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Measuring the economic impact

Vermont artists, arts organizations, and related businesses are among those reeling from an economy hit hard by the economic shutdown — but resources are available, and new state funding could be in the offing

As with every economic sector in Vermont, COVID-19 has heavily damaged the arts scene.

According to the nonprofit Vermont Arts Council (VAC), the designated state agency for supporting and advocating for the arts in the state, which has been administering grants for artists and artistic venues, the losses in this sector total at least $35 million, with about $15 million in direct losses for more than 200 arts and humanities organizations.

As promoted on Think Vermont, a Vermont government website touting the creative economy to attract young families to relocate, about 37,000 individuals worked in the creative sector pre-pandemic, amounting to about 9 percent of the state’s total economy.

A study performed by the New England Foundation for the Arts also showed that 6.7 percent of all Vermont businesses are creative enterprises, and more than 500 creative nonprofit organizations operate statewide.

That does not count individuals who work in restaurants or lodgings, which have also been severely hit by the economic shutdown, although those measures have left Vermont as one of the safest states in the nation when it comes to the virus.

Vermont unemployment jumped to 15.6 percent in April, and the accuracy of that figure is by no means certain because of the sheer chaos of the pandemic. Arts organizations, artists, and venues alike have been affected in countless ways.

Vermont arts organizations have stepped in to try to bridge the gap for artists and venues that have taken a hard hit. Between March 25 and May 13, the Vermont Arts Council disbursed $173,395 in grants of up to $500 to 425 artists under its Rapid Response Artist Relief grants, according to VAC Executive Director Karen Mittelman.

More recently, VAC teamed with Vermont Humanities to distribute $517,500 in emergency relief grants to 81 state cultural organizations, including museums, libraries, performing arts venues, and other cultural centers, according to a press release.

The Arts Council of Windham County was able to distribute $15,000 through the Brattleboro Town Arts fund to six local organizations and individuals.

Last week, the Vermont House of Representatives and Senate agreed on a bill that would allocate $5 million to the VAC for COVID-19 relief grants for nonprofit cultural organizations.

The $1 billion aid package, which still must be signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott, includes $102 million for small businesses and nonprofits and $5 million for women- and minority-owned businesses through the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

In the meantime, the Vermont Arts Council has provided a comprehensive list of resources — financial and otherwise — about all aspects of navigating the pandemic.

“The Arts Council board and staff — like all of us — continue to grapple with the two urgent challenges that the present moment offers: a global pandemic and an epidemic of racism,” wrote Mittelman in an email, saying that the Council was facing many questions.

“What is going to be needed to sustain our arts organizations and creative practices through this crisis?” Mittelman asked. “What will re-opening arts venues look like? How can the arts help our communities to heal and restore when the worst of the COVID pandemic is behind us? How might the Arts Council, as a funder and community convener, advance anti-racism work? How can the arts help us to come together?”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #568 (Wednesday, July 1, 2020). This story appeared on page A6.

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