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The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

UK and Germany Launch Emergency Funds for the Arts as US Museums Call for Aid

The novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and causes the respiratory illness COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of billions of people around the world. As countries employ aggressive tactics in their attempts to flatten the curve of the virus, economies have slowed to a standstill, and businesses are struggling to survive. Governments are now being called on to fix the economic damage. Artists, galleries, museums, and cultural organizations are among those demanding aid.

While the cultural sector is not always a priority during a national crisis, many countries have already come to the aid of the arts. Arts Council England, which supports artists, curators, museums, libraries, theaters, and other cultural practitioners and is backed by the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has established a relief fund that will make around $192 million available for both individuals and organizations during the ongoing global health crisis. The council diverted monies from its investment strands to the emergency fund and will soon be taking applications.

About $107 million will be allocated for National Portfolio Organizations (NPO) such as the Barbican Centre, the Contemporary Dance Trust, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Nottingham Contemporary, and Whitechapel Gallery in order to “reboot their creative work” and “alleviate financial pressures”; $60 million will go toward non-NPOs; and the rest will go toward supporting individuals including freelancers so that they can “better sustain themselves, and their work, in the coming months.”

“COVID-19 is having an impact globally, far beyond the cultural sector—but our responsibility is to sustain our sector as best we can, so that artists and organizations can continue to nourish the imagination of people across the country, both during the crisis and in the period of recovery,” Arts Council England chair Nicholas Serota told the BBC.

In Germany earlier this month, Monika Grütters, the minister of state for culture, told the public that she was aware of the burden facing the country’s museums, as well as smaller arts institutions and artists, and declared: “I will not let them down!” She added: “We have their concerns in mind and will work to ensure that the special needs of the cultural sector and creative people are taken into account when it comes to support measures and liquidity assistance.”

Grütters followed through with her pledge on Monday, March 23, when she announced the government would deliver a $168 billion aid package. While it is not specifically designated for artists and cultural workers—it extends to small businesses and entrepreneurs—she called it a “rescue umbrella for the cultural, creative, and media sector” and said that the funding will be released as quickly as possible. While advocates for arts industry professionals have argued that the industry stands apart from other sectors since income can often be irregular and hardship in some cases can be more difficult to demonstrate, the threshold that applicants need to meet to qualify for aid is low.

Galleries and small arts organizations with five employees or fewer will be able to apply for 9,000 euros for the next three months, and companies with up to ten employees will be eligible for up to 15,000 euros. Individuals and businesses will be able to apply as early as Friday. In addition to the emergency fund, the German states have also been mobilizing to help the arts. The Berlin Senate, for example, announced last week that it would offer up to $107 million for freelance workers and small businesses—distributed by a program that’s being called Emergency Aid 2, the initiative will award grants totaling about $5,000. An additional $322 million is being made available for Berlin’s hotels, restaurants, and retail as well as culture.

As countries roll out aid, artists, museums, and arts organizations in the United States have united in their calls for federal support. The American Alliance of Museums has already appealed to Congress for at least $4 billion in the coronavirus federal stimulus package. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which expects to be closed through July and has projected a $100 million loss, urged the public to support the bid for federal funding for the arts on Tuesday and launched a #CongressSaveCulture social media campaign to generate support.

“As we prioritize the health and safety of people around the globe first and foremost, we must also plan for the world we will re-enter once this crisis finally subsides,” Daniel H. Weiss, president and CEO of the museum, said in a statement. “With that in mind, we must ensure that arts organizations, large and small, will be able to withstand the economic devastation so many are facing. . . . The need for government relief for arts institutions and their employees cannot be underestimated.”

Institutions may soon have their calls for help answered. On Wednesday, the Senate is set to pass a $2 trillion aid deal—the largest relief package in American history—which will provide tax rebates, expanded unemployment benefits, and business tax-relief provisions, as well as a one-time check of $1,200 to Americans who make up to $75,000. The legislation is expected to move to the House on Thursday. The text of the bill has not yet been released. “This is not a moment of celebration, but one of necessity,” said the Senate minority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer. “To all Americans I say, ‘Help is on the way.’”

This story is developing. Check back for updates.