: They're like hundreds of points of light dotted across the landscape of arts funding in the U.S. Some of them are departments of local government, but others are standalone nonprofit organizations and there are even hybrid models out there. They're big, small or mid-sized and they offer different programs and services. This was the gist of a blog post I did earlier this week, that local arts agencies are the connectors and intermediaries for artists, arts organizations, audiences and visitors in the community. Each local arts agency is unique but they all seem to have this galvanizing function for the arts in the towns and neighborhoods where they're situated.

Jo Reed: Okay. And where do they typically get their funding?

Sunil Iyengar: Short answer, anywhere they can. <laughs> Seriously, there's some money from the federal government, notably the NEA, but also from state arts agencies, municipal budgets and private donations whether individual or corporate. Many of the larger local arts agencies are now funded through dedicated revenue stream like hotel or motel tax revenues but, you know, Jo, what's particularly interesting is that they have many different funding models so they can really get out there into the community. Some service a single city, others multi-city, single county, multiple counties, cities and multiple states or what have you.

Jo Reed: Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about their importance and especially now in our post-pandemic world. Have there been research and studies that have looked at local arts agencies and recovery?

Sunil Iyengar: Yeah. I think to understand the outsize role of local arts agencies and why they're expected to play a vital role in recovery, we have to kind of step back and understand some larger trends in the way the sector's been operating during COVID. We did a report last year where we found that local community ties were going to matter more than ever for arts organizations to get back on their feet and to keep from shutting down. That's because obviously so much travel and tourism has slowed down and arts organizations have had to look hard at their back yard to identify new audiences and visitors, partners and investors and also to align their programs more closely with local needs. Many arts groups are doing this brilliantly, but local arts agencies can accelerate this process because they're in the business of fostering these community ties and helping local arts organizations thrive.

Jo Reed: Is there research then to support that local arts agencies really can be real catalysts for growth for different arts organizations?

Sunil Iyengar: Yes. There's certainly local, you know, some studies at the local level. But I think, you know, I just spoke about looking at your own back yard, but it's ironic that sometimes you get a wakeup call by reading about what's happening internationally. So I came across a couple of reports lately. One was a write-up of lessons learned so far about COVID-19 in the global cultural and creative sector. It's by David Sargent and the Center for Cultural Value based in the U.K. He cites in a quote here, enriched sense of localism and rootedness during the pandemic and that throughout this period the cultural and creative sectors have "enlarged their local professional networks and many have started consciously building stronger local practices and relationships since COVID." Because of these factors, he predicts that "cities and regions will be able to see their cultural and creative sectors and cultural participation as powerful engines of social regeneration in their own right." I have another study, if that's okay.

Jo Reed: Yeah. No, please, tell me.

Sunil Iyengar: So similarly, in a World Bank Report issued earlier this year with UNESCO, the authors write that, "The transformative impact of cultural and creative industries will not be fully realized without policies and enabling environments at the local level, complemented by partnerships across levels of government and a range of stakeholders including the private sector, civil society and local communities." To me, as someone in the U.S., that reads like a call for greater recognition than celebration of local arts agencies.

Jo Reed:  It leads to my next question because I was going to say, so what do local arts agencies need to thrive and to help the arts to thrive?

Sunil Iyengar: Well, broadly speaking, more support. Fortunately, in administering the American Rescue Plan, the NEA is making awards to designated local arts agencies for the purpose of subgranting COVID relief dollars. This will allow those monies to go, you know, flow directly to local arts agencies and the arts organizations, artists and communities they serve. Also back in April, we awarded more than $52 million dollars to state and jurisdictional arts agencies and regional arts organizations also for regranting in those areas, which I'm sure is benefitting local arts agencies as well. Finally, I want to plug the fact that the NEA already has an annual funding opportunity for local arts agencies both for programming and subgranting. So if you're a local arts agency out there, please go to arts.gov to check it out.

Jo Reed: Okay. And that's a good place to leave it. Sunil, thank you.

Sunil Iyengar: Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed: I'll talk to you next month. That was Sunil Iyengar. He's the Director of Research and Analysis here at the National Endowment for the Arts. You've been listening to "Quick Study." The music is "We Are One" from Scott Holmes Music. It's licensed through Creative Commons. Until next month, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

This month, to celebrate National Arts & Humanities Month, Quick Study looks at the critical role of local arts agencies in a post-COVID-19 environment.