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Federal CARES Act Funds to Support Creative Youth Development Programs Across MA

Bethann Steiner, Communications Director

Youth performing on a stage
Youth performing on stage at the Wang Theater for Express Yourself’s 2019 end-of-year production. Photo by Käthe Swaback.

Today our governing Council voted to distribute federal CARES Act funds received by Mass Cultural Council to 74 Creative Youth Development (CYD) organizations statewide. Creative Youth Development programs foster creative expression while supporting core social and emotional skills, engaging young people of all ages as empowered agents in their own lives. As a practice, Creative Youth Development draws from the belief that culture plays a major role in the growth of creative, productive, and independent-minded individuals and thriving communities. After the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, these programs will be more vital than ever to the vulnerable youth and families they serve.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President on March 27.  This Act provides more than $2 trillion in economic assistance to protect Americans from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19.

The National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) received $75 million from the CARES Act to support arts and culture jobs and organizations nationwide.  To meet this intent, the NEA awarded 40 percent of these funds directly to state and regional arts agencies, like Mass Cultural Council, to distribute through existing funding programs, and will award sixty percent of these funds as direct grants to nonprofit arts organizations across the United States.

Mass Cultural Council received $475,300 from the NEA’s CARES Act allocation. The Agency is expected to distribute this funding within Massachusetts’ cultural sector. NEA rules stipulate that the funding must go to organizations, not individual artists, and in a conference call with state agency heads the NEA Chair encouraged each agency to put the money to work in the field as quickly as possible.

As determined by the governing Council today, Mass Cultural Council will immediately begin to distribute its CARES Act allocation by making $7,000 awards to 74 CYD programs (YouthReach and SerHacer grantees). However, $7,000 is the maximum COVID-19-related financial supplement authorized at this time: the 36 CYD programs also eligible to receive a $2,250 financial supplement to their CIP operating grant through our Safe Harbors Initiative will receive a proportionally reduced CARES Act supplement of $4,750. No application is necessary; the CARES Act financial supplement will be automatically distributed to existing YouthReach and SerHacer grantees.

The Council believes distributing CARES Act funds to these recipients meets three key criteria: need, speed, and diversity.


  • Ethnic Diversity: 80% of the constituents served in these programs are people of color. Public health experts note that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting people of color.
  • Geographic Diversity: Mass Cultural Councils funds CYD programs in the same six geographic regions, we used to determine regional equity with our COVID-19 Relief Fund for Individuals. ​


    • More than half of the 9,400 young people served by our currently-funded CYD programs live in economically depressed rural and urban areas.
    • 19% of these youth live in public housing.
    • 23% live in homes where English is not spoken and 11% of the youth are foreign-born.
    • 19% of these youth have disabilities.
    • CYD programs provide safe spaces for youth with trauma coming from hostile homes and neighborhoods.
    • The stipends earned by youth in these programs help pay for food and rent for their families.
    • The Mass Cultural Council is the major funder for these programs in Massachusetts. Most private funders are no longer investing in Creative Youth Development.


  • Mass Cultural Council has existing contractual relationships with these programs which will allow us to efficiently process and distribute these funds.

Why CYD?

Creative Youth Development is an intentional process that helps young people build attributes and skills needed to participate successfully in adolescence and adult life. Creative Youth Development programs approach young people as active agents of their own change, with inherent strengths and skills to be developed and nurtured. Whether using the arts, humanities, or sciences in such programs, certain characteristics are essential in any Creative Youth Development program:

  • Provide safe and healthy youth spaces.
  • Are assets-based.
  • Foster the development of positive relationships and social skills.
  • Are youth-driven
  • Set high expectations for growth and learning; and
  • Address the broader context in which creative youth development operates.

Since social distancing was enforced in Massachusetts eight weeks ago, Mass Cultural Council has been inundated with stories from our CYD programs that underscore the urgent need for help now, and the critical role these programs will play in recovery when we begin to “reopen for business” after this crisis subsides. In recent online CYD community conversations, the following insights were shared by youth participants:

  • “A lot of young artists are affected by COVID. Resources are available for older artists but not younger artists.”
  • I miss my art education and the initiative it plants in me.”“I miss joyfully expressing myself.”
  • “My mental health is suffering when so much of my energy is going towards self-preservation.”
  • The hardest part is just not having social connection. It’s not easy to be in a household where mental health is not recognized.”
  • The house is very crowded and it’s hard to find alone-space.”

Further, we have heard updates from staff at the New Bedford Whaling Museum describing the impact of the pandemic on students missing consistency and normalcy, and stories of foster care youth in Enchanted Circle Theater‘s program who are trying desperately to stay connected with the Theater, “because we are family.”

Today, 9,400 at-risk youth are engaged in Creative Youth Development by Mass Cultural Council grantees. The majority of CYD youth entered our programs having experienced trauma. They will need these programs more than ever on the other side of this crisis. With today’s vote, our governing Council is taking steps to help these programs stay afloat so they will be there for our youth when this public health crisis ends.

Mass Cultural Council appreciates the passionate advocacy of many in the cultural sector who contacted their Congressional Representative and U.S. Senators to ensure arts and culture were included in the CARES Act. The Agency recognizes that limited resources require difficult decisions. Since March, Mass Cultural Council has redeployed existing Agency funding to provide supplemental financial assistance to our CIP Gateway and Portfolio organizations through the Safe Harbors Initiative and creative professionals with our COVID-19 Relief Fund for Individuals. We know through our data collection efforts that Massachusetts cultural organizations and individual artists, teaching artists, humanists, and scientists are dealing with unprecedented economic impacts related to COVID-19. Millions in revenue and personal income have been lost. Thousands of cultural sector jobs and creative gigs have been eliminated or cancelled.

Our Executive Director Anita Walker believes that it will take collective action: social distancing, wearing of masks, and other sanitation practices, to defeat the coronavirus. She also knows that it is our collective action and support that are necessary to revive our creative economy. Mass Cultural Council remains committed to providing guidance, assistance, and financial support to the cultural sector as resources are identified, and will continue to join our partners, including MASSCreative and Mass Humanities, as vocal advocates for Massachusetts’ nonprofit cultural organizations and creative individuals as mitigation packages are developed by our policymakers.

National Endowment for the Arts logo
This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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