Cable network is producing 20+ PSAs for its Stand For The Arts coalition members – small, regional and non-profit arts organizations disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
In letter to Congress, CEO Charles Segars and other industry leaders urge financial relief, citing NEA’s decades-long stagnant budget
Nationwide — Ovation TV, the only independent television and digital media company dedicated to the arts, is helping organizations within its Stand For The Arts coalition demonstrate the essential value of the arts and their need for support with a new PSA campaign. Over the past year, the network’s coalition of mostly small, regional and non-profit arts groups has grown to over 130 organizations, as they faced decimated budgets while continuing to deliver arts education and public programming virtually amid a complete shutdown of the arts sector.
The “New Start for the Arts” PSA campaign will premiere throughout 2021 on Ovation’s cable channel and digital properties, with over 25 organizations featured. The PSAs were offered to arts organizations struggling to keep their doors open and support their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an emphasis on programs serving underrepresented groups and communities of color. The PSAs highlight the work being done by small arts organizations and illustrate the need to support and uplift their causes with increased funding and representation at a federal policy level.
The first few videos feature Chicago’s 3Arts, which supports women, BIPOC, and deaf and disabled creators; Los Angeles’ WriteGirl, which pairs teen writers with professional mentors; Orlando’s Creative City Project, which cultivates a thriving arts community by creating meaningful shared experiences in public spaces; and Virginia’s Riverview Artspace, a collaborative art center that supports local emerging artists.
Coinciding with the launch of the PSA series, Ovation TV CEO Charles Segars, President and CEO of The Music Center in Los Angeles, Rachel Moore, and Pierre Gervois, artist and award-winning documentary producer, sent a letter this week to President Biden and congressional leaders urging them to prioritize the arts sector at the federal level. While arts industry leaders appreciate the inclusion of $135 million in relief funds for both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in the recent American Rescue Plan, they also know that a much larger investment is needed. Not only so the industry can survive the economic blow of the pandemic, but to bring it in line with its economic value in a post-pandemic world.
In their letter, these industry leaders outlined what a “New Start for the Arts” must include: a $1 billion annual appropriation for the NEA, with a minimum 5% increase each year to bring its budget more in line with the economic value of the industry, and installing a Secretary of Arts & Culture to guide the sector’s economic potential moving forward, a move also recommended by the Americans for the Arts in its Put Creative Workers to Work (PCWW) proposal. The group is calling for a “New Start for the Arts” to begin immediately through including PCWW, as well as all contours of the Defend Arts Workers Now (DAWN) Act, in the proposed $2 trillion upcoming jobs and infrastructure stimulus package.
Charles Segars, CEO of Ovation TV and founder of Stand For The Arts, writes in his letter to Congress: “As we look forward, our recovery strategy must go beyond providing financial relief for Americans and struggling businesses. If President Biden truly wants to build America back better, it’s time the arts sector is recognized not only for its cultural and entertainment value, but for its critical role in our nation’s economy and its value to the global creative ecosystem. We need a new start for the arts and in turn, we will see this sector continue to grow America’s GDP and help other industries thrive as well. The arts are the epicenter that drive local hospitality and dining, retail, transportation, and more, in every single state and every single country.”
Federal funding for the NEA has remained nearly stagnant for over 40 years, since 1980. It topped out at around $175 million under President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990’s, hovered around $150 million during President Barack Obama’s tenure, and was increased slightly to $162 million in 2020. By comparison, the Department of Defense’s military band budget reached almost half a billion dollars as recently as 2016, the Department of Agriculture budget stands at $129 billion and the Department of Transportation at $88 billion.
Meanwhile, the arts are an $877 billion dollar industry in the U.S., a larger economic driver than agriculture, transportation or construction, and account for an astounding 4.5% of the nation’s GDP each year. Considering an average NEA endowment of $165 million in the last few years, that’s a 531,415% return on investment. Increasing the NEA’s appropriation to $1 billion would bring it roughly in line with the Small Business Administration’s 2021 budget of $871 million, and the $44 billion called for in the DAWN Act amounts to just over 2% of the proposed $2 trillion in spending on the next stimulus.
Before the pandemic, even while their work bolstered the economy and defined the culture, little investment was being made in artists’ mental, physical and financial well-being. With so many already struggling, COVID-19 has devastated the arts community. During the pandemic, over 2.7 million arts workers lost their jobs, and right now, 63% of arts workers report that they are still fully unemployed and 94% report individual income losses averaging $23,500.
Far from a partisan issue, the arts are central to the economic ecosystem in every state: a $407 billion industry in California, $37 billion in Florida, $24 billion in Georgia, $46 billion in Texas and $15 billion in North Carolina. Supporting the NEA with appropriate funding to reflect the massive industry the arts truly is will see benefits across the country. Arts workers with organizations under the Stand For The Arts coalition have joined together to speak out about the essential importance of art in our culture:
“To me, art heals. As a writer, art has a cathartic, healing quality and as a consumer, art within entertainment gives me joy — especially in these dark times,” said Khaila Amazan, filmmaker and alumna of WriteGirl, a nonprofit creative writing organization for teen girls. “No matter what the form is, art is so important for both the creator and consumer that supporting the arts is necessary to heal our society. It is vital that artists are given the resources they need to continue creating, and it’s up to the federal government to helm that responsibility.”
“The arts are the backbone to our greatest memories. They get us through tough times. Yet in our culture, a disconnect still exists. We value the arts, but too often overlook that artists are workers who need a living wage to survive,” said Sandra Delgado, 3Arts award-winning Chicago theater artist and playwright. “When performing arts venues closed last year, I not only lost income and connections to my audience. It also shook my sense of purpose. Still, I know I am not alone. As artists, we create because we have to—because we want to share our gifts, because we want to spark connection and compassion, and also because it is our job. We need our government and the public to support artists right now, to build new pathways to ensure artists can do what we are meant to, enriching all our lives.”
“Dance is the art of what we experience and express with the life and bodies we are given. In sharing through art, we come together to move, be moved, and feel alive — no matter how far apart we may find ourselves. Although it may be unquantifiable in the immediate, it is invaluable to all in the broader scope of humanity,” said Kyla Barkin, Founding and Artistic Director of Barkin/Selissen Project, a contemporary dance company based in New York City.
“The arts encourage interaction, accessibility, exploration, dialogue and also healing, of which we are in need of as a nation, today more than ever,” said Kim Soerensen, Executive Director of Riverviews Artspace in Lynchburg, VA. “To invest in the arts, you are investing in humanity and a more deeply connected, healthy and vibrant community. If not for that, investing in the arts is also a smart financial decision. In the pre-Covid era, the second largest global GDP was the arts, after oil and before the automotive industry. This documents that the arts are not only a worthwhile but essential economic driver.”
“I am sure I speak for many in the arts sector when I say we are grateful for the increased Federal support for the arts to help bring us through the pandemic. But now is the time to innovate, to reinvigorate the industry and establish new ways to create, access, and experience art,” said Stephen Butler, Executive Director of CNY Arts in Syracuse, NY. “This sector is essential to every citizen’s quality of life and is a major economic driver in towns and cities across the country as well as a major part of our GDP. Our children, families, and friends from all communities throughout the United States are uplifted by and through their experiences with the arts. Supporting the arts is an investment in our country’s future and we stand with Ovation and Stand For The Arts to create a cabinet-level Arts and Culture secretary and an annual allocation of $1 billion for the NEA.”
To get involved, go to www.StandForTheArts.com.