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San Francisco Mayor London Breed, 2019. Photo: Lynn Friedman/Flickr.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed, 2019. Photo: Lynn Friedman/Flickr.

US Mayors Petition Congress for Arts Funding in Next Federal Relief Package

Twenty-three mayors of cities across the United States have signed a joint letter to Congress urging the government to provide more aid to artists, arts workers, and cultural organizations in the next federal stimulus package, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The San Francisco Arts Alliance, an informal coalition of fifteen organizations including ODC/Dance and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, spearheaded the effort to appeal to Congress and worked with the city’s mayor, London Breed, to garner support.

“The Covid-19 crisis shuttered arts and cultural events, resulting in catastrophic financial impact on individual artists and nonprofit arts organizations,” reads the letter, which was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on May 11. “Left without earned revenue, these artists and organizations are in free fall.”

The letter requests additional funding for the federal arts agencies the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services; loan forgiveness; adjustments to the Economic Stabilization Fund for nonprofit organizations; and an extension for the Paycheck Protection Program as well as unemployment insurance for artists and self-employed arts professionals. It also recommends altering the tax code on charitable donations to encourage donations.

“This is about far more than the cancellation of performances and exhibitions,” the letter continues. “This is about individuals—artists and cultural workers alike—whose livelihoods are being threatened if not already irrevocably impacted. This is also about the soul of our communities: It is the arts that make each of our communities unique. And it is the arts that will help our communities survive and thrive economically.”

Citing a report published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in March, the letter states that the cultural sector generated $877.8 billion for the nation’s economy in 2017, 4.5 percent of that year’s gross domestic product. It also points to the staggering loss of revenue experienced by the arts and cultural industry in the US during the first two months since lockdown measures were implemented across the nation.

Among the mayors who signed the document are Steve Adler, Austin; LaToya Cantrell, New Orleans; John Cooper, Nashville; Bill de Blasio, New York; Mike Duggan, Detroit; Jenny A. Durkan, Seattle; Kate Gallego, Phoenix; Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles; Michael B. Hancock, Denver; Jim Kenney, Philadelphia; Lori Lightfoot, Chicago; Satya Rhodes-Conway, Madison, Wisconsin; Libby Schaaf, Oakland, California; Sylvester Turner, Houston; and Martin J. Walsh, Boston.

Matthew Shilvock, cochair of the alliance and general director of the San Francisco Opera, said: “We deeply appreciate the support of the mayors who are playing a pivotal role championing the vital role of arts organizations. Bringing people back together through shared cultural experiences will be essential to rebuilding communities and strengthening social cohesion.”