News Register for our weekly news digest here.

Joe Biden. Photo: Eric Haynes.
Joe Biden. Photo: Eric Haynes.

Mayors Call for Federal Response to US Arts Crisis

The mayors of ten major US cities have penned a letter to the Biden-Harris administration asking it to take an integrated federal approach to supporting the arts. In their missive, the mayors noted that the September unemployment rate for those in the arts ranged from roughly three to six times that of the overall national unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, according to the National Endowment of the Arts.

The mayors who signed the letter are London Breed, San Francisco; Lori Lightfoot, Chicago; Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles; Jenny Durkan, Seattle; Kate Gallego, Phoenix; David Martin, Stamford, CT; Sylvester Turner, Houston; Ted Wheeler, Portland, OR; Jim Kenney, Philadelphia; and Cassie Franklin, Everett, WA.

Citing an NEA white paper on the benefits to communities when the arts are positioned “at the table with land-use, transportation, economic development, education, housing, infrastructure, health, climate change, diversity and public safety strategies,” the letter’s authors call for a coalescent approach that would employ cultural and arts workers in the aid of federal programs for infrastructure, education, job creation, and health, with the goal of benefiting both the cultural sector and the programs it is put in service of.

“Given what we know about the efficacy of the arts in developing the conditions that are vital to civic healing and unity, social connection and belonging, collective trust and safety, life-long learning, and economic and social justice,” wrote the mayors, “it would strengthen our recovery efforts to arm our arts agencies (NEA, NEH, IMLS) with focus and intention in order to serve our most pressing needs while also ensuring that overall arts and culture strategies are incorporated into initiatives within other parts of the administration and across federal departments and national recovery work.”

According to 2020 reports by both the NEA and the US Department of Commerce, the arts sector, whose GDP blossomed by 69.5 percent between 1998 and 2016, by 2017 was valued at $877.8 billion and thus responsible for 4.5 percent of the US GDP, contributing more to the national economy than the construction, transportation and warehousing, travel and tourism, mining, utilities, and agriculture industries.

Deborah Cullinan, CEO of San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and cochair of the San Francisco Art Alliance, applauded the mayors for their efforts, and in a statement contended that “the real opportunity lies in the roles that artists and arts organization can play in supporting federal programs for infrastructure, education, job creation, and health. Amid calls for a modern WPA Federal Art Project and a ‘Dr. Fauci for the arts,’ I hope the new administration will create a new permanent position in the Executive Office for a national arts leader.”