Art Workers Are Up to Six Times More Likely to Be Out of a Job. Now 10 Big-City Mayors Are Imploring Biden to Bail Them Out

Could a New Deal-style bailout save the art economy?

Performance artists rally in front of the the Massachusetts State House in Boston for extended FPUC, the extra $600 provided on top of unemployment during COVID-19 pandemic, on July 20, 2020. Photo by David L. Ryan/the Boston Globe via Getty Images.
Performance artists rally in front of the the Massachusetts State House in Boston for extended FPUC, the extra $600 provided on top of unemployment, on July 20, 2020. Photo by David L. Ryan/the Boston Globe via Getty Images.

Mayors from 10 US cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago, have co-written a letter to the Biden-Harris administration to urge an integrated federal approach to helping reboot the arts.

The mayors have come up with a plan that recalls the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, and asks the government to employ cultural and arts workers in federal programs for infrastructure, education, job creation, housing, and health, reports Artforum.

“We have a singular opportunity to integrate arts, culture, and the creative economy into our national recovery and revitalization efforts,” wrote the mayors, arguing that new, targeted funding for arts agencies could help “serve our most pressing needs while also ensuring that overall arts and culture strategies are incorporated into initiatives within other parts of the administration and across federal departments.”

The letter cites the September unemployment rate, which showed that workers in arts sectors were out of work by three to six times the overall national unemployment rate (of 8.5 percent), according to the National Endowment of the Arts.

The mayors also turned to a white paper from the NEA to show that, when the arts are supported, they can play a vital role “in developing the conditions that are vital to civic healing and unity, social connection and belonging, collective trust and safety, life-long learning, and economic and social justice.”

The co-authors of letter are London Breed of San Francisco; Lori Lightfoot of Chicago; Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles; Jenny Durkan of Seattle; Kate Gallego of Phoenix; David Martin of Stamford, Connecticut; Sylvester Turner of Houston; Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon; Jim Kenney of Philadelphia; and Cassie Franklin of Everett, Washington.

“The social benefits of the creative process and products of artists, musicians, writers and performers has been amplified during [2020] as much as the economic benefits to related sectors like restaurants, hospitality and retail,” a representative for Houston’s Sylvester Turner told Artnet News in an email. “Investing in creatives has ripple effects for individual well-being, communities, and the economy.”

Arts industries account for a significant percent of the US economy, generating $877.8 billion, or 4.5 percent of the US GDP in 2017, according to 2020 from the NEA and the US Department of Commerce. This is more than the construction, travel, and agriculture sectors.

“Amid calls for a modern WPA Federal Art Project and a ‘Dr. Fauci for the arts,’ I hope the new administration will create a new permanent position in the Executive Office for a national arts leader,” said Deborah Cullinan, CEO of San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and co-chair of the San Francisco Art Alliance, in a statement supporting the letter.

“The real opportunity,” she added, “lies in the roles that artists and arts organization can play in supporting federal programs for infrastructure, education, job creation, and health.”


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