The impact of social distancing has obviously been a blow to artists and arts organizations of all forms — something which is dramatically changing the role the South Carolina Arts Commission plays in fostering creative endeavors throughout the state.
Normally at this time of year, the Commission would be helping its grantees finish up many of its educational initiatives tied to the school year and planning their annual South Carolina Arts Awards ceremony.
Now, none of that is happening. Instead, the state agency is busy scrambling to try and keep the arts alive in a sector of the economy that has literally ground to a halt.
“We’re still working with our [current] grantees to help them determine if they completed enough of their proposals that they can receive their funding and that we can help them get paid,” says David Platts, executive director of the commission. “We’ve been able to work with them almost every time to find some way for them to be able to complete their project and get their [full] grant funding.”
At the same time, the commission is turning its attention toward the immense challenges and the uncertain future and opportunities that artists and arts organizations now face. On top of mind is the $75 million in funding to the National Endowment of the Arts that was part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act stimulus package that Congress passed in March. Sixty percent of those funds are allotted to organizations who have received direct NEA grants in the past four years, but the remaining 40 percent will go to state and regional arts agencies like the South Carolina Arts Commission, based on population size.
Platts, who says the allocation could arrive as soon as the end of the month, says the Commission will have to quickly get a process in place so that people can apply for these new funds.
“We have to go through a certain system, but we’re going to try to make that as simple as possible,” he explains. “That’s my goal.”
Both these funds and the Commission’s long-term planning will likely also shift in emphasis and scope to respond to the unprecedented challenge that the coronavirus is likely to present in the months to come.
“We may have to pivot a bit, and we know that what we may end up having to take some money that we had allocated for other programs and redirect some of those funds to emergency relief to help arts organizations get back on their feet,” Platts points out. “It’s a big, fairly new challenge, one that we’ve never really faced before.
“Even when we had the downturn in the economy back in 2008-2010, organizations, for the most part, were still able to keep their doors open. Whereas this time, because of having to socially distance ourselves, we can’t be together. We can’t be together. The symphonies aren’t playing, the ballets companies are not dancing, they just can’t do that. It’s really unprecedented.”
Given the vast uncertainty of the status of the state budget next year, the executive director declined to think too far in the future, but instead emphasized that the commission feels a real sense of mission to help the arts economy weather the worst of the moment.
“Our most recent study revealed that 115,000 friends and neighbors in South Carolina work in jobs supported by the arts and creative sector,” Platts wrote in a letter the commission emailed out last Friday. “My team and I feel it is important to note that arts relief funding is not a ‘handout for arts projects,’ as some misconstrue. Rather, arts relief supports organizations that provide income and benefits for individuals (and often their families) in arts and creative jobs who might otherwise lose access to basic necessities, not to mention dignity and quality of life, through no fault of their own.”
The organization has assembled an extensive array of resources and opportunities for both individual artists and arts organizations to take advantage of during this crisis, including taking part in a nationwide $10 million Artist Relief Fund for artists facing dire financial circumstances.
“We’re trying to be a resource center. We’re trying to make sure that we update our constituents, both via email and on our website, so that when they get there, they can see what actually exists for them,” Platts says. He also encourages patrons who are able to continue to support arts organizations in their communities that they value.
“If you had tickets or were planning to buy tickets to go to a performance or a play that’s been canceled, consider making that as a donation. All of these organizations are struggling. Reach out to those organizations and your artist friends to let them know that you’re there and find out how you can help them.”