A new arts relief fund in Wake County will be providing $1 million in support to organizations devastated by the pandemic’s ongoing economic impact. 

This week, the Wake County Board of Commissioners approved a contract allocating $1 million of CARES funding to create the Wake County Nonprofit Arts Relief Fund, which will allow the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County to distribute crucial funding as the creative community reels from COVIDs’ effects.

The funding, which comes from Wake County’s $194 million of federal CARES act money, will be distributed through matching grants to creative non-profits worth up to 10% of most organizations’ budgets. In an effort to prioritize equity, culturally-specific non-profits will be able to recover 20% of their budget from this funding. 

Charles Phaneuf, the director of the United Arts Council, called this and other steps towards equity and innovation in the arts community bright spots in an otherwise colorless time. 

“While there is a lot of bad news, there is good news too,” Phaneuf said. “It’s also a moment where we’re beginning to do the work we need to do around equity and inclusion, and that is long overdue work.”

Since April, creative industries across the country suffered a 2.7 million job loss and over $150 billion revenue loss, according to a report from the Brookings Institute. But the impact stretches far beyond those figures, Phaneuf says. 

“That is just April to July, and obviously, we’re in September, and everything’s not up and running yet,” Phaneuf said. “I think that those are very conservative numbers that are just kind of the tip of the iceberg. “

The same report found that the pandemic cost Raleigh more than $590 million in arts-related revenue and the loss of 13,616 jobs, accounting for a third of all jobs in the city’s arts industry. Industry sales also dropped by 7 percent. 

During the board’s September 21 meeting, Commissioner Matt Calabria said the vote was essential to protect an industry that, in his words, will be “one of the last to reopen”.

“We know that even before COVID-19 we’ve been in a time when it felt like arts were under attack, in our schools and elsewhere due to lack of funding and so many other factors,” Calabria. “It’s really incumbent upon us and timely for us to act in favor of the arts community.”

Vickie Admanson, the vice-chair of the BOCC and the Board’s liaison to United Arts, said in a Wake County press release that it was important for the community to support artists as their work has continued to support the community through COVID-19. 

“Our local artists have proven we need them more than ever during this pandemic,” Adamson said. “Today, we’re letting our arts community know we’re here for them, too.”

The funding will be crucial for smaller organizations, who lack reserve funding to sustain themselves as the pandemic continues with no end in sight, Phaneuf said.

United Arts itself terminated its lease to stay afloat, and Phaneuf said other large arts organizations have laid off up to 50% of their staff due to financial insecurity. 

As Wake County’s creative community weathers a pandemic with no immediate end in sight, Phaneuf said this funding will be crucial to ensure its survival. 

“That’s why investments like this are really important,” Phaneuf said. “We won’t lose all of them, but if we lose a number of these institutions, it would take years to rebuild.”

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