May 1 COVID-19 Virtual Policy & Action Update

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April 24 COVID-19 Virtual Policy & Action Update

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Action Alert: Support nonprofits during COVID-19

Update: The bill is still in the Labor and Workforce Development Committee. Check back here for more info soon.

Nonprofits are a vital part of keeping Massachusetts safe and supporting its residents. Due to the upheaval caused by COVID-19, nonprofits are struggling to pay the unemployment benefits to their furloughed staff. In response to the need, Representatives Paul McMurtry and Nika Elugardo filed HD5042 ‘An Act assisting non-profits to provide for COVID-19 unemployment benefits.’ This bill will make it possible for thousands of nonprofits in every region of the Commonwealth to financially survive the pandemic. When Massachusetts can safely reopen its economy, HD5042 will also help nonprofits re-employ staff and continue their work to deliver public goods and services.


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Action Alert from New England Aquarium

Via New England Aquarium:

Ask Congress to support emergency relief funding for U.S. aquariums, zoos, and museums.

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April 17 COVID-19 Virtual Policy & Action Update

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UPDATED: Economic Relief for the Creative Community in Federal COVID-19 Relief Bill

On March 27, Congress passed and President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act--the third phase of the federal government’s COVID-19 response. This $2 trillion emergency stimulus package includes $300 million in economic relief to support nonprofit cultural organizations, museums, libraries, public broadcasting, and state and local arts and humanities agencies, as well as substantial additional economic relief opportunities for independent contractors like "gig economy" workers such as actors, musicians, and artists and nonprofit organizations and small businesses, including those working in the creative economy.

There are a number of provisions within the CARES Act that artists, cultural workers, independent contractors, and both for-profit and non-profit businesses can access, including:

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#ArtsMatter Mondays

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit each member of our community in difficult and unpredictable ways. We are worried for the present and uncertain for the future, and we feel more isolated than ever. But despite the changes and fears this crisis has brought, we at MASSCreative still believe in one thing: arts matter. 

This time of great trouble has shown us that when we can’t physically be with one another, art still allows us to touch each other’s hearts and bring joy into our lives. How many of us have spent the past weeks reading, watching, singing, dancing, creating? We have turned to the arts in our darkest moment to get us through, to keep our communities intact and uplift our stories of struggles and success.

We want to showcase how the arts matter to us in the commonwealth. That’s why we’re starting #ArtsMatter Mondays on our Instagram and Facebook to promote how our community still sees the arts as a vital part of our lives. Make a post featuring how you’re using the arts to get through this crisis– whether creating it, teaching it, or consuming it– using the hashtags #ArtsMatter and we’ll feature you on our Instagram and Facebook stories.

The arts and culture community of Massachusetts is vibrant and resilient. We are incredibly proud of the ways our community has come together to support one another and celebrate the creativity that’s still in our lives. We’ve shown that through the arts, we may be distant in space but not in our hearts and spirits.

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It’s been six weeks since the COVID-19 state of emergency was declared in Massachusetts and four weeks since the stay-at-home advisory went out. So much has changed. But you can still count on us to advocate for the resources you need now to get through this crisis.

Arts and culture mattered before COVID-19 and will matter long after the COVID-19 pandemic ends—which it will. In the meantime, the arts are getting us through it. In this newsletter, you’ll find examples of resilience and creativity from our community in the midst of chaos. You’ll also find details about our advocacy for including the creative sector as relief measures are developed. We’ve also provided a guide to the economic relief resources available now for artists and nonprofit cultural organizations. 

Together, we create art of all kinds. But our most valuable creation is community. As we continue to respond to COVID-19, let us keep our community front and center as we take care of ourselves and each other.

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Policy Watch: Advocating for A More Creative Massachusetts

MASSCreative advances policies that support a well-resourced and equitable creative sector that is essential to the vibrancy of Massachusetts. Over the last four months, MASSCreative staff and partners worked on important policy items for the arts and cultural community.


