States and COVID-19: Arts Reopening, Equity Strategies and More

June 5, 2020

Greetings to our state, regional and advocacy colleagues:

I hope this message finds you safe, well and finding fortitude. In a spring marked by so many losses—of lives, livelihoods and certainties—I’m taking heart in the resolve and ingenuity that state arts agencies and their allies are exemplifying as we all adapt to the new realities surrounding COVID-19. Your NASAA team has been online or on the phone with every state and jurisdiction in recent weeks, and it’s inspiring to hear how you are rising to many challenges. I’m writing today to share some of those good-news highlights.

CARES Act Implementation

The National Endowment for the Arts broke the sound barrier in the speed with which it distributed funds to states and regions from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. State arts agencies and regional arts organizations followed suit, and within a few short weeks funds were being deployed to the field. I applaud the Arts Endowment, states and regions for putting this $30 million in federal relief funds to work for the arts sector. Those funds are helping to preserve jobs and support continuity of operations at a critical moment for our nation’s cultural infrastructure.

Funding Equity

COVID-19 is exacerbating inequalities, but the arts sector has the opportunity to buck that trend. State arts agencies have made equity a cornerstone of their CARES Act relief grant making by:

  • minimizing application requirements to reduce barriers and accelerate access to funds;
  • giving priority consideration to organizations led by or serving people of color, LGBTQ+ people, individuals with disabilities, veterans and refugees;
  • giving priority consideration to strategic geographies, such as high-poverty counties, federally designated Promise Zones and rural areas;
  • focusing on COVID-19 impact factors instead of adjudication criteria that reward grantsmanship;
  • opening eligibility for groups without prior funding histories;
  • awarding flat grant amounts (rather than percentages of organizational budgets) to ensure that even the smallest organizations can receive meaningful relief.

For examples of varied equity-centered strategies, see the funding priorities articulated by Arizona, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Washington.

Achieving systemic equity remains a long-term goal for the arts funding field, made harder with fewer resources available to address exponentially escalated needs. To their credit, state arts agencies aren’t backing down and continue to strive toward greater equity and access for all.


Most governors have initiated multiphase plans to reopen. Timetables for the arts vary, but a common thread I’m seeing is that the arts field is taking charge of formulating specific guidelines for the safe resumption of cultural activity. Colorado, Connecticut, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania are among the state arts agencies that have led important work. Many thanks, too, to NASAA’s good colleagues at Bloomberg Philanthropies for the succinct checklists and smart examples offered in Reopening the Cultural Sector in U.S. Cities.

We’re Here for You

For the latest updates online, keep an eye on NASAA’s COVID-19 Resources for State Arts Agencies. There you’ll find a collection of state arts agency program models, reopening guidance, antidiscrimination resources and more.

We know that many state arts agencies and advocates are still working to secure funding for fiscal year 2021 in a state budget climate that has been decimated by COVID-19. On the federal level, NASAA is hopeful that additional aid to states can eventually be enacted. At the state level, you can tap NASAA’s advocacy tools, economic impact information and comparative funding data to make your case for sustained funding. We’re collecting information on arts appropriations for 2021 now, and will report those projections to you in early July. In the meantime, if you need additional information, advocacy assistance or a sounding board, please call or e-mail the NASAA team. Helping you is our number-one priority.

One of the true privileges of working for NASAA is the ability to see state arts agencies as a national mosaic. Each of the 56 states and jurisdictions faces its own hurdles, and is designing unique solutions. But, together, you form a national mural that portrays resilience, creativity and a steadfast commitment to sustaining America through the arts. It’s beautiful. I could not be more proud.




Pam Breaux
President and CEO