Guidance for Local Cultural Councils and their Grantees in Response to COVID-19
This page is meant to provide guidance to Local Cultural Councils (LCC) and their grantees on how to manage the LCC grant cycle in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Circumstances are changing quickly. We will do our best to keep you abreast of any policies changes. You can also visit the agency’s COVID-19 Resource page.
FAQs From Local Cultural Councils
- Should we cancel our council program/event? Should we cancel our upcoming council meeting?
As you are trying to make decisions about your own programs, events, and meetings, as a municipal board you should rely on your local city/town government and health department for guidance and direction.
- Can we have council meetings by phone or web conference?
Governor Baker has temporarily changed Open Meeting Law requirements to allow remote participation. This means that your council does not need a quorum of members physically present to hold a decision meeting.
However, the public must still have access to the virtual meetings. As a result, do not hold any virtual meetings until you seek and receive permission and guidance from your city or town. The municipality will determine the process by which municipal boards and commissions can hold virtual meetings, and/or if they can hold them at all.
All other aspects of Open Meeting Law are still in place such as the requirement to give notice, post an agenda, and keep minutes of the meeting.
- What if a funded program needs to be postponed or make changes?
We encourage you to work in partnership with grantees to help ensure that the great projects you funded get to take place in a new way or at a later date. Because the situation is moving quickly and your grantees will likely have little control over the changes they have to make, councils should be flexible and responsive when reviewing the requests for extensions and modifications. Regarding modification requests the LCC Program Guidelines state:
Grant Extensions and Modifications. Grant recipients have one year from the date of their approval notification to request reimbursement. Grant recipients need the LCC’s written permission (email or hard copy) to make changes to their projects. At their discretion, LCCs can approve reasonable extensions and modifications for projects. The modification should not significantly alter the original purpose of the approved application. Project extensions and modifications must be requested in writing (email or hard copy) and responded to in the same manner. In order to review an extension or other modification to an approved grant, the LCC must convene a quorum of LCC members and vote. The LCC must inform the applicant of their decision in writing and ensure that the vote is reflected in the meeting minutes.
While the guidelines imply that approval should be sought before making changes, we urge all LCCs to consider how little notice grantees may have about cancellations and other necessary changes they must make. You will likely be reviewing modifications requests after the program has already been changed or postponed and should not penalize the grantee.
It is up to your council to determine what is “reasonable” and what constitutes a significant change to the “original purpose” of the approved program. The Mass Cultural Council does not limit the eligible window of time for extensions—it is at each council’s discretion.
Tips for managing modification/extension requests:
- Be proactive and reach out to your grantees and see who might be holding events in the upcoming months that will need to be rescheduled or cancelled this year because of COVID-19 and ask them to submit a request for modification/extension on their program and submit the request to you.
- You will need to vote on these requests so, as much as possible, it’s best to find out how many there are so you can vote on them all at once.
Progress Payments: Don’t forget, the LCC Program Guidelines allow for partial payments, so if a program has been postponed, but has been partially completed, you can approve a partial payment. The guidelines say, “Progress payments may be made at the discretion of the LCC but should be proportionate to the percentage of the project that has been completed.”
- What if a program we fund is cancelled entirely?
It may be that a project or program your LCC funded cannot be changed or postponed and must be cancelled. In this case we encourage you to work with your City/Town to see if there is a way to pay the grantee either a full or partial payment. As you know, musicians, artists, performers, storytellers, teaching artists, and contract or “gig economy” workers all over the Commonwealth are losing vital income as part of the result of the necessary closures and cancellations. Based on the COVID-19 crisis, the Mass Cultural Council is temporarily modifying the LCC Program Guidelines to allow LCCs to make payments to grantees that had to cancel projects as a direct result of COVID-19 that were supposed to have taken place between March 1, 2020 and the end of the Massachusetts state of emergency. Councils have two options for making payments:
- Full or partial payments based on invoiced expenses
LCCs can direct grantees to submit a Reimbursement Form in writing explaining when/why the program was cancelled and what expenses and/or time they have already committed to the project, along with any receipts and invoices they may have, which can include actual costs and any approved compensation such as stipends, and hourly wages. If your council is satisfied you can sign off on the form and submit it to the city/town for payment.
