COVID Relief Policy Agenda for the Creative Sector

This letter was sent to Wisconsin’s Congressional representatives in July 2020.  We’re continuing to advocate with these leaders for support of investment in a strong creative sector, to benefit Wisconsin’s people, businesses and communities.  Please note:

  • If your creative business (for profit or nonprofit) has not yet signed on as a supporter of the Policy Agenda, you can still sign on right here.
  • Send a message as an individual through Americans for the Arts Arts Action Fund.  If your business is signed on as a supporter, you can also sign on as an individual.

From:  Wisconsin creative sector businesses (full list here)

Re:  Support recovery, revitalization, and investment in Wisconsin’s creative businesses and workers 

The COVID crisis is devastating Wisconsin’s creative economy. Without continued and expanded federal relief, the sector’s immediate and long-term viability is in jeopardy. Our creative businesses, for-profit and non-profit, and artists and other creative workers, appreciate your support of the COVID relief enacted to date, but the surge of temporary and permanent closures in our sector continues, with no end in sight. 

This Call to Action is signed by hundreds of businesses, for-profit and non-profit, representing Wisconsin’s creative industries serving every corner of the state.  We have come together to ask for investment in Wisconsin’s creative businesses and workers at this critical moment in time.  This much-needed support will sustain and strengthen this industry as essential to grow the 21st century local and statewide economy and workforce, provide access to creative opportunities for all, animate the critical issues of our time, and bring together people and communities.

The pandemic has shuttered thousands of creative sector businesses – theaters, concert halls, museums, studios, festivals, symphonies, film and production companies, galleries – and has sidelined even more independent and self-employed creative workers, in Wisconsin and throughout the country.  The ongoing loss of revenue and the declines in charitable contributions are damaging small businesses and individual livelihoods for the long-term.   The COVID-19 crisis has hit the creative sector and its related industries, including tourism, hard.  The effects will deepen as shutdowns and cancellations continue.   

Many creative people and creative businesses have jumped into doing what they do – innovating through online arts experiences and distance learning opportunities, serving audiences now and making plans for an uncertain future.  Even so, with the continuing loss of revenue and the uncertainty about a return to public gatherings, the crisis means catastrophic financial impact on creative businesses and creative workers, and on the small businesses and the communities dependent on the economic revenues and civic benefits involved. 

It is becoming clear that our communities and the nation are at grave risk of losing an essential component of our economy and civic infrastructure, at the very moment when that 21st century industry can affect and accelerate recovery and revitalization from the local level on up.

The creative sector includes a wide range of occupations and businesses. In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that the arts and culture workforce contributed $877.8 billion, or 4.5 percent, to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). The impact for Wisconsin was $10.1 billion in value-added to the state’s economy through the arts supporting over 96,000 jobs – more jobs than the state’s beer, papermaking and biotech industries. 

Since the state’s shut down starting in mid-March, Wisconsin’s arts and cultural sector has lost over $34 million, according to Americans for the Arts.   Nationally, the arts sector has lost $8.4 billion.  Over 2/3 of people who make their living as independent creative workers are not able to do so right now. These numbers will grow by leaps and bounds as the pandemic and shutdowns go on.

A strong creative economy is an essential component in jump-starting recovery efforts and moving on from the current crisis.  We join Americans for the Arts and a national coalition of national and statewide organizations on this call to action, to ask for the following specific relief efforts focused on our state’s creative sector and to benefit the people of Wisconsin:

