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Entertainment industry to Biden, Congress: Arts are infrastructure

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Entertainment industry leaders are calling on Congress and President Biden to broaden the definition of infrastructure to include the arts.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Congress and Biden and obtained exclusively by ITK, advocates tell the president that if he “truly wants to build America back better,” then “it’s time the arts sector is recognized not only for its cultural and entertainment value, but for its critical role in our nation’s economy and its value to the global creative ecosystem.”

The letter — signed by Ovation TV CEO Charles Segars, painter and documentary producer Pierre Gervois, The Music Center CEO Rachel Moore and Be An #ArtsHero’s Carson Elrod — warns that the “arts sector is in dire need of financial relief.”

The letter cites devastating statistics about the arts economy, saying it was virtually wiped out by COVID 19-related closures.

“An astounding 63 percent of arts workers are still currently unemployed,” it says.

As institutions consider re-opening their doors post-coronavirus pandemic, “thousands of regional playhouses, galleries and non-profits are facing difficult decisions,” the letter says. “Their revenues, and subsequently their budgets, have been slashed upwards of 40 percent. It is these kinds of community-based arts organizations whose loss would devastate local economies, and the fabric of their communities.”

“Creative jobs are at the beating heart of our economy,” the letter says, “and it is crucial that those livelihoods are nurtured and prioritized in this infrastructure bill.”

Biden unveiled his sweeping infrastructure proposal, dubbed the American Jobs Plan, last month. The $2.25 trillion package would invest in domestic projects seeking to boost job creation and fight climate change.

The Biden administration has said it would be taking an expansive approach to infrastructure with the plan, which in addition to roads and buildings also includes investments in rural broadband internet access, electric vehicles and clean water pipes, among other efforts.

“The idea of infrastructure has always evolved to meet the aspirations of the American people and their needs, and it’s evolving again today,” Biden said earlier this month.

That broader definition of infrastructure, arts advocates contend, should also include their industry.

“We’re encouraged to see that the Biden administration seems to be taking a more holistic view to the infrastructure package, talking about including measures like paid family leave, and focusing on creating jobs to stimulate the economy,” Tuesday’s letter says. “But as our leaders, we urge you to recognize that the arts must be included if our country is to truly see a full economic recovery.”

While calling proposed investments in relief funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities “a good first step,” the letter’s writers say it’s just a short-term patch.

“Working with small arts organizations and the artists they support, we know firsthand that more is necessary for the arts to recover from COVID and continue to prosper in the future,” the letter says, proposing giving the NEA’s annual budget a boost to $1 billion, with a minimum 5 percent increase each year “to bring its budget more in line with the economic value of the industry.”

As part of the push for the arts, Ovation TV, which dubs itself as the “only independent television and media company dedicated to the arts,” is also launching a public service announcement (PSA) on the issue. Organizers say the initiative, dubbed the “New Start for the Arts” campaign, will “highlight the work being done by small arts organizations and illustrate the need to support and uplift their cases with increased funding and representation at a federal policy level.”

The network says it offered to feature arts organizations and nonprofits in the PSAs that are “struggling to keep their doors open and support their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an emphasis on programs serving underrepresented groups and communities of color.”

Tags american jobs plan Biden infrastructure Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 Entertainment industry Joe Biden

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