From Anita Walker, Executive Director Mass cultural Council:
Letter to the Arts Field on COVID-19
It is hard to believe that just a couple of weeks ago Mass Cultural Council launched our new CultureRx Initiative, touting the protective and healing power of culture in the face of an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation. Today, the epidemic is COVID-19/the coronavirus and social isolation has gone from curse to cure.
We are all grappling with the unprecedented and rapidly changing challenges presented by COVID-19. How do we manage the sanitation of our facilities and the safety of our staff and audiences? How do we respond when fear provokes xenophobic behavior in our customers? Should we cancel our shows, close our doors, or reduce hours? And how do we navigate the financial consequences of dwindling ticket sales and canceled shows?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I know that we will find them together.
- On Thursday, March 19 at 3pm we will host a webinar to share the best advice available on how to manage our organizations during this crisis. We’ll hear from two of our colleagues at the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC): Infectious Disease Bureau Director of Community Engagement & Education Leslie Karnes and Director of BPHC’s Consortium for Professional Development Brad Cohen. During the conversation we’ll share best practices, resources, and discuss what you are experiencing in your organizations now to start to understand what resources you need. (This webinar is limited to 500 participants and will be available online soon after.)
- We have created a COVID-19 resources page with links to useful information about the coronavirus. This resource will be updated as more information becomes available from our state and federal agency partners, like the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Many of you are also concerned about grants you have received for projects and work you have had to cancel or postpone. Don’t worry. Just let us know. You don’t have to return the grant.
We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg of the financial implications this viral pandemic is having on our field. I have started conversations with key legislators to make sure that we are part of any emergency or mitigation funding package developed by the state Legislature. Many of you have sent me emails about cancellations, but the more information we have the more effective we can be in advocating on your behalf.
By Thursday, we will launch a Coronavirus Impact Collection Form on our COVID-19 resources page.
You will get more details next week, but our goal is to collect up-to-date information on cancellations, layoffs, and any other financial losses you are experiencing. This way we will be able to continually update our report to legislators and key decision-makers.
We are all doing things differently now. In accordance with a directive from Governor Baker, our staff has cancelled all travel and in-person meetings for the next 30 days. When possible, workshops, trainings, and meetings will be conducted through the magic of technology. We still want to be in conversation with you, and we will do that by phone.
Finally, while we know that social isolation is prescribed as the best protective factor now, it is also true that the arts and culture are a powerful source of healing in these times of high stress and anxiety. We want to explore together alternative ways of delivering our essential services in the absence of the human touch and community that is so much a part of our work. Share your ideas and successes and we will share them with the field. In unprecedented times, creativity, and innovation lead. This is our superpower.
Thank you for all you are doing under the most difficult of circumstances. Please write and let me and your Mass Cultural Council staff contact know how we can support you, your staff, and your community. – Anita Walker, MCC
Anita Walker, Executive Director, Mass Cultural Council, is retiring on June 30, 2020. You can read the retirement announcement here. Andrea Shea wrote a great piece about it for the Artery excerpt below:
“Walker has worked closely with state legislators and fought for budget increases every year. She’s had an impact on buildings and grounds around the state, too, via the Cultural Facilities Fund.
“This is the only state in the nation that has consistently addressed cultural infrastructure,” Walker said. “You know, we’re the caretakers — not just of treasures here in Massachusetts — but we’re responsible for the nation’s historic sites. I mean, we’re the birthplace of democracy. I’m so proud of Massachusetts for rising to the challenge and being good stewards.”
Walker is gratified by the January release of research from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies that found the MCC grants more money to more recipients and communities than in any other state in the U.S.
“We support 400 cultural nonprofits in the arts, humanities and interpretive science,” Walker said. “This is brand new research from our national association. So we do more grantmaking in Massachusetts, than New York and California and Texas and much larger states. Talk about punching above your weight.”
The MCC also supports 329 local cultural councils and about 50 cultural districts.
“There’s really no part of life in Massachusetts that doesn’t in some way benefit from the intersection with the arts and culture,” Walker said.