Pandemic Preparedness: Immediate and long-term relief for the arts community

Jan Newcomb and Tom Clareson

Reflecting on: How can funders plan for organizational triage and what models can be referenced?

The National Coalition for Arts’ Preparedness and Emergency Response (NCAPER) and Performing Arts Readiness (PAR) — two services organizations supported by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation — work to provide education, information, and links to funding resources for organizations in the arts community after all types of emergencies and disasters. Currently, both organizations are looking at a variety of issues in response to and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

One focus: how funders can plan for organizational triage among their grantees, and models for moving forward where grantmakers can structurally support their constituents.

NCAPER’s partner organizations are developing a set of “Recommended Principles for Arts Funding in the COVID-19 Crisis and Other Disasters,” which will soon be widely circulated throughout the arts community. During the development of this document, the group considered a wide variety of issues, including the following:

What can arts grantmakers do right now to support their grantees?

  • Change project support to general operating support.
  • Reduce or eliminate any matching funds requirement for funding.
  • Extend deadlines and project timelines for reporting and implementing funds.
  • Set up new funding categories that expedite needs-based funding.

In the near future, what other issues should funders consider?

  • Communication with grantees to listen to their concerns, priorities, and issues to find mutually beneficial solutions.
    • Encouraging dialogue between granting agencies and grantees emphasizes an often neglected but important part of grantmaking.
  • Communication with national arts service organizations and public arts agencies that are collecting data on the pandemic’s impact across the arts sector to understand the overall effect of the global pandemic.
    • Are there ways to address “unmet” needs as a grantmaker and encourage readiness and planning for business continuity among grantees?

NCAPER and its member organizations are also highly focused on long-term response and recovery issues. A strong consideration among group members is a strategic call-to-action that includes the idea of advocating for a “bailout” for the entire arts sector — artists, non-profit arts organizations, cultural workers, and commercial theatre, productions, and galleries. Similar programs have been developed before:


The Federal Art Project (FAP) was created in 1935 to provide work relief for artists — painters, sculptors, muralists, and graphic artists — in various media, with various levels of experience.


During the financially turbulent 1970s, The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA, Pub.L. 93-203) was a federal law designed to train workers and provide them with jobs in public service. CETA funds were administered in a decentralized fashion by state and local governments, on the assumption that they could best determine local needs.

Please join NCAPER and PAR in considering ways to support the arts and creative communities as we respond to and begin to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and its attendant employment and economic issues.

NCAPER was founded in 2006 by arts service organizations, funders, and individuals nationwide after Hurricane Katrina revealed the absence of a safety net that served the nation’s artists, arts organization, and cultural workers before, during, and after disasters. The members of NCAPER are working to build a nationwide “network of networks” to serve all members of the arts and cultural sector in a coordinated way, through the development of resources, education, and advocacy. NCAPER member organizations consider the interests and issues of individual artists and local, state, and national arts service organizations.

The Performing Arts Readiness (PAR) project is an NCAPER partner that helps performing arts organizations nationwide learn how to protect their assets, sustain operations, and be prepared for emergencies and disasters. PAR provides small grants for organizations to develop continuity of operations and disaster plans, and emergency response networks in cities, states, and regions.