- Mitigation payments to approved grantees
Local Cultural Council have the option to vote to convert awarded FY20 direct grants into COVID-19 mitigation funds in cases where projects could not be otherwise modified or postponed. If a council chooses to offer mitigation payments to their affected grantees, they can ask grantees whose programs have been cancelled to demonstrate lost income (individuals) or lost revenue (organizations) directly related to the COVID-19 outbreak that is equal to or exceeds their FY20 LCC grant amount. If the Local Cultural Council is satisfied, the LCC will approve the request, reflect the change to the grant in their records, and request that the City/Town make the payment.
In its own COVID-19 Relief Programs, Mass Cultural Council does not require specific types or formats of documentation of lost income beyond written attestation. However, a Local Cultural Council may determine what they would like grantees to provide in order to demonstrate lost income or revenue (i.e. copies of emails, cancelled contracts, etc.). However the Mass Cultural Council asks LCCs to be mindful that requiring extensive or excessive documentation may put further burdens on already stressed organizations and individuals.
Again, this option is a temporary modification due to the severity of the COVID-19 crisis. It is the Mass Cultural Council’s position that providing financial stability to artists and cultural organizations at this time provides sufficient public benefit to merit these small mitigation payments to grantees who have already gone through a public review process.
The Mass Cultural Council cannot require Cities and Towns to release grant payments to grantees whose programs have been cancelled, but we strongly encourage it given the severity of the current situation and how important those funds are to the cultural sector.
- Can we fundraise to help support our local cultural community?
Yes! LCCs are allowed to fundraise according to the enabling statute as long as they are used to support programs in the arts, humanities, or sciences in Massachusetts.
Locally raised funds and interest earned must be kept in the LCC’s municipal revolving account with the LCC’s state funds. Unlike state funds distributed to the LCC from the Mass Cultural Council, prior Mass Cultural Council approval for expenditure of locally raised funds and interest earned is not required. However, if you want to develop a new grant program – i.e. a relief fund for artists – you need to speak with your city/town beforehand as the locally raised money may fall under municipal spending restrictions and you may need to work with them to figure out a way to give out the money that addresses any concerns they have around procurement law and anti-aid amendment.
- Do we need two council members to sign reimbursement forms to approve payments?
While the LCC Guidelines do require two signatures, it is not feasible during this time. During the state of emergency, we are modifying the guidelines so that while at least two members need to review and agree to payment request, which can be done via email. Only one person needs to sign the form and forward it to the city or town for payment. If possible, a copy of the email from the second member should be printed and kept with the reimbursement request. If it is not possible to print, then a copy of the email should be saved electronically as part of the council’s records.
- What do we need to pay grantees? Do we have to have signed, original, documents?
Reimbursements: The LCC Program guidelines state that in order to approve payment to a grantee tow council members need to “sign the form and forward it to the municipal treasurer.” As noted above, due to a temporary modification to the guidelines only one council member’s signature is required in order to limit the need for council members to have in-person contact with each other. The LCC Program guidelines do not specify that the signature on the forwarded reimbursement form must be an original, “wet” signature. If you need to change the way you are forwarding reimbursement forms to your municipal treasurer, you should ask them what they prefer – mailed, emailed, etc. – and decide on an approach that both keeps payments moving and supports our efforts at social distancing.
Direct Grants: Likewise, the Direct Grant Guidelines state that once an LCC receives a completed Grant Agreement Form they should “forward a copy of the executed agreement, which will serve as an invoice, to the municipal fiscal officer so that funds can be authorized and released.” The Direct Grant Guidelines do not specify that the signature on the forwarded Grant Agreement Form must be an original, “wet” signature. If you need to change the way you are forwarding Grant Agreement Forms to your municipal treasurer, you should ask them what they prefer – mailed, emailed, etc. – and decide on an approach that both keeps payments moving and supports our efforts at social distancing.
