The people behind the numbers

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We need data to make informed decisions, particular in times like the present… During this pandemic we need to listen to the people educated in the issue and follow their guidance. It’s incredibly hard when the data feels overwhelming and the guidance is heartbreaking because you know the impact it’s having on people’s lives everywhere.

Tom Katzenmeyer, president & CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council

Tom Katzenmeyer, president & CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council

If you’re like me, there is a compulsive need to watch every live broadcast, devour every piece of news and track the daily increases in infection numbers. None of this is uplifting. Additionally the numbers about the potential impact of the pandemic on the arts community are starting to come in. While not necessarily surprising, the results bring devastating news as well.

In order to make a case to the federal and state government for aid, Americans for the Arts and Ohio Citizens for the Arts distributed surveys and started collecting data last week so they could advocate on behalf of artists and arts organizations.

The numbers across the board are frightening. Many artists work in the gig economy, working part-time and employed as independent contractors for their creative work. The result is that 72% of Ohio artists surveyed said they were not eligible for unemployment.

We need data, but we also need hope.

This weekend the stimulus package was signed into law and it includes extending unemployment benefits to gig economy workers. In the meantime, the Greater Columbus Arts Council has begun providing emergency relief funds to Franklin County artists. On Friday, we sent checks out to 153 artists for more than $117,000, helping them keep a roof over their head and feed their families. These grants are addressing critical human needs in our sector during these difficult times. And while the stories from artists are heartbreaking, these funds are providing them the financial and moral support to keep going.

Because I know they will lift your heart like they did mine, I would like to share just a few stories from our grant recipients.

Like many artists, performer Corey Dickerson works the service industry and music industry. “With bars being closed and shows and tours being rescheduled, all my jobs were cancelled at the same time and I was left with almost no income coming in. Thanks to GCAC I’ll be able to put this money towards my rent.”

Artist Hannah Poleman shares this: “Thank you so much for awarding me this grant. These funds will make it possible for me to continue to live in Franklin County and continue to help support me as a disabled artist. This grant award has taken a huge weight off of my shoulders because now I will be able to afford my utilities, rent, groceries, and medical bills that I would otherwise have no way to pay for. I lost my job due to corona virus, but the kindness of this organization gives me hope.”

We know that the arts and cultural sector is an integral part of our economy and our society. And, like so many other industries, arts organizations are bracing for economic devastation due to coronavirus closings. In Ohio, the creative sector supports nearly 300,000 jobs. In a recent survey 51% of Ohio arts organizations said they are very likely or extremely likely to make temporary or permanent staff layoffs. The $75 million for the nonprofit arts that was included in the stimulus package is relatively small—but  in this climate we are grateful for the assistance nonetheless. Small businesses and nonprofits may realize some additional relief through business loans but there is no doubt our arts community will look very different on the other side of this crisis.

For me, however, the real good news comes at ground level. Hearing the relief from artists receiving assistance and seeing the community come together to help raise these emergency relief funds, gives me the hope I need to keep going.

We are grateful for a gift of any amount. The donors to our COVID-19 Emergency Relief for Artists Fund include many longtime friends and patrons of the arts, but also many artists and nonprofit workers, people who are not wealthy, and people who are watching their assets slip away. My other beacon of hope are these examples of just how generous and selfless our community can be.

Our industry is resilient, innovative and creative. We will piece together every resource we can lay our hands on and come out the other side—together. Together we will pick up the pieces and carve out something new. I don’t need numbers to know this.

A gift of any amount to our COVID-19 Emergency Relief for Artists Fund is appreciated. We thank you, and our artists thank you.

You can make a gift here.

— Tom Katzenmeyer, connect with Tom on LinkedIn.