Federal coronavirus relief funds are set be allocated to Wyoming arts and humanities organizations struggling during the pandemic.
Wyoming Humanities plans to distribute $399,500 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that the state received through the National Endowment for the Humanities to a broad range of humanities nonprofits like museums, libraries, historical societies and cultural festival organizers.
The Wyoming Arts Council also plans to regrant just over $400,000 in federal funds through its national affiliate, the National Endowment for the Arts, to nonprofit arts organizations in Wyoming. Forty percent of the relief money the organizations received was given to each state’s corresponding affiliates, Wyoming Arts Council executive director Michael Lange said. (The Wyoming Humanities Council is the nonprofit state affiliate for the National Endowment for the Humanities.)
The pandemic and emergency funding arrived as Wyoming Humanities was already working on a new effort, called the Wyoming Crossroads Fund, to address the state’s economic struggles from the energy downturn through Wyoming’s cultural arts network and promote economic diversification, executive director and CEO of Wyoming Humanities Shannon Smith said. Wyoming Humanities initially planned to develop its Wyoming Crossroads Fund through this year.
“And because we received this federal money and we wanted to make a big announcement about the emergency grants, we decided we would announce this Crossroads Fund,” Smith said. “But the point of it is that we believe Wyoming is at a crossroad.”
Potential of humanities
The Wyoming Humanities team believes the cultural and creative sector has the potential to expand to as much as 10 percent of the state’s economy based on research of rural communities around the country, Smith said.
The Wyoming Crossroads Fund will support projects to demonstrate the economic power of the creative sector, according to a press release from Wyoming Humanities. The first grants will be the Wyoming Cultural CARES emergency grants as part of Wyoming Humanities’ efforts to support organizations during the pandemic crisis.
Wyoming has put much effort into outdoor recreation for social and psychological impact as well as the economic well-being of its communities. The same goes for arts and culture, which offer great potential to Wyoming, Smith said.
“And we all intersect and attract businesses and attract tourists,” Smith said. “And we just need to be recognized as that.”
Wyoming Humanities works with the Wyoming Arts Council and Wyoming Arts Alliance to educate state leaders about the potential of arts and culture as an economic sector.
“And so rather than just announcing our emergency grants, we’ve been working on this this big idea about how do we place art and culture smack in the middle of this conversation the state needs to have about its economy,” Smith said. “And we just continue to feel like it’s an overlooked aspect of the economy. And so we’re going to really try to focus our work in a really targeted way to be able to prove out the economic impact and value of the cultural arts, heritage and humanities and arts in the state.”
Wyoming Humanities chief operating officer Shawn Reese said there’s an urgent need to stabilize the institutions that tell the state’s stories.
“To protect and preserve the cultural network that will help us diversify our economy and form grass-roots conversations about our current and future issues, we must shore up those organizations that are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said in a statement.
Wyoming Humanities hopes to work with state economists and researchers to collect data specifically the economic impact of Wyoming’s arts and culture sector, Smith said. She also hopes those who receive the emergency grants from Wyoming Humanities and the Wyoming Arts Council will collaborate with both agencies.
“And we move further into whatever we merge into, the economic issues we merge into, we want to just network to help us explore and document how they help their communities, how they can help their communities grow even more,” Smith said. “We want to help build this network through these grants that are basically to help keep things alive right now. But we all are just looking much more towards the future with these organizations and how do we help Wyoming as we move into this next phase.”
Keeping arts afloat
The federal funds are aimed at arts nonprofits struggling during the pandemic with lost ticket sales amid closures, postponements and cancellations as well as from donations, said Lange, the Wyoming Arts Council executive director.
“So these funds are to help those organizations stay afloat and hopefully come back bigger, better and stronger when the pandemic is over,” Lange said.
The council has also been working on providing other funds and pointing out resources for organizations and artists, and Lange encourages those struggling in the creative sector to reach out to them.
The funding for arts through the NEA other relief funds are just pieces of the puzzle, he said. The arts and culture sector comprises more than 11,000 jobs across the state and 4.1 percent of the employment.
“So although there are these really great relief funds that are popping up,” he said, “the need for artists and organizations is much greater than both public and philanthropic communities have been able to help out thus far.”
Follow arts & culture reporter Elysia Conner on twitter @erconner