- We had to cancel our Council Program. What can we use the funds for?
A Council Program is a cultural project that is organized by the council itself and that receives funding from the LCC’s allocation from Mass Cultural Council. It might represent some larger project that has a wide public benefit, such as a work of public art, festival or exhibition. An LCC may spend up to 15% of its state allocation each funding cycle to support Council Programs.
Typically if a council does not complete its Council Program and spend the funds set aside for it, they would have to grant the funds out during the next grant cycle, because they are state funds. However, we are temporarily changing the program guidelines to allow Local Cultural Councils more flexibility this year to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.
If your council voted to do a Council Program this year and that program has been cancelled, you can wait to distribute the funds during the next grant cycle, or you have the following options:
- Add the funds to the grants you already approved in order to increase the size of the grants. You will have to talk to your municipality about how to modify the awards and any payments that have already been made.
- Use funds to support artists/cultural organizations in your community during this crisis, through an emergency fund. You need to develop a fair and transparent process to distribute the funds and they must promote arts/humanities/science. However before you promote this opportunity, you MUST clear this with your municipality especially the way the funds will be distributed. If there is no project attached to the funds you want to grant out it may take some tine to come to an agreement with your city/town to address any concerns they have. If you have questions, email your Mass Cultural Council Staff Contact.
For those LCCs that are taking part in the Direct Grant option, up-front grant payments should not be an issue. For those LCCs that usually reimburse grantees, you may need to provide the following information to your municipality to assure them the funds are able to be directly granted and do not need to follow the traditional reimbursement protocol:
Department of Revenue New grant payment process has been vetted by the State DOR, Division of Local Services. G.L. c. 41, § 56. The purpose of the statute is to ensure that the municipality receives the value of its expenditures for goods, services and materials before turning over the funds to the vendor. To a certain extent all grants regardless of the source of funds are contracts as include specific terms and conditions binding on both parties. However, the monies (received by the Local Cultural Council (LCC) from the Mass Cultural Council (MCC) as a grant come from the State Arts Lottery Fund (G.L. c. 10, s. 57), are not tax dollars or other monies raised by the municipality and MCC has the statutory authority to require the LCCs to distribute them in accordance with the policies and procedures it promulgates, including this proposed requirement of advance payment to the ultimate grantee.
FAQs From Local Cultural Council Grantees
- I need to postpone my project what do I do? I have to move my program to an online format; can I do that?
Grant recipients need the LCC’s written permission to make changes to their projects. But LCCs are aware that given the speed at which the situation has been changing that they will receive requests after the program has already been changed or postponed. Project modifications should be requested in writing, and the modification should not significantly alter the original purpose of the approved application. The council will respond to the grantee’s request in writing. We have encouraged all LCCs to be flexible and responsive as they work with you to make sure your program can still take place.
- My LCC funded program was cancelled entirely but I spent time and money on it. Can I submit for reimbursement?
You need to check with your LCC and municipality. Typically, LCC grants are reimbursement based and municipalities will only pay if the program is completed. The Mass Cultural Council is encouraging cities and towns to fully or partially pay grantees whose programs have been cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But the Mass Cultural Council cannot require that they do so. LCCs can play a role in advocating for the payment of these grants, but it may ultimately not be in their power.
To request payment for a cancelled program, submit a Reimbursement Form to your LCC and in writing explain when/why the program was cancelled and what expenses and/or time you have already committed to the project, along with any receipts and invoices you have. The LCC will respond in writing and let you know what they can or cannot do for you.
- Now my funded program has been postponed, but I already spent money on it since it was supposed to happen next week. Can I get my grant now?
In all likelihood the LCC will not be able to pay your full grant amount now unless the City/Town allows them (see the question about cancelled programs above) and/or unless they are taking part in the Direct Grant Option. But you can request a progress payment from your LCC. The LCC program guidelines say, “Progress payments may be made at the discretion of the LCC but should be proportionate to the percentage of the project that has been completed.”