Performing Arts Reps Warn House Hearing Creative Economy Needs Help – Leak Herald

Advocates for the creative economy — from the head of a performing arts center to a venue owner, an actor and an Actors’ Equity exec — lobbied Congress today to shore up the industry before it’s too late amid an ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

“We cannot let the creative infrastructure of our economy vanish,” said Carson Elrod, an actor and co-founder of Be An #ArtsHero/Arts Workers United, at a hearing before the House Small Business Committee. He walked through his theatrical career since March, 2020, a cycle of starts and cancellations (most recently The Alchemist off-Broadway at New World Stages) in an industry where workers are still suffering grievous financial fallout from Covid-related shutdowns even as government assistance programs have dried up.

“The human need to gather, to find cultural experiences will be enormous after this. We need Congress to move so arts workers can stay arts workers in the 21st century,” he said, coming out strongly for a new government position of Secretary of Arts and Culture. The idea has been floated and is needed to develop guidelines that will “stabilize us and put a floor under us” and expand eligibility requirements, Elrod said, especially since we could see variant after variant. It should start with a GAO-like report “to take a deep, granular look at what happened and what will happen.”

It might go without saying but he and others, including House members on the committee, said it anyway – the industry, which made up 4.1% of pre-pandemic GDP and employs 5.2 million people across the country plus an estimated $100 billion knock-on impact for hotels, restaurants, bars, parking garages, Ubers and other local businesses, is worth saving.

PPP loans, Save Our Stages, Shuttered Venue Operators Grants saw many through the shutdown. But as Broadway’s recent convulsions show (nine Broadway shows have closed since Dec., some permanently, others until spring) the pain is far from over in a business where remote work is not an option.

“The reality is that without the sacrifices of the artists, and without the infusion of state and federal dollars, along with the generosity of our donors and audience members we would not be in existence, and I would not be testifying before you today,” said Nataki Garrett, Artistic Director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. The fest had to lay off 90% of its employees and cancel 829 performances along with community engagement and education initiatives. “I am haunted by the choices we had to make to keep OSF afloat,” she said, adding that SVOG was too complex — “different from state to state and bank to bank.” She suggested a streamlining of the process, releasing $2 billion that’s left into circulation and extending the timeline to spend it.

“The wounds the pandemic inflicted on the arts economy are deep and painful. If we want the industry to return to pre-COVID trends and continue to be an economic engine for local communities, these businesses need more support and investment,” acknowledged committee chair Nydia Velázquez (D-NY). “Investing in the creative economy will help this crucial sector recover while also fueling overall economic growth.”

Sandra Karas, actor and Secretary-Treasurer of Actors’ Equity Association, asked Congress to pass the Performing Artist Tax Parity Act (PATPA) that will let performing artists deduct out-of-pocket costs needed to look for work and stay current in the industry from agents and managers fees, to transportation for auditions, maintaining websites, headshots, video reels, which can amount to 20%-30% of gross income.