The Arts Council of Indianapolis has been relentless in working with individual artists and leaders of arts organizations to find new ways safely to bring artists and arts consumers together during the coronavirus pandemic. 

I had an opportunity to talk to Julie Goodman, president and CEO of the Arts Council, as we approached the traditional Fall start of the arts season. Here is the email exchange per what Goodman describes as “our ongoing discussions about the recovery of arts and culture and the role of creatives in the recovery of our city, state, and nation.”

RITA KOHN: Winter is a huge shift in what is possible after a summer of impromptu outdoor happenings; what now is possible within the rainbow of arts genres as people struggle to stay alive physically, artistically, economically?

JULIE GOODMAN: As we’ve seen since March, Indy artists and arts and cultural organizations continue to find innovative ways to create, connect, inspire, and serve our community during the pandemic. Summer and fall brought a boom of diverse outdoor offerings that were welcomed and well-supported by audiences eager to safely engage. In addition, virtual content offerings have continued to expand throughout the summer and fall with an impressive number of high-quality virtual or hybrid (virtual and in-person combined) arts experiences and performances —   and we expect that to continue through the winter. We’ve also seen a number of in-person offerings come back in the fall, especially outside, but also a growing number inside following all safety protocols. Each organization has to do what is right for them —   their model, their audience, their financial circumstances. For some that means “hibernation” this winter. For others, it means continuing or expanding virtual and/or hybrid experiences. While significant challenges and uncertainty remain, our arts partners are going into the winter months with smart plans and positive momentum to navigate the months ahead. 

KOHN: Based on critical reviews, WFYI did magic with Dance Kaleidoscope’s virtual season opening that was available throughout October via our computers. How long can this kind of partnering across the arts board continue when Indiana's elected officials in Congress, except for Andre Carson, vote against federal government support of the arts, humanities and PBS? What needs to happen locally to gain elected officials’ support? What is the individual citizen's imperative here?

GOODMAN: WFYI is providing essential services and support to the arts and culture sector — always and at extraordinary levels during the pandemic as many arts partners look to them for support in pivoting to virtual content. As your question suggests, there is much at stake in terms of the future of government support for arts and culture, including PBS, with the current election. In Indianapolis, the City (including the current administration and City-County Council) has a strong record of support for arts and culture as evidenced by their 35-year investment in the Annual Grants Program administered by the Arts Council. However, even with consistently strong levels of City engagement and support, local government funding for arts and culture has remained flat or has decreased due to the competing priorities and budget challenges facing the city overall —   including those presented by the pandemic. We’ll be navigating government funding challenges related to the COVID-19 crisis for the next few years at least. 

The need for significant audience and community support continues. 2021 budget realities look as challenging as 2020. According to a recent survey by the Arts Council, on average, nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Indianapolis currently have 4.6 months of operating cash remaining (the median is 4 months of operating cash). And the only reason most have four months remaining is due to the pandemic relief that helped to extend the “cliff” out several months, primarily due to PPP support (78% of applicants to the City of Indianapolis Annual Grants Program COVID-19 Relief Fund reported that they received PPP funds totaling $17.6M). Without additional federal relief, we are heading into some very fragile territory. Individual audience members and donors have been engaged and supportive, and the need for that persists as organizations continue to navigate more challenging months ahead. 

KOHN: Hybrid delivery might well be the future for performing groups; is timed entry the new format for museums? What happens to places built for gathering; rent still has to be paid, spaces have to be re-engineered and maintained if they are owned by a performing arts organization?

GOODMAN: Indeed, hybrid delivery will likely become a permanent part of operating models for many organizations in the future as benefits of increased engagement and access are understood. During the spring and summer, our Indy arts and culture organizations collaborated to create the Indy Arts Guide to COVID-19 Resiliency & Reopening as a shared resource to support venue modifications and reopening protocols. They also collaborated on the #IndyKeepsCreating Pledge to guide the sector’s reopening around four shared priorities: “United in Safety, Equity, Innovation, and Collaboration.” You can access the complete pledge details here

The $10 Million Indy Arts and Culture Restart & Resilience Fund, an Arts Council program made possible through generous support from Lilly Endowment, is helping support organizations in remodeling their venues and operations in order to safely reopen. The Fund is designed to help address the more than $20 million in unanticipated additional expenses organizations are facing to make the modifications necessary to operate in our new COVID-informed world. (And these new expenses are on top of financial losses currently averaging $8.6 million per month for Indy’s nonprofit arts sector due to the extended COVID-related closures and cancellations.) Arts and cultural organizations are being incredibly thoughtful in how they are modifying their physical space, visitor/audience experience, and programming to safely reopen in sustainable ways. Our large cultural attractions and museums have all reopened at reduced capacities per public health guidelines. Our performing arts organizations and venues continue to face significant challenges due to the economic realities of operating at reduced or social-distance capacities and the understandable inability to predict and plan for audience participation with any confidence or accuracy. Because the budget margins are so narrow under the very best of circumstances, the most responsible decision for many performing arts organizations has been to remain closed and/or produce at very limited capacities outdoors or online. 

The federal PPP program provided many with initial staff, rent and mortgage relief, and the City of Indianapolis Annual Grants Program COVID-19 Relief Program (supported by a $500,000 CARES Act allocation from City-County Council) is providing 50 nonprofit arts and cultural organizations with grants up to $20,000 for rent/mortgage and utility relief. While appreciated, everyone involved acknowledges that this is inadequate to sustain our arts and cultural organizations —   especially our performing arts and live music venues —   without significant additional federal pandemic relief.  

KOHN: New York Times theater writers are admitting to “freaking out” because they are trained to sit in a seat in a darkened space and tap out their impressions as soon as they leave the performance space; those who retired are telling us how relieved they feel not to be confronting this. Times they are a'changin...

GOODMAN: Yes, times are changing - and in many ways, the changes are good and necessary. There are aspects of our arts and cultural ecosystem that were overdue to be challenged and disrupted. As we reflected and celebrated during our (Re)Start with Art virtual benefit (readers can access the replay link here), through it all, our artists and arts and cultural organizations keep creating, advocating, innovating, and uniting our community in so many inspiring ways. The challenges are brutal, there is no question. But the other side of challenge is opportunity and our artists and organizations are consistently demonstrating their resilience and relentless commitment to fulfill their mission. We are not naive to the continued challenges ahead. But we are confident and optimistic that Indy’s arts and cultural scene will be stronger, safer, and more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and innovative as a result of this experience and all we are learning together. 

I’m so glad you are connecting with organizations and artists directly. This is really the best way to tell their story- through their experience and learning to date.

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