By Miguel Juárez, PhD
On March 11, 2021, the third major pandemic aid law titled the “American Rescue Plan,” was signed into law by President Joe Biden. This pandemic aid law aims to be different. It hopes to have “more accountability, eligibility and reporting requirements than previous aid packages.” The first pandemic aid law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, was in response “to the COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) outbreak and its impact on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals, and businesses.”
By all accounts, excessive amounts were given away to businesses, non-profits, and agencies, including local municipalities and agencies, who have yet to spend their funds. According to the Pandemic Oversight beta governmental web site, in 2020, the County of El Paso received $27,484,280 million dollars under the CARES Act. In turn, the County spent the funds to purchase supplies, PPE and contracted with various agencies and businesses via direct costs, contracts, and aggregate funds. El Paso County gave out a total of $10,357,874 to 27 organizations via direct, contract and via transfer funds.
On March 10, 2021, dozens of music and entertainment organizations issued a press release titled “Music and Entertainment Community Statement on the Final Passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.” In the release they stated:
“The American Rescue Plan provides absolutely essential economic relief for workers in the American creative community who continue to face an uncertain path back to work due to the pandemic. This legislation’s extension of CARES Act and Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation benefits into early September, as well as critical tax forgiveness for the first $10,200 of unemployment insurance claimed in 2020, will provide much-needed certainty for creative community workers and their families. We are also grateful for the inclusion of additional funds for shuttered venue operators and live entertainment businesses, and continued support for the Paycheck Protection Program. Businesses are in desperate need of these funds.”
“We are hopeful that enactment of the American Rescue Plan is one more step toward a future where music and entertainment are again at the center of our lives and communities, and where creative community workers can put the hardship of the pandemic behind them. Until then, we will continue to work as one community to advocate for greater, enhanced relief and ensure policymakers at all levels understand American creators’ outsized contribution to our economy and our culture.”
Our question for both the City and County of El Paso is, how much of the millions of dollars that are headed to El Paso, Texas, are going to be used to fund creatives? Creatives include artists, musicians, filmmakers, entertainers, etc., who have been affected by the pandemic. Creatives have forged their art and lives around the pandemic. A web site called “Creativity and Coronavirus” explores “how creative industries are responding to the pandemic.”
Are any of the agencies who will receive funding working to provide support for creatives? Now is the time for creatives to approach their local and county officials to set aside funds from the American Rescue Act, or to include them in their proposals in support of artists, filmmakers, musicians, performers and writers, who have also suffered due to the pandemic.
On April 15, 2021, I sat through the El Paso County Commissioners Court’s presentation on how they were preparing to spend the funds they will be receiving from The American Rescue Plan Act. The County doesn’t have an arts program per se, but the City of El Paso does. How much of the city’s proposed $159.22 Million American Rescue Act budget is earmarked for local creatives and for the arts? And what body will make sure there’s equity to fund as many creatives as possible and not just the people who typically get funded?
According to the El Paso County Commission’s Court’s April 15, 2021 Special Meeting presentation “The American Rescue Plan Overview,” $65.1 Billion is nationally earmarked for municipalities throughout the United States. For populations “of at least 50,000: $45.56 billion in direct federal aid for municipalities will be available using a modified CDBG formula” and “with populations below 50,000: $19.53 billion based on each jurisdiction’s percentage of the state’s population, not exceeding 75 percent of its most recent budget as of January 27, 2020.”
In the meeting, Commissioners stated that they have asked all County Departments to prepare proposals for the proposed funding. I imagine the El Paso County Historical Commission was asked to prepare a proposal. If departments cannot fund artists directly, perhaps County and City departments, as well as municipalities with populations with under 50,000 residents, can include funding for creatives in their proposals?
In their meeting, County Commissioners stressed that these amounts are a once-in-lifetime amounts and will not be on-going funding. The County also reported that if funds are not spent by the County’s municipalities, they will have to return the money, which is unlike the 2020 CARES Act, that allowed agencies to keep funds they did not spend. As reported in the meeting, many smaller municipalities have not spent their 2020 funds. A solution would be to steer funds to support creatives.
