After days of tense negotiations and a surge of unemployment claims, the United States Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion federal stimulus package on Wednesday that will provide millions of Americans with much-needed relief from financial pressures caused by the novel coronavirus, which has infected nearly 500,000 people worldwide. The legislation—the largest aid package in American history—is expected to be passed by the House of Representatives on Friday.
While the bill will bail out businesses, expand unemployment benefits, and issue payments of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans, the amount allocated for the arts and humanities falls short of the cultural sector’s expectations. The package will inject $232.5 million into the cultural economy. The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities will each be given $75 million, which they can distribute how they see fit, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services will receive $50 million. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—which houses the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera—and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, will get $25 million and $7.5 million, respectively.
The total sum for the arts is much less than the $4 billion that the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) was seeking from Congress. The museum group estimates that as many as 30 percent of museums, primarily in rural areas, will not be able to reopen once the government eases restrictions enforced to curb the spread of COVID-19. While many may be disappointed in the final figures, arts professionals and cultural organizations may benefit from other parts of the bill; for example, they may be eligible for federally guaranteed loans.
The legislation—which represents a much larger boost than the $800 million invested into the economy in 2009 following the Great Recession—is being described by lawmakers as “imperfect,” yet it may only be the first in a series of bills that might be passed to jump-start the economy. The UK and German governments also recently pledged to support the arts through various grants and other relief programs. Arts Council England, an arm of UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will divide $192 million among artists and arts institutions, and Germany revealed earlier this week that cultural producers will be able to receive aid from a $168 billion package that will also assist the media industry.