American Rescue Plan (ARP) – what’s in it for the arts?

As Wisconsin’s statewide cultural advocacy and community development organization, Arts Wisconsin is focused on growing capacity and strengthening the state’s creative sector as we emerge from the pandemic into a new reality and new opportunities.

On March 11, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan (ARP), Act of 2021 a $1.9 trillion package. The ARP provides $350 billion for state and local governments.   

On May 10, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the launch of the American Rescue Plan Act’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program, which provides $350 billion in emergency funding for eligible state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments to help turn the tide on the pandemic and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery. Wisconsin will receive $2.5 billion for the state, and $2.5 billion total for cities, villages, towns and counties.   Click here for ARP allocations info by state, metro cities, other municipalities and towns, and counties (thanks to League of Wisconsin Municipalities for the list).  

Your local leaders are deciding right now how to invest the funding in pandemic relief and recovery.  The cultural sector in your community deserves an opportunity to make a case for investment. Now is the time!

This funding is more flexible than CARES Act funding for governments – which offers opportunities and threats to the arts. 

  • Respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality.
  • Respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers that are performing such essential work, or by providing grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work.
  • Provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency.
  • Make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

Note: States cannot attach additional requirements on local governments.

ARP’s extension of pandemic unemployment assistance, health insurance coverage, food and rent assistance, and direct stimulus checks will provide immediate assistance to the sector’s creative workers.   The first allowable use of funds – responding to negative economic impacts – fits the arts in every way, especially given the focus on tourism, travel, and hospitality. This guidance is for every level of government, meaning arts groups could see relief from their city, county, and the state.

Through the $350 billion set aside for state and local governments, territories, and tribes, the $135 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the $200 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the $175 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, immediate assistance will be provided to nonprofit and governmental organizations within the cultural sector.   The Wisconsin Arts Board will receive approximately $839,000 to distribute throughout the state.

In addition, the additional $7.25 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and $1.25 billion for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program will provide a new infusion of assistance to self-employed workers and businesses of all types within the creative sector. The U.S. Senate amended the bill so that performing arts organizations and talent representatives can now apply for both a new PPP loan and a Shuttered Venue grant for a net award that will provide immediate economic relief for these hardest hit small businesses. “

As part of the $350 billion set aside for state government, cities and counties will be receiving funds directly which clarifies eligible use of funds for assistance to small businesses, nonprofits, and hard-hit industries like tourism, travel, and hospitality of which arts and culture can be described as part of all and essential to the recovery of your community. 

Under the ARP Act, local governments may use the funds to respond to the coronavirus pandemic or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to hospitals, small businesses, and nonprofits, or with aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality.

Local governments are making plans to address the devastating impact COVID has had on cultural programs and workers.  Imagine MKE has started a campaign to ask the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County to invest 2% of their ARP $500 million + funds  in the local and regional creative economy. Dane County has already allocated $1 million for artist relief, to be distributed through Dane Arts.  But, many communities have not yet made their decisions and the money can be spent until the year 2024. Arts Wisconsin will be advocating at the state level for investment in Wisconsin’s creative people, organizations, businesses and communities.  We will help inspire and coach you to success on the local level. 

Billions of dollars are flowing into the state now. States, counties, and cities with populations over 50,000 will get their funds directly from the feds. Smaller cities/towns will have their money sent to them through the state within 30 days of the state receiving those funds. States continue to await federal guidance before being able to provide complete program details or open applications.  Governments can spend these funds through 2024.

Now is the time to use public investment for creative good.  Click here for a memo from Art-Train, a program of Springboard for the Arts:  Using American Rescue Plan Funds for Creative Response and Recovery

In order to ensure your local government is aware of the needs for the arts and culture industries and prioritizes funding to our sector, Arts Wisconsin will be creating a template letter to send to your local elected officials, to ask them to support creative people and businesses.  Make sure to include local examples and data on the impact of arts and culture to your community. (Click here for facts and figures on Wisconsin’s creative sector impact.)

Arts Wisconsin will continue to update this information as the situation evolves.

Arts Wisconsin is pushing for support in a few ways:

  • Ensuring legislative language doesn’t preclude the arts from support at any level of government.
  • Making the process for application, and the administration of any grant program (namely at the state level), nonprofit and arts-friendly. We hope to affect local decisions through state legislation or distributing information on strategies at the local level. 
  • Monitoring the transparency of spending at all levels to the best of our ability Pushing for explicit eligibility or funding for arts and creative programs
  • Monitoring the use of funds at all levels – there is a lot of flexibility in this bill.

On April 15, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released guidance for State, Local, and Tribal governments on immediate steps to take in preparation to receive Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

Here’s what you can do starting now:

  • Reach Out  Locally ASAP / NOW! Local governments are already planning what they may be able to do with their funding. They need to hear from the arts NOW so that when they meet to actually put a plan in place, they’ve already heard from you.
  • Team Up. There is strength in numbers. Team up with your fellow arts groups and nonprofit groups to meet with local leaders. Write Op-Eds together, issue public statements, and host meetings.
  • Stay Engaged. Keep an eye on the process, look for opportunities to keep in touch with your local leaders. Don’t only depend on alerts from us at the SCAA – local governments may move at totally different paces than the state, let alone their neighbors. We’ll be posting updates of course, but locally – you’re going to be the best advocates on the ground.
  • Think Through the Process. This advocacy work is not just about being noticed – it’s about being heard and being useful. You want to be sure that your requests are limited to what is supported, but also how it is supported. As we’ve learned throughout COVID-19 relief packages – the secret is in the application, administration, and reporting of funds. They all need to be arts-friendly so that all arts groups have the opportunity to benefit.
  • Be Ready. This can happen very fast, and it can also happen very slow (funding can be used through 2024). When the time comes, you need to already be there, early and prepared.

Get in touch with questions or if you want to discuss!  Contact Anne Katz, | 608 255 8316.


Thank you for being a steadfast partner on all of our advocacy efforts. We are stronger together!