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Kentucky Arts Industry Leaders Lobby Federal Government For More Pandemic Relief

The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts lit up green at night on April 18, 2020 to show compassion for those directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts lit up green at night on April 18, 2020 to show compassion for those directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prominent members of Louisville’s arts community are lobbying Congress for more federal pandemic aid for their industry, asking for things like expanded Paycheck Protection Program eligibility and support for legislation geared toward helping independent venues, promoters and talent representatives. 

Louisville Orchestra music director Teddy Abrams is one of the local industry leaders involved in the national push, which spans cultural sectors. He said he was brought into the fold recently by Charlotte Lee, founder of Performing Arts Managers and Agents Coalition

“Foundations are tapped out. Individuals have been supporting emergency efforts,” Abrams told WFPL. “Only the government can provide the seed funding, the backbone support necessary so that we don't lose our cultural identity as a nation.”

He and other arts leaders, including Jim James of the rock band My Morning Jacket and Billy Hardison of Headliners Music Hall, spoke with members of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s staff recently to make their case. 

Managers of independent venues and promotion companies have been pushing Congress to do more for the live entertainment industry since the spring, forming the National Independent Venue Association, or NIVA, to get their message across.

Abrams has been impressed by that work, which has prompted proposed federal legislation, such as the Save Our Stages Act, which would allocate $10 billion to help keep the independent live entertainment industry afloat while it’s still unsafe for large gatherings. He said he believes that the arts industry, as a whole, is now creating a “unified platform that addresses the specifics of our industry” and delivers a clear message in this time of need.  

“What we're all talking about is just recognizing that the live events industry was one of the first to be impacted, and it will certainly be the last one to return to any semblance of normal,” he said. “You can't just go close down an orchestra for an indefinite amount of time and expect it to be there in a year.” 

Abrams said the loss of arts and culture institutions sends a ripple effect through the community. 

“It's not just about the specific venue and that loss of jobs,” Abrams said. “It's the economic connection. It's the cultural connection to their communities.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the national creative sector is a more than $877 billion a year industry, and the arts often has an effect on the restaurant and nightlife industries. In Louisville Metro, the arts and culture industry produces approximately $462.5 million in economic activity annually, the Louisville Arts and Culture Alliance reported.

Congress and the White House are currently negotiating the next federal COVID-19 stimulus package.

Abrams said he also thinks artists can play an important role in rebuilding from this crisis, which is why he’d like to see more federal dollars flowing into the National Endowment for the Arts.

“But make it a specific kind of program where arts organizations are allowed the ability to help rebuild the country directly,” he said. “This is not about emergency funding. This is saying, how does that theater company intend to rebuild America right now?”

He often likens something like this to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal plan, which employed artists of all disciplines to create new works and help with recovery efforts. 

An “eternal optimist,” Abrams said he’s feeling good about his conversation with McConnell’s chief of staff and legal counsel earlier this week: “I really believe that being passionate and believing in something is the ultimate method for convincing somebody of what you want to discuss or share.”

He added that this work, directly asking for what the arts need and expressing the value of what the arts offer, is “work that needs to be sustained.” 

“This is not something that we should do only in a crisis and wait until we're desperate,” he said. “I think in order for there to be long-term impact, we should be doing this all the time.”