San Francisco Mayor London Breed
San Francisco Mayor London Breed | Courtesy of Mayor London Breed

In an effort shepherded by San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) — a nonpartisan organization with representatives from 1,400 cities — adopted a resolution earlier this week urging Congress to continue providing pandemic relief in the form of funding for the hard-hit arts and culture sector, arguing that such support was essential to economic recovery in the nation’s cities.

As Breed stated the case, “Our arts and cultural institutions are the lifeblood of our vibrant communities and essential to our economy. The arts define us as a city, they create jobs, and they are paramount in bringing together our diverse communities as we push for equity across all institutions. As we continue on this path of economic recovery, it has never been more critical to invest in the arts.”

The numbers are impressive. The arts and culture industries contributed $877.8 billion to the nation’s economy (a per 2017 number), and directly employs more than five million workers nationwide. The losses sustained by the arts and culture sector throughout the nation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are estimated to be $15.2 billion as of August 27, 2021.

The mayors urged providing relief that engages artists and arts organizations in federal programs targeting infrastructure, education, job creation, and health. They added that all efforts must be coordinated with federal departments, as well as with cultural agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts, local and state government partners, and tribal governments.

They also recommend extending the Employment Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) beyond 2021 and modifying nonprofit eligibility beyond the current gross receipts test to reflect the increased costs charitable organizations experience as they struggle to maintain or expand services to meet local needs throughout the health and economic crisis.

The mayors want programs that reopen the creative economy to enable innovation and support dedicated relief resources for nonprofit organizations and their workforce, as proposed in the WORK Now Act (S. 740 / H.R.1987) and emerging legislation that will support the creative workforce, such as the recently introduced Creative Economy Revitalization Act (CERA).

Finally, the mayors urge the creation of positions within the Executive branch and inter-agency coordination to support the arts, culture, and creative economy, with particular attention to relief and recovery efforts.

Time will tell if the resolution will lead to increased funding, but the effort is clear evidence that U.S. leadership — at the local level, anyway — is well aware of the tangible value of the arts in building a road to economic recovery.