Our opinion: Saving the arts a worthy use of federal funds

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There is no shortage of demonstrated need for the $1.25 billion Vermont received from the CARES Act, the federal aid intended to help states recover from the coronavirus epidemic. Nor is there a shortage of creative ideas for how to spend the money.

While there are numerous demands, one of the greatest needs for that emergency funding is making sure non-profit arts institutions that mean so much to Southern Vermont survive the economic challenges brought about by the pandemic.

To that end, the Vermont Humanities Council is seeking legislative support for $50 million in relief from the CARES Act funds — about 4 percent of the $1.25 billion aid package — to help arts organizations that have sustained heavy financial losses.

The creative economy provides a significant source of employment and revenue for the Green Mountain State, as well as educational and cultural enrichment that provides this state's unrivaled quality of life. According to a 2018 Vermont Arts Council study, the creative sector provides 40,893 jobs annually, representing 9.3 percent of all employment in Vermont. It's a $123 million industry that generates 3.2 percent of Vermont's gross domestic product.

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In Southern Vermont as a region, the creative economy is responsible for 5,567 jobs — 9.9 percent of all jobs in the region — according to that same 2018 data.

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But the state's creative economy is in peril. Most museums have been closed for months. Summer performing arts festivals have been canceled, hurting not only organizers and their employees but restaurants, inns and services that rely upon summer visitors.

According to the Vermont Humanities Council, financial data from more than 200 organizations across the state shows current and projected losses totaling about $36.8 million.

The needs, according to Vermont Humanities, include funds for 3-6 months of operating expenses, to cover costs until venues can safely reopen; assistance in marketing and grant-writing, and ongoing support for larger performing arts venues that might not re-open until next year.

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The Legislature is expected to make a decision on the proposal bill next week.

One might be tempted to say the arts are a bit of a luxury in these difficult times, something that should take a backseat for more pressing needs.

But the importance of the arts to Vermont cannot be understated, not only in economic terms but in the quality of life they provide. It's our hope the Legislature takes the request seriously and provides the state's arts institutions with the support they need to survive and flourish, for the betterment of residents and visitors alike.


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