Since January 2020, a lot has happened regarding policies and legislation to support the creative sector. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, MASSCreative continued to work with partners to support bills for a State-wide Percent for Public Art, a Dedicated Revenue Study for Arts, Culture and Tourism; and common sense changes to ease procurement of artistic services. 

However, upon the COVID-19 outbreak in the Commonwealth and the Nation, MASSCreative pivoted our policy and government affairs efforts to address the immediate and critical needs of the creative and cultural sector. 

This morning, MASSCreative hosted its first weekly COVID-19 Virtual Policy & Action Update to help the creative community make sense of what Congress and the MA Legislature are doing to strengthen the social and economic safety net during this public health emergency. This 15-minute webinar will be available every Friday at 9:45am for anyone interested in practical policy updates and simple tools to make your voice heard. More resources and FAQ will be available soon for the April 17 COVID-19 Virtual Policy & Action Update. RSVP for the April 24 COVID-19 Virtual Policy & Action Update here.

In Congress

When Congress took up writing and passing the third Federal bill to address COVID-19, MASSCreaitve joined national partners to advocate for provisions that would provide relief for organizations and individuals working in the creative sector. Survey results from the Americans for the Arts Impact Survey helped support our advocacy work. Thanks to advocates from across the nation and Massachusetts, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included funds to the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment of the Humanities, and the Institute of Library and Museum Sciences. In addition, independent contractors were included in unemployment assistance--a first in the history of the unemployment safety net. Looking ahead, we expect a fourth COVID-19 related Federal Relief bill. The time and content of the bill are still in development. MASSCreative will share updates as more information is released. 

At the State House

The COVID-19 outbreak was met with action by Governor Baker and the Legislature to first and foremost address the immediate public health crisis in the Commonwealth. We applaud the allocation of public funds to provide front line medical personnel with equipment and protective gear. As state government leaders awaited a federal response, MASSCreative began working with partners in the creative community and across sectors to develop COVID-19 response policy recommendations. We are currently working on the following issues:

Stimulus and Recovery Funds

Like tourism and hospitality, the creative sector was immediately impacted by the spread of COVID-19. As of April 7, 2020, COVID-19 has already had a devastating economic impact on America’s nonprofit arts sector—financial losses to date are estimated to be $4.5 billion. In Massachusetts, organizations cancelled or postponed revenue-generating programs, and artists and cultural workers contracts were cancelled. In a recent survey by the Mass Cultural Council, self-reported losses by arts and cultural organizations are estimated to be $264 million. 


  • Any economic recovery or stimulus bills must include recovery funds for arts, cultural, and humanities organizations. Relief and economic recovery programs developed by the state should include artists, independent creative workers, and small businesses. 
  • Economic recovery or stimulus funds for the arts, culture, and humanities must be equitably distributed across the spectrum of organizational budget size and communities served.
  • MASSCreative joins the Mass Nonprofit Network to recommend that any employment-focused relief or stimulus legislation should apply equally to nonprofit and for-profit employers by making tax credits and deductions applicable not just to income taxes, but to the taxes nonprofits pay, such as unrelated business income taxes and payroll taxes. 
  • Government contracts and private foundation grants must be converted to general operating grants to mitigate earned revenue losses. 

Nonprofit Unemployment 

Many nonprofit arts and cultural organizations opt to self-insure. They reimburse the state fund when necessary instances arise, and budgets can manage cases on that scale. But no self-insured organization could foresee an instance where most or all employees would need to be covered at once. Mass Cultural Council’s survey found that 62% of organizations plan to lay off, furlough or reduce hours for staff impacting 15,381 employees. Organizations also reported an unemployment liability of $6.5 million. While the CARES Act provides an allotment for states to forgive one half of the reimbursements owed by self-insuring nonprofits, it is essential to recognize the existing enormous financial hardship faced by these organizations. 


