With mass closings of theaters and museums, cancellations or postponements of exhibitions, concerts, dance performances and more, the arts industry is in "economic freefall" due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the advocacy group Americans For The Arts.
Absent revenue from ticket sales, gift shops, on-site dining and rapidly declining sponsorships, the financial losses to the Arts sector amount to an estimated $3.2 billion dollars, a survey by the group shows.
The emergency relief package passed in the Senate Wednesday evening provides $75 million each to the National Endowment for the Arts and The National Endowment for the Humanities, agencies that distribute grants to thousands of arts and cultural groups across the country. The Smithsonian Institution would receive $7.5 million for "salaries and expenses." The John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts would receive $25 million for "Operations and Maintenance."
President Trump was asked whether that money wouldn't be better spent on masks or respirators. He responded that the funding was a request from Democrats that he personally approved.
"The Kennedy Center has suffered greatly, because nobody can go there. It's essentially closed," said Trump. "They do need some funding. I said, 'Look, that was a Democrat request. That was not my request.' But you've got to give them something."
Conservatives have pushed back on the inclusion of arts and culture in the bill. Republican Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio tweeted:
"I've been to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It's a nice place. However, the Kennedy Center should NOT be getting any money in a #coronavirus emergency bill designed to help businesses and families."
In another Tweet, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley listed the arts and cultural organizations that would receive relief funding, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which supports public radio stations as well as NPR.
"How many more people could have been helped with this money?" she asked.
Arts and culture represent a relatively small part of the $2 trillion dollar bill compared with the hundreds of billions of dollars for such categories as health care spending and small business loans, but it's less than what many arts organizations were hoping for. In its recent report, Americans For The Arts called for $4 billion.
In a statement, Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter says she is "grateful" for the support in the relief bill and notes that the Center was created by an Act of Congress and provides employment for nearly 3,000 people and compensation for some 1,000 guest artists, "...all of whom have been impacted or will soon be impacted by the closure of the Kennedy Center."
But American theater "does not live in a single building," writes Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theater Communications Group. In a statement to NPR she says, "We're happy to see the Kennedy Center supported in this time of crisis, and we're advocating for similar levels of support for our field as a whole."
Eyring calls the $75 million allocated to the NEA "...an important start, but nowhere near the scale of support the field needs, and so our advocacy efforts will continue."