  • Expand and recapitalize the Paycheck Protection Program: provide new opportunities through the RESTART Act, include a second round of applications for those that have exhausted initial PPP funds, remove restrictions and burdens for self-employed applicants, eliminate the 500-employee cap, and provide dedicated funding for nonprofit organizations. Expand eligibility and allowable costs and continue to provide clear loan forgiveness guidance. 
  • Fully fund the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and eliminate the $1,000 per employee cap imposed by SBA, so businesses with one or very few employees can access funds. 
  • Provide streamlined, low-interest forgivable loans to assist microbusinesses (self-employed, sole proprietors, partnerships, freelancers, and LLCs) with zero or few employees/low net business income that have documented fixed business expenses such as rent/mortgage interest, utilities, business insurance, and debt service and are not adequately served by current programs. 
  • Provide loan forgiveness for nonprofits through the Main Street Lending Program and the Economic Stabilization Fund to support payroll costs and fixed overhead costs and ensure eligibility for nonprofit employers with more than 500 employees that have been left out of current relief provisions. 
  • Expand the duration of federal pandemic unemployment benefits and improve guidelines for implementation so that artists and other gig economy workers with mixed income sources (such as W-2 and 1099) receive full support rather than unfairly being limited to partial benefits. Update Disaster UnemploymentAssistance to ensure support for artists and other gig economy workers in the long term. 
  • Increase charitable giving by removing the $300 cap on the above-the-line tax incentive for nonitemizers and allowing all taxpayers to claim the deduction on both 2019 and 2020 tax returns. Maintain the CARES Act removal of the Adjusted Gross Income limitation on deductibility of charitable gifts for2021 and beyond. 
  • Provide assistance for single- and multi-employer pension funds to protect artists’ retirement security. 
  • Expand access to health coverage and care by including a one-time special enrollment period in relief legislation and removing access and affordability barriers to health coverage for artists and arts workers that have atypical employment structures. 
  • Support the U.S. creative economy, which is growing at twice the rate of most other sectors, by supporting proposals in the PLACE Act (S.3232) to amend the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the Public Work and Economic Development Act, the Small Business Act, the New Markets Tax Credit, the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act, and the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to improve access to existing federal workforce development opportunities for creative businesses and creative workers. 

The arts sector is innovating to provide online arts experiences and distance learning opportunities, preparing to serve audiences when quarantine orders are lifted, and will be an essential partner in jump-starting national, state, and local efforts during and after COVID-19. The federal government should support ongoing creative sector activity: 

  • Support a complete education for all students through federal education funding and distance learning resources that will increase the capacity of state and local education agencies to ensure equitable access to arts education as part of a well-rounded education for all learners amidst the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. 
  • Adopt an emergency broadband benefit to ensure that all people, no matter their income or location, have access to high speed broadband. Ensuring connectivity enables more equitable participation in artistic, educational, and cultural activity taking place online. 
  • Approve substantial funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Institute of Museum and Library Services, as they administer dedicated COVID-19 relief to address the unique needs of cultural organizations. 
  • Maximize the impact of new and continued funding for the National Endowment for the Arts beyond the $75 million investment in the CARES Act by making COVID-19 relief grants available to all eligible organizations as defined in the NEA’s authorization statute ( 20 U.S.C. §954); expanding waivers for public/private matching requirements to apply to all active FY19 and FY20 NEA grant awards; and, allowing current grantees to re-allocate funding for general operating support to address COVID-19 economic losses. Enable national nonprofit organizations to subgrant federal arts funds to support community-based arts and culture organizations, agencies, and artists to assist in efficiently supporting the nation’s cultural infrastructure and workforce. 
  • Enact policies to ensure rapid processing of artist visas by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and consulates to shield U.S.-based arts petitioners from the delays and costs of reprogramming international events. 

The arts and the work of artists are integral to reimagining and reopening public gathering places and work spaces. Federal policy should support the arts in safety and infrastructure policies that guide the ways we bring people together: 

  • Support the arts and work of artists as essential infrastructure investments. Building a strong cultural infrastructure, creating art that enriches our lives, and using arts-based approaches to public works and community development initiatives will leave a legacy that defines our society for generations to come. 
  • Provide eligibility for arts facilities in infrastructure investments to renovate, refurbish, and adapt to post-COVID-19 public health protocols. 
  • Include the arts sector in consideration of public health and workplace safety policies to protect the health of arts workers, support the needs of arts venues, and ensure public confidence in gathering again. 
  • Ensure the arts are considered in business interruption insurance and liability policy discussions, as the policy outcomes of both areas will influence the near-term reopening plans and the long-term viability of American arts and cultural organizations. 

Creative businesses and workers are vital contributors to the economy, vitality, and wellbeing of the communities they serve, in every corner of the state and across the country. 

Please contact Anne Katz, Director of Arts Wisconsin, 608 255 8316 | akatz@artswisconsin.org, with your questions and comments.    

Signed by these creative businesses in every corner of Wisconsin.