U.S. at a crossroads

U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. shutterstock

New Mexico creative businesses lost $493 million in 2020, and an estimated 15,000 creative workers were left unemployed, more than half with no savings, the nonprofit Americans for the Arts reported in December.

But New Mexico wasn’t alone. A new bill hopes to revitalize the nation’s creative economy, saying the road to economic recovery cannot ignore the arts and the vital role it plays in the well-being of a community. The Creative Economy Revitalization Act would help boost the nation’s creative economy through a workforce-grants program that would employ artists and writers and stimulate the creation of public works of art.

It was introduced Aug. 13 by U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., and Jay Obernolte, R-Calif.

In Santa Fe, it could provide a boost to the city’s arts and culture programs, such as Art in Public Places, which holds open competitions for each new public art project, and the Culture Connects Coalition’s Artist Relief Fund, which awarded $500 grants to 92 local artists since April 2020 to aid them during the pandemic.

“CERA HR 5019 is an investment in jobs for artists and other creative workers in support of our local cultural economies that were harmed by COVID-19,” said Pauline Kanako Kamiyama, director of Santa Fe’s Arts and Culture Department. “There can be no doubt of the importance and impact that arts and culture has on the economic growth, vitality and health of our city and citizens.”

The bill recognizes the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic on workers dependent on income from creative, cultural and artistic-based pursuits. According to a report by Americans for the Arts, more than 2 million creatives, representing 63 percent of the of the national creative workforce, filed for unemployment by the height of the pandemic in 2020. An estimated $15.2 billion in America’s arts and cultural sector was lost since the start of the pandemic, affecting individuals, organizations and communities.

The idea behind HR 5019 is similar to the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Project Number One, which allocated funds from the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 for the employment of artists, musicians, actors and writers.

“I grew up with musicos and poetas coming in and out of our family home,” Leger Fernández said in a news release. “Through art, I gained pride in my identity and an understanding and appreciation for other cultures. I’m inspired by the cultural legacy we inherited from the WPA. Similarly, this pandemic has devastated our creative workers and we must engage them to create art that unites and brings joy to our communities.”

The Creative Economy Revitalization Act would create a competitive workforce-grants program totaling $300 million through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014. Grants would be administered to eligible government, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and state and local workforces through the Department of Labor in coordination with the National Endowment for the Arts.

Eligible grantees are required to create works that are accessible to the public, such as free concert series, murals, published stories, festivals and dance performances.

The bill is endorsed by more than 175 organizations, including Americans for the Arts, the Actors’ Equity Association, the Freelancers Union, the Author’s Guild, PEN America and the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.

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