No El Paso arts organizations received direct funding from the 2020 CARES Act, although other organizations like LIFTFUND, INC. formerly Accion Texas, Inc., a Small Business Program (based in San Antonio) received funding to “support micro-enterprises (5 or less employees) and independent contractors whose businesses have been impacted through closures and or interruptions as a result of COVID19.” They received funds to “support small businesses (<20 employees) whose businesses have been impacted as a result of COVID19 by reimbursing costs of required closures and interruptions.”
LIFTFUND, INC., is not an arts organization nor did they fund arts organizations, but creatives would surely be able to follow the LIFTFUND, INC. model and apply for similar grants under other proposals if their companies were 5 or less employees and if they were registered businesses. Perhaps cities and counties can develop proposals to hire staffs to to help creatives and arts businesses apply for these funds since their lives and their art projects were also impacted by the pandemic.
It’s a given that national organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts and other non-profit organizations like Texans for the Arts, have the potential to receive funds to support their creative communities, but are local agencies like City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department (MCAD) or other arts councils creating programs to support them?
In the next few weeks, the El Paso County Commissioners Court, like I imagine hundreds of other counties and cities, will be going through their strategic planning processes and it is my hope that the lives of creative communities will not be placed on the back burner, because all livelihoods matter.
The Pandemic Oversight Beta page details numerous examples from around the county on how creatives created projects and applied for CARES Act funding in 2020. In New York City, funding via loans went to art design studios, lighting studios, architectural firms, a ballet slippers company, a stretchers and panel company, apparel companies, creative agencies, etc.; in Indiana a non-profit video game company created tools “to support workforce programs to earn credentials of value in the non-credit space and high quality programs and support minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses and support career coaching and navigation for Hoosiers that need individualized help determining the best path forward.” These are just several of a multitude of projects that were developed by creatives in response to the pandemic.
It is my hope that all creatives, especially BIPOC creatives follow how the money in the American Rescue Plan is spent in their cities and hometowns and that they ask governmental bodies receiving funds how they will be looking out for the needs of creatives in their communities? Now is the time for creatives to stand up for their share of this once-in-a-lifetime-funding. You must contact your city and county representatives and inform them that the needs of creatives have also been impacted by the pandemic and that you have as much right as other businesses to receive funding and support. Feel free to share this article with policy and decision makers.
For other efforts in support of artists during the pandemic, see the National Endowment for the Arts’ resource: “Covid-19 Resources for Artists and Arts Organizations.” Links are good, but stimulus funds for your creative work are better.
Miguel Juárez is a multi-disciplinary, first-generation scholar, artist and Editor-in-Chief of El Paso News. He has published two books: Where Are All the Librarians of Color: The Experiences of People of Color in Academia, co-edited with Rebecca Hankins (2016, Library Juice Press) and Colors on Desert Walls: The Murals of El Paso, with photographs by Cynthia Weber Farah (1997, Texas Western Press). His art, reviews, articles, chapters and opinion editorials have appeared in RUTAS, Forum for the Arts and Humanities; Bakunin, The Trouble with Los Angeles, A Special Issue Focusing on the Simi Valley Verdict, the L.A. Riots, and Race Relations; CultureWork, A Periodic Broadside for Arts and Cultural Workers; Diversity in Libraries, Academic Residency Programs; National Conference Publications Committee, The Power of Language/El Poder de la Palabra: Selected Papers from the Second REFORMA National Conference; Arts Documentation, the Bulletin of the Art Libraries Society of North America; Chiricú Journal; The Journal of Southern History; The Public Historian; The American Studies Journal (AMSJ); Latino Rebels; Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives: American Women’s History; Mujeres Talk; The Women of Library History Blog; Librarians With Spines, Vol. 2; El Paso Times; El Paso Herald Post; Fusion Magazine; Fuerte Azul, and El Paso News.
You can contact Miguel at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @migueljuarez