Who would have ever imagined in late February that we’d be so close, yet so far away? I spend the better part of my normal workdays on the road – visiting with artists and arts organizations, sharing the Ohio Arts Council’s available resources, and listening to learn about the needs and hopes for the arts sector in our state. While I’m not on the road driving to your location these days, I promise you this – I’m still on the same quest. Your OAC team has been working to make access to grant funds stress-free, hosting panel meetings virtually, and planning for the future. Recently I was asked about our agency priorities and current work to support grantees during the COVID-19 crisis. I thought I’d share my response with all of you: Our priorities are to: Serve our constituents with the highest degree of transparency and respect Strategically plan and minimize Fiscal Year 2020 (which ends on June 30, 2020) state budget cuts, while acknowledging that the current economic situation has led to significantly reduced income and sales taxes which fund our state Strategically prepare for all potential outcomes for the Fiscal Year 2021 state budget Communicate regularly (sometimes daily) with the OAC Board and our state and national authorizers The following information may be helpful to put our work in perspective: State-Level – The OAC in Action Economic Relief - Partial Grant Award Payments: Starting March 13, the OAC proactively issued partial payments for nearly all current FY 2020 operating and project support grantees that had not already received them. Partial payments are typically awarded only upon request, but by taking this action, the OAC quickly injected nearly $4 million directly into arts and cultural organizations around the state, which helped to alleviate immediate cash flow issues and was put to work in the Ohio economy. Early Submission of FY 2020 Final Reports: In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the OAC is encouraging early submission of Final Reports for all grant programs (except for Sustainability), regardless of grantees’ original project end dates. Staff will then work to process them in an expedited fashion, speeding committed funding to grantees. View a recording of our Final Report webinar on YouTube for more information. NOTE: Due to their size and number, Sustainability grants are not yet eligible for early Final Report submission; we are working on this, and details will be provided as available. COVID-19 Data Gathering and Information : Final Report forms have been revised to include questions about the current arts environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Full and accurate reporting of grantee hardships brought about by this crisis will be important in understanding where and how the agency can best provide future resources, particularly in the next three state fiscal years. We are also working to provide accurate and up-to-the-hour information through our COVID-19 page on the OAC website. This information is extensive and includes information from the state and federal levels on a wide variety of topics of interest to artists and arts organizations. FY 2021 Grant Program Panel Meetings: Previously scheduled OAC public panel meetings for TeachArtsOhio, ArtsNEXT, ArtSTART, and Traditional Arts Apprenticeships for April, May, and June are being held as scheduled, but will be hosted virtually. A list of upcoming panel meetings can be found on the OAC grants calendar and will be open for public viewing. Federal-Level – CARES Act National Endowment for the Arts Funding : The CARES Act includes $75 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, and of that, $30 million must be allocated to state and regional arts organizations, including the OAC. The OAC will receive $517,200 to partially offset losses being experienced in the arts sector. The OAC intends to use these funds to bolster our ongoing support of existing grantees, thereby somewhat mitigating the damage of anticipated state-level cuts. This approach can take effect immediately, is administratively lean, requires the development of no additional application or reporting process, and honors our existing commitments to current grantees and their valuable work. We can think of no more effective or efficient way to support the incredible work of Ohio’s creativity economy. Expanded Unemployment Insurance : The CARES Act expanded coverage to furloughed workers, freelancers, 1099 workers, self-employed, contractors, and "gig economy" workers. This is critical for artists and other contracted workers. The State of Ohio believes a newly-built application system for this expanded pool of workers will be operational in mid-May, and we will provide you updates as soon as they are available. Small Business Administration Payroll Protection Program : The CARES Act included $350 billion for the Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program (PPP). PPP provides emergency loans of up to $10 million for small businesses – including nonprofits (with less than 500 employees), sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals (like individual artists) – to cover payroll costs, mortgage/rent costs, utilities, and other operations. These loans can be forgiven if used for those purposes. A new federal act is expected to appropriate an additional $320 million for more PPP lending. Other CARES Act Provisions with Arts Impact : $150 billion for state and local governments $75 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities $75 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting $50 million for the Institute of Library and Museum Sciences In closing, please be assured that we are sharing information, as part of our regular communications with state officials, to ensure they know the value of the arts sector to Ohio’s quality of life and economy and the incredible hardships being endured during the pandemic specifically by arts organizations and artists. I have appreciated your many phone calls, texts, emails, Zoom meetings, notes, and letters. Your appreciation for the work of the OAC Board and staff, your acknowledgement of flexibilities we’ve put in place, and your eager participation in providing services virtually and in new and unprecedented ways has not gone unnoticed. While we stay at home and feel physically distant, please know that we’re here for you. We’re working every single day for the arts sector and communities statewide in all 88 counties. Our shared success, recovery, and mantra remain the same – the arts in Ohio are better when we work together. Until next time, Donna S. Collins Executive Director Featured photo: April 7, 2020, marked the Ohio Arts Council's first all-virtual grants panel meeting. A wonderful panel of experts convened online to review TeachArtsOhio grant applications. A full slate of virtual ArtsNEXT and Traditional Arts Apprenticeships panel meetings followed throughout April. The OAC is committed to making our operations accessible and adaptable throughout these changing times. Photo courtesy of Ted Hattemer, OAC Technology Strategist.