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Our Testimony to Beacon Hill Seeking COVID-19 Relief for Cultural Nonprofits

Bethann Steiner, Communications Director

The following testimony was submitted to the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development today on behalf of H. 4755 – An Act establishing a COVID-19 nonprofit cultural organizations emergency fund:

The Honorable Edward Kennedy, Senate Chair
The Honorable Paul McMurtry, House Chair
Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development
State House, Rooms 513 and 171
Boston, MA 02133
Delivered via email toGarrett Burns

Re:  H. 4755 – An Act establishing a COVID-19 nonprofit cultural organizations emergency fund


Dear Chair Kennedy and Chair McMurtry:

Thank you for providing an opportunity to submit testimony on H. 4755, An Act establishing a COVID-19 nonprofit cultural organizations emergency relief fund. Mass Cultural Council is grateful to the sponsors of this legislation, Representative John Barrett III and Representative Smitty Pignatelli, as they have opened the door for this crucial conversation to take place.

The Commonwealth’s cultural sector, and the cultural nonprofits that operate within it, have been financially devastated by COVID-19. Mass Cultural Council has twice collected economic impact data from cultural organizations since COVID-related cancellations, closures, and social distancing measures were put into effect in March. As of April 15, nearly 700 cultural organizations responded to our surveys. The data tells a dire story of an unprecedented economic crisis:

  • More than a quarter of a billion dollars ($264,799,746) in lost revenue has been reported. Note that this figure is not a projection, but represents actual income lost as of mid-April.
  • This staggering number makes sense, as 91% of all respondents reported cancelling programming and events, and 95% of organizations with facilities reported closing their facility to the public.
  • 62% of cultural organizations responded that they are making decisions to layoff or furlough employees or reduce their hours or wages. These decisions will impact 15,381 employees across Massachusetts.

Mass Cultural Council is preparing for FY21 with a specific focus to guide the cultural sector through the COVID-19 pandemic and provide resources, best practices, and grant awards to help cultural organizations reopen and reengage with audiences safely. Our mission in the coming fiscal year will be working with cultural organizations and creative individuals on recovery, rebuilding, and renewal.

H. 4755 calls for a $75 million public investment into cultural nonprofits, via an Emergency Relief Fund administered by the Agency. The Fund will provide financial grant assistance to nonprofit cultural organizations experiencing financial distress due to COVID-19. Mass Cultural Council stands at the ready to execute this direction.

Since March Mass Cultural Council has designed and administered four new COVID-19 relief grant programs for the sector (the COVID Relief Fund for Individuals, the Safe Harbors Initiative for Cultural Organizations, Federal CARES Act Financial Supplement for Creative Youth Development programs, and the GKV Foundation Fund for COVID Relief for Berkshire Theater Professionals). Additionally, during this timeframe the Agency successfully completed the first round of Gaming Mitigation grants, a program envisioned and created by the Legislature in statute – a clear mandate which Mass Cultural Council effectively met. Our team has proven that it can and does mobilize quickly and execute when called upon, even while working remotely.

Our data shows that a state investment of $75 million, while substantial and unprecedented, will not provide total relief to Massachusetts’ cultural nonprofits and will not fully revive our once thriving cultural sector. Yet, significant public investment is necessary, and H. 4755 offers a vehicle for such support.

Mass Cultural Council is now collecting updated data from cultural organizations through our COVID Recovery Survey, which will close at the end of the month. We will share the information collected with the Committee in early July, in the hopes that it will inform your deliberations.

We are certain that the cultural sector will not come back from this crisis without substantial public investment, and we also know that if an investment isn’t made the Commonwealth’s economy will be impacted in a serious, negative way without the revenue and jobs created by cultural nonprofits.

Mass Cultural Council is grateful to the Committee for its unwavering support and leadership and looks forward to continued collaboration to secure robust public investments into the cultural sector. We strongly call upon the Legislature to reaffirm its support of arts and culture to ensure the sector will have the means necessary to recover, rebuild, and renew.

Thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to reach out to Mass Cultural Council’s Communications Director, Bethann Steiner, if you require further information.


Anita Walker
Executive Director

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