American Cultural Organizations Get Less Than Five Percent of What They Requested From Congress’s New $2 Trillion Aid Package

American cultural organizations had asked for $4 billion. They got, well, less.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gives a thumbs up sign as he arrives at the Capitol on March 25, 2020 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

As countries around the globe assemble relief packages to support businesses and individuals put out of work by coronavirus, the art industry is angling for a piece of the pie. But art institutions in the United States will receive far less support than those in other high-income nations.

The US government’s $2 trillion aid package—the largest stimulus in modern American history—passed unanimously in the Senate just before midnight on Wednesday and is expected to be approved by the House of Representatives on Friday. It includes $75 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities; $50 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services; $25 million for the Kennedy Center; and $7.5 million for the Smithsonian Institution.

For comparison, England has offered $190 million to shore up artists and arts organizations affected by the crisis. Germany has offered a staggering $54 billion for small businesses and freelancers, including a generous share for cultural industries and artists.

The final US figures may be disappointing for museum advocates. The American Alliance of Museums, backed by some Democratic lawmakers in New York and elsewhere, had asked for $4 billion. Although that sum was an outsize number that few observers believed would actually be approved, the final figure remains a small fraction of that. In their letter to Congressional leaders, the AAM wrote: “We estimate as many as 30 percent of museums, mostly in small and rural communities, will not re-open without significant and immediate emergency financial assistance.”

An earlier version of the bill, introduced by House Democrats, had included $300 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and another $300 million to the National Endowment for the Humanities, each of which would pass on that money to individual museums and other institutions in need. The Senate bill, delivered by Republicans, put those numbers at $100 million each. It is unclear exactly how the final sum was cut to $75 million each.

The efforts to promote a government arts bailout were supported by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which on Tuesday announced the launch of #CongressSaveCulture, an effort advocating for federal relief funds to be sent to nonprofit institutions. Along with the aforementioned request for $4 billion to be injected into financially at-risk museums, the Met also asked for “the implementation of a universal charitable tax deduction to incentivize giving to these institutions.” This measure was not included in the final bill.

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