  • MASSCreative joined a coalition, led by the Mass Nonprofit Network to recommend State Leadership consider two additional remedies:
    • Allow for full forgiveness of the COVID-19-related claim reimbursements owed by self-insured organizations. Advocacy at the federal level for additional support for this purpose continues, but in the meantime, states can hold harmless these organizations in order to preserve the charitable sector’s services at this critical time. In addition, ensure that the Commonwealth is prepared to receive and apply the federal funds to cover half of the costs of COVID-19 related UI claims for self-insured nonprofits.
    • Provide an automatic deferment of at least 120 days in payments owed to the state trust, as proposed in section 5 of S.2618. DUA’s emergency regulation at 430 CMR 22.00 allows employers to request a 60-day deferment in contributions or reimbursements owed. An automatic deferment will provide some immediate relief to charitable organizations and will relieve DUA from managing individual employer requests for deferments in their quarterly payments.

Artists, Creative Entrepreneurs and Independent Contractors

Artists, creative entrepreneurs and independent contractors are especially vulnerable in the sudden economic crisis. Traditional methods for income, including performances, teaching or storefront sales have disappeared overnight. While the CARES Act includes unemployment assistance to independent contractors, these funds are still not accessible as of Friday, April 17. Many independent creative workers are quickly pivoting to alternative means of income. Mass Cultural Council’s March survey found that individual artists, self-employed humanists, and teaching artists reported a total of $2.8 million in lost income due to the COVID-19 outbreak.


  • Statewide technical assistance programs, trainings, and efforts must be accessible and applicable to cultural workers, artists, and creative entrepreneurs. 
  • Philanthropic relief funds designated for the creative community should prioritize independent artists and contractors without access to unemployment and equitably distributed across communities.
  • Mayors, Town Managers, or Select boards should work with Local Cultural Councils (LCCs) to provide payment for LCC funded performances cancelled due to the statewide emergency declaration, with the understanding that those performances will be rescheduled once it becomes possible to do so. 
  • With many artists and creative makers quickly shifting business models, the associated LLC filing fee is cost prohibitive. As of January 2020, Massachusetts had the highest filing fee ($500) of any state. MASSCreative urges a suspension or reduction of the LLC filing fee.

Charitable Deductions

Many nonprofit arts and cultural organizations hold annual fundraising events in late winter and early spring. These fundraising events account for a significant amount of contributed revenue through individual and corporate donations. The loss of contributed revenue on top of lost earned revenue is likely to shut down many organizations that serve communities across the Commonwealth. In March, the Mass Cultural Council found that 43% of surveyed organizations across the Commonwealth cancelled upcoming fundraising activities. The CARES Act includes an "above-the-line" or universal charitable giving incentive for contributions made in 2020 of up to $300. This is only for the 2020 tax year. Incentivizing donations to arts and cultural nonprofits is essential not only during the crisis but into our expected recovery. 


  • Make permanent the universal charitable deduction included in the CARES Act.
  • Enact the Restoration of State Charitable Deduction which would incentivize individual donations now when needed most by arts and cultural nonprofits.

Arts Education

On March 13, 2020 Governor Baker issued a statewide stay at home order requiring the closure of all nonessential businesses and schools. School closures for K-12 and higher education students have required schools and educators to pivot to remote learning. The structural weakness in our school systems have come into stark contrast because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Arts education has long been a space where young people develop emotional, social and cognitive skills that better support them. In this unprecedented moment, access to arts education is critical for all students, regardless of zip code.

MASSCreative is a member of Arts For All, a coalition of non-profit organizations and public agencies. Arts for All recently identified the following challenges and solutions to addressing educational inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic:


State revenues are forecasted to significantly decline as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. There is an increased need to ensure that state funding for Chapter 70 and the recently passed Student Opportunity Act (SOA) remains intact and that funds are allocated at the local level to include arts education.


  • Preserve state funding for education in the annual budget process.  
  • Advocate to local school leaders to allocate funds for arts education efforts.


Arts and cultural organizