While other nonprofits struggled to provide essential services during the pandemic, many arts organizations—theaters, museums, orchestras, dance schools, galleries, and more—simply had to close. That shutdown spurred a financial emergency.
In Broome County, for example, arts organizations lost about $1 million in revenues and missed fundraising opportunities, said Nancy Barno Reynolds, executive director of the Broome County Arts Council (BCAC).
When the arts went on pause in Delaware County, not only did arts groups and their employees suffer but so did the artists they would otherwise have hired, said Jenny Rosenzweig, executive director at the Roxbury Arts Group. “And there was an effect on creative workers you don’t necessarily think of—people who work behind the scenes, such as sound technicians and costume designers.”
The arts are vital to our quality of life and important to our economy. But without emergency assistance, the COVID-19 crisis could have toppled some of our region’s cherished arts institutions. “Financial support over the next 12 to 18 months is paramount to survival,” Reynolds said.
To figure out how to provide the most effective support, the Community Foundation asked Reynolds’ and Rosenzweig’s organizations, plus the Tioga Arts Council and the Earlville Opera House, to conduct needs assessments focused on the arts in their regions.
All of the surveys identified a need to replace lost revenues. For instance, when the Tioga Arts Council surveyed individual artists, they reported losing an average of $5,000 in income from creative activities, said Christina Di Stefano, the group’s executive director.
Among other things, artists also wanted help with technology, so they could present and sell their work virtually as well as in person. “Many of them know they should be on social media or Etsy, or developing websites,” Di Stefano said. Some were computer savvy, but many others struggled with digital tools.
“A lot of the organizations needed general operating support to keep themselves afloat,” said Michelle Connelly, executive director at the Earlville Opera House, whose survey covered Broome, Chenango, and Otsego Counties. They also needed program support, especially since many of their traditional sponsors, such as local businesses, also faced a financial crisis.
With these surveys as our guide, the Community Foundation established a $100,000 “Restart the Arts” fund for 2020 and started making grants. We received a record number of arts-oriented grant proposals—26 in all. Since the COVID-19 emergency will doubtless make a long-term economic impact, we plan to continue our Restart the Arts initiative in 2021.
2020 Restart the Arts Grants
Bright Hill Press and Literary Center $12,000 to support a technology assistant position to develop on-line content (Delaware)
The Bundy Museum $6,000 to develop virtual content (Broome)
Chenango River Theatre $15,000 to support the transition to a new artistic and managing director (Chenango)
Earlville Opera House $15,000 for renovation of storefront to generate rental income (Chenango)
Endicott Performing Arts Center $15,000 in general operating support (Broome)
Orpheus Theatre $5,000 for the youth theater production of “Moana” (Otsego)
Roxbury Arts Group $8,000 for general operating support and microgrants to artists (Delaware)
Smithy-Pioneer Gallery $7,000 to purchase PPE, and technology for on-line content (Otsego)
Tioga Arts Council $7,500 for two supported work positions (Tioga)