US politics

Mayors of major US cities urge Congress to provide additional support for the arts and culture sector

Spearheaded by the San Francisco Arts Alliance, more than 20 mayors have signed a letter requesting additional aid in its next relief package

San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts. Wikimedia Commons

As the arts and culture sector in the US continues to face huge economic losses due to the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, more than 20 mayors of major US cities are urging Congress to provide additional funding and support for the sector in its next relief package.

In a letter addressed to house speaker Nancy Pelosi, house minority leader Kevin McCarthy, senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, more than 20 mayors are calling for additional funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The letter also requests—among several other points—that the duration of unemployment insurance for artists and self-employed workers be extended, and that non-profit organisations have access to more forgivable loans.

"This is about individuals—artists and cultural workers alike—whose livelihoods are being threatened if not already irrevocably impacted," reads the letter, which was cosigned by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. "This is also about the soul of our communities: It is the arts that make each of our communities unique. And it is the arts that will help our communities survive and thrive economically."

Spearheaded by the San Francisco Arts Alliance, a loose coalition of 15 large local arts organisations, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, the letter, dated 11 May, notes that the arts and culture sector provided more than 5 million jobs and contributes $887.8m, or around 4.5% of the US gross domestic product in 2017, according to research conducted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. It also estimates that losses in the sector may have amounted to nearly $5bn in the last two months.

“The arts and culture sector exists to serve the creativity of the community and is an essential vehicle for healing and the equitable and sustainable redevelopment of cities across the nation,” says Deborah Cullinan, co-chair of the San Francisco Arts Alliance and chief executive of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), in a statement.

Additionally, the YBCA announced today the creation of the Artist Power Center, a digital platform and hotline to help artists and cultural workers navigate emergency relief that features customised tools to eliminate the challenges of tracking funding opportunities and will serve as a space for artists to organise knowledge and share across the US.

"We see the collaborations evident in this letter and in our newly launched Artist Power Center as essential to connecting creative workers with the resources they need," Cullinan says. "Artists have the ability to reimagine healthier, safer, and more equitable communities for us all, and we must ensure they have the structures and support to do so."