Earlier this week, we checked in with Pam Breaux, the president and CEO of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), on the role of the the state art agencies and humanities councils during this crisis, why they are natural partners at this time, and the challenges and needs of the communities we all serve.
NASAA is the professional association of the 56 state and jurisdictional state arts agencies and is a national, nonpartisan nonprofit that champions public support for the arts in America.
COVID-19 presents challenges unlike any America’s communities have faced before. What do you think is the unique value that state-based federally-funded organizations like the state arts agencies and the state humanities councils can offer during this crisis?

State arts agencies and humanities councils are uniquely situated to support and sustain their arts and humanities colleagues during times of crisis.  With deep federal relationships in their portfolios, the state agencies and councils can pull down federal resources and efficiently and effectively deliver those resources to organizations within their states.  Further, these critical cultural agencies are also in relationships with organizations throughout their states; they know their arts and humanities communities, understand their needs and can work with them on relief efforts, as well as sustainability moving forward.  During times of crisis and during good times, state arts agencies and humanities councils are a critical and productive part of the infrastructure that moves cultural programming forward, as well as cultural opportunities for citizens all across the country.

What commonalities exist between state arts agencies and state humanities councils that will lead to productive partnerships or complementary efforts to serve communities during this crisis?

State arts agencies and humanities councils are grounded in their desires to serve the public.  They understand and believe in the benefits the arts and humanities bring to all people, and they chart courses to connect all communities to those important benefits.  These agencies share so much common ground.  For example, both groups contribute significantly to healing opportunities for members of the military.  The arts and humanities help heal military personnel who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and state agencies and councils play a big role in making this possible. Parallel benefits can also be drawn from educational opportunities they make available to the public.  In many ways they’re sister agencies, nurturing cultural expression and cultural exploration across the states and jurisdictions.  It’s no surprise that a robust number of state arts agencies and humanities councils are joining forces to distribute CARES Act funding within their states, and I’m really looking forward to seeing their joint efforts unfold.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for state agencies in determining the distribution of CARES Act funds to local organizations and institutions?

The biggest challenge is that there isn’t enough money to distribute.  The need is great because business and programmatic interruptions have been monumental.  I’m confident that state arts agencies and humanities councils will do incredible work to make every penny count.  I know they’ll distribute funding through strategies that will prove productive for organizations and the public they serve.  However, the nurturing of the cultural communities after CARES Act funds are spent will be incredibly difficult.  That’s why it’s important for organizations like the Federation of State Humanities Councils and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) to continue to champion resources for our member agencies and councils, expanding their ability to serve their states.  It’ll also be important for us all to powerfully tell the stories of what our member agencies are accomplishing with the funding and how that’s benefitting the public.

Like some state humanities councils, a number of state arts agencies have been conducting surveys to determine needs among the communities they serve. Based on preliminary results, what are you learning from your members about the nature and scope of those needs?

There are many surveys underway, and they’re really important.  They confirm what we know instinctively.  They confirm that arts and humanities based organizations are suffering from the current economic downturn as much as, and in some cases more than, any other part of the American economy.  It’s important to lift up this information because too many people outside of the cultural industries don’t realize it.  I have already faced the question of why dollars are going to the arts when so many people are out of work.  Arts and humanities jobs ARE JOBS TOO!  It’s important to remind people that arts and humanities jobs are a valuable and critical part of the economy; it’s also important to remind folks that arts and humanities practitioners are also essential for our collective understanding of America’s story.  Arts and humanities jobs provide fuel for our spirits and for our economy, and they deserve the same relief and stimulus resources as other sectors.  I know that NASAA and the Federation will continue propagate this important narrative.