Even Covid Can’t Stop Translating Plan Into Action

If readers have been paying close attention, you probably know I currently run an historic theater in Macon, GA. Last week, the Macon Arts Alliance released the cultural master plan the community had been working on for the previous year or so. It won’t surprise you to learn that it had originally been slated to be released at the start of March, but concerns over coronavirus delayed that. There is likely some argument to be made that the plan should have been released at a later time when things were more stable, especially since it calls for the creation of a cultural liaison staff position by a county government facing a financially problematic environment.

However, the plan was developed in parallel with the next iteration of the county master plan and the current election cycle will see a change of mayor and council members so it was important to get the cultural master plan into circulation.

I participated in about 90% of the public meetings that were held for the plan, plus served on a subcommittee so I have some investment in it. Macon is fortunate in that it is one of the communities in which the Knight Foundation is highly active. They, alongside a number of other local foundations, provided the funding needed to bring a team from Lord Cultural Resources to conduct all the meetings and data crunching.

One thing I feel the cultural plan does well is acknowledge the connection between race, household income and access to cultural assets:

The majority of assets are located in or around downtown Macon. Average income in the downtown area is in a lower tier ($14,700-60,600); this is because, despite higher rents in new downtown developments, many students live in the downtown area. Beyond downtown, most cultural assets are located west of the Ocmulgee River, where income is higher on average. Macon’s large African-American community can be better served, as currently most assets are clustered in areas with whiter populations. The east side, where incomes are generally lower, has relatively few cultural assets beyond key attractions such the Ocmulgee Mounds, Fort Hawkins, and the recently renovated Mill Hill Community Arts Center.

The video that accompanies the plan almost immediately acknowledges the perception of crime and blight associated with the community. These same issues came up repeatedly in the community conversations that informed the plan. In fact, one of the biggest lingering image problems that exists is that the downtown isn’t safe. So while a lot of the cultural assets may be downtown, they may not be accessed as much as they could be. (I obviously have a vested interest being the leader of one of those assets.)

While I think the plan is still oriented too much on a conventional concept of arts and culture, (I grumble at the Bach underscoring a video for a community that boasts significant rock and soul roots), even before the protests surrounding George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, there was an acknowledgement of the work that needed to be done to create a more equitable environment in the community.

Keeping in mind my frequent refrain not to engaged in whole cloth adoption of bylaws, policies, etc of other organizations as your own, I link to the plan for communities that might be considering similar efforts so you can get a sense of the things you need to be considering and addressing.

 

Alas, Germany Didn’t Allocate $54 Billion In Relief Funding To The Arts

You may remember reading that Germany had rolled out €50 billion ($54 billion) in funding for the arts a few weeks back. The news was touted as putting arts funding in the US to shame. While it may ultimately still be the case that aid to arts will put the US to shame, the claim that all that money is going to the arts is not accurate.

I had received an email about some arts research from long time friend of the blog, Rainer Glapp, who lives in Bremen, Germany. I asked him how things were going with all that funding. He responded that there was a big misunderstanding about all the money being focused on the arts and culture.

He explained the money is intended for small businesses and freelancers. While artists can apply, the money is intended for rent of venues and other expenses and not for personal expenses. He told me that primarily, direct funding for arts comes from the 16 states rather than the federal government.

As I went back to find articles about the €50 billion I had seen, I discovered that pretty much every website references the same ArtsNet article. There is a correction to that article dated March 27 which reads:

The government has clarified a point of confusion in its press release and previous reports in the media, stating that the aid package for small businesses and freelancers in culture, art, and media will come from a larger package for solo self-employed people and small businesses that totals €50 billion.

So artists and arts organizations won’t be benefiting as well as first impressions had indicated.

Rainer graciously dug up some articles on the situation which are written in English. One on the Deutsche Welle website illuminates the problems artists are facing:

But on April 7, the Alliance of Freelance Arts, representing 18 branches, replied that freelance and solo artists and their small business teams had “hardly any” access to such federal measures.

“This is due on the one hand to the lack of federal guidelines on the recognition of work-related living expenses as business or employment expenditures and on the other hand to the fact that the [16 German] states tend to interpret administrative leeway to the disadvantage of freelance artists,” said the alliance.

[..]

Already, the German Music Council (Deutscher Musikrat/DMR) had demanded a monthly basic income grant of €1,000 ($1,088) for “all freelance creative professionals” over the next six months.

Another website Rainer shared provides a chronology of how the coronavirus impacted cultural activities in Germany. It reinforces the fact there is no federal relief funding focused on helping cultural entities and illustrates just how varied the support for artists is in each of the states.

However, there is no specific federal support programme designed to meet the specific needs of the cultural sector. This is still being demanded by the German Cultural Council (April 22), the Cultural Council of North Rhine-Westphalia (April 16) and other associations, in the form of a cultural infrastructure fund.

[…]

The possibility of claiming support services — in addition to the instruments at the federal level — is also very much dependent on the state the applicant lives in…. Baden-Württemberg have an emergency aid programme for freelancers that allow them to apply for EUR 1180 grant money for up to three months, Bavaria offers EUR 1,000 a month in basic payments, but only for members of the artists’ social fund. In Hamburg, self-employed can apply for EUR 2,500 in addition to federal funds. In Bremen, artists can apply for up to EUR 2,000 in emergency aid (in addition to a purchase programme for visual artists); in Saxony-Anhalt EUR 400; and in Mecklenburg Western Pomerania there are bridging grants for artists available in the amount of EUR 2,000. The support fund for artists supported in NRW (EUR 2,000 per month) was only equipped with a total of EUR 5 million, so that only a small proportion of the applicants could take advantage of this fund. Other federal states (e.g. Berlin and Saarland) had to discontinue their support programmes due to over expenditure. In other federal states there are — in addition to the federal programme — no state programmes, for example Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia.

Things To Consider As States Start To Re-Open (#1 Buy A Tape Measure)

There are a lot of stories out there about how some US states are allowing businesses to open. To my knowledge, none have reached the point of allowing live performance venues to open yet, but a lot of people are caught between feelings of anticipation and anxiety.

It would be great to get back to work even on a small scale and then gradually ramp up, but there are lot of things to consider, including public reaction to your decisions.  While you are pulling out your tape measure so you can figure out what your seating/attendance capacity will be if you need to maintain six feet of distance, you may want to check out a post I did on Arts Hacker about resources created by the Downtown Professionals Network to help Arts & Cultural entities prepare their spaces.

There is also guidance for restaurants and retail if you happen to have food service and merchandising operations.

The special website also has resources to help people in community leadership roles. If you haven’t already taken up that mantle, this is the time to do so. Whatever emerges as the next normal, you want to be taking a proactive role contributing to policy and practice as well as reinforcing the value your organization contributes to the community.

Guidance On Covid-19 Re-Openings, Even If Only Virtually

Public Policy Has Broader Influence On Attendance Than You May Realize

I had mentioned before that Colleen Dilenschneider was making weekly posts on an ongoing cycle of surveying about how Covid-19 is impacting intention to visit cultural organizations.

The post she made yesterday was especially interesting because she included a regional breakdown of attitudes. She grouped the different states according to similarity in attitude. She pointed out that while Washington, Oregon and California have similar attitudes, for some reason North Carolina residents are distinct from South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

For all her data sets, she provides survey results from the same time periods in 2019 as a basis for comparison.  In 2019, the data for NC, SC, GA, & FL were roughly equal.  This year the difference in attitude is much larger.

She hypothesizes that these differences result from the fact Covid-19 is not impacting every region equally and the public policy of each region also varies.

While the national data is helpful for a broad diagnosis of the sector as a whole, COVID-19 is not impacting regions equally at the moment. New York has seen over 3,500 deaths and is bracing for a particularly difficult week, but Georgia’s governor has reopened its beaches and South Carolina is one of the few states still holding out on a stay-at-home order at the time of the data collection. These sentiments may be informed by what’s happening on the ground (i.e., how dire is the situation in the local communities), and by prevailing public policies.

She says some of the good news is that the overall survey results are stable over the last couple weeks. If you look at the bar graphs, everyone, regardless of region expect a return to normalcy at the three month horizon onward.

Just in general, I think this survey data indicates something we have probably long suspected –that government policy at every level creates a context which impacts our successful operations. It isn’t just funding decisions, but the aggregate influence of policies that apply to everything from infrastructure, licensing, agriculture, food, housing, transportation, education, and on and on.

All the more reason to have close ties with your chamber of commerce, convention and visitors bureau to become aware of decisions that are being made. Look for opportunities to learn about and provide advocacy for areas of the local & regional economy that may not seem to have a direct impact on you. If you are on webinars with other local government, business and community leaders trying to figure out if you are eligible to apply for funding available to small businesses, take opportunity note of who is in the virtual room, especially if any appear across multiple sessions, with the goal of  cultivating relationships at some point in the future.

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