Black and Latinx arts community still left behind after stimulus
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While the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) received $135 million in the American Rescue Plan, arts organizations that depend on live audiences are still struggling with how to reopen following COVID-19. That is, if they survive at all. If America’s famed concert halls and theaters have suffered immense budget shortfalls and faced layoffs, imagine the state of hundreds of regional symphonies, operas, dance companies, playhouses and more. Around 2.7 million arts workers are still currently unemployed, with many forced to leave their fields of music, dance, poetry and more to make ends meet with other jobs.

Just as Black and Latinx people are being hit hardest by COVID-19 from the health toll to economic impact, it is these arts professionals, and the organizations who support them through scholarships, grants, education and performance opportunities, that are in the most financial distress. For organizations without strong endowments, wealthy boards and donors, the threat of permanent closure due to the pandemic is imminent.

The arts have long been a majority white-led sector in America. But thanks to a vast ecosystem of thousands of small, non-profit, and often regional organizations that focus on seeking, nurturing, uplifting and often financially supporting BIPOC talent, the arts landscape is beginning to evolve.

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These organizations act as the sector’s talent pipeline, mentoring diverse young voices like Amanda Gorman, an alumna of the Los Angeles-based non-profit WriteGirl. These organizations provide arts education in low-income schools, offer studio space to emerging artists and dancers, provide scholarships to musicians, and showcase the creative work of underrepresented groups. Without them, some of our most talented artists and leaders of color may have never found an entry point into the sector.

I founded the Sphinx Organization in 1996 to foster the development of young Black and Latinx classical musicians. Our programs empower young Black and brown students — exceptional artists and leaders — to evolve the landscape of our field. Our artists have gone on to light up the stage at Carnegie Hall, win Grammys, and lead important cultural institutions across the country.

The Sphinx Organization will survive this economic downturn, through pivoting its programs and making necessary sacrifices so as not to lessen its artist support, but many other BIPOC-led or serving non-profits will not.

Castle of Our Skins is a concert and educational series celebrating Black artistry through music, and seeks to address lack of representation by lifting up Black talent and educating audiences about Black heritage and culture. The artists who rely on their programming have suffered tremendous losses in the wake of performance cancellations.

The Mosaic Youth Theatre works with youth, disproportionately minorities from low-income families across Detroit, and 95 percent of their students are accepted to college — a staggering accomplishment considering the typical statistics.

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The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) has been supporting the Latinx arts community since 1989, and even as they struggle to navigate the weight of the pandemic on their programming, they have come together to distribute $1.15 million in COVID relief grants to Latinx artists and organizations.

These are only a few of countless smaller to mid-sized organizations that foster diversity in the arts, and nurture young Black and brown talent that is all too often cast aside in our society. Stand For The Arts, a coalition I advise brought together by Ovation TV, represents many of these regional organizations and is urging more massive federal investment in the arts. We also believe a Cabinet-level position for the arts is needed to ensure that funding gets distributed equitably.

Organizations that support Black and Latinx arts workers, especially right now, lack financial safety nets — they are less capitalized than major institutions, have less credit to address short-term issues, not to mention less deep-pocketed boards of directors.

Small non-profits also overwhelmingly rely on part-time staff and volunteers, a sticking point that disqualified so many from PPP loans at the onset of the pandemic. They often lacked the technology infrastructure needed to quickly pivot to remote programming that so many large institutions already had in place.

Someone has to help fill these gaps — not only because these organizations will be slower to recover or even close permanently, but because racial equity across the sector will be greatly harmed if they do. Without these organizations doing the work on the ground — fostering talent, creating career pathways, promoting diverse perspectives and giving arts professionals of color opportunities and a voice — representation across the sector, including at our famed concert halls and performance venues, will lose critical momentum.

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We should not only support the American Rescue Plan but also advocate for additional resources to keep Black and brown arts professionals from leaving the field, and we need leadership at the federal level to shepherd the sector in a post-pandemic world. In the meantime, wealthy donors and board members who have long been aligned with major arts institutions should consider making leadership level gifts to more diverse, smaller organizations.

America’s arts and culture sector is one of our shining achievements, and that’s a direct result of diverse experiences and perspectives. American arts and culture would not exist as it is today without the influence and contributions of Black and brown artists, and to see their collective voices diminish further would be devastating. We must now lead through action, accountability and intentional advocacy, so that the world we leave for our children and their children is more fair, just, and vibrant than the one we are working so hard to evolve.

Aaron Dworkin is a classical violinist, Professor of Arts Leadership & Entrepreneurship at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business; University of Michigan, Member of The National Council on the Arts, Founder of the Sphinx Organization, Host of Arts Engines on Ovation TV and host of the YouTube show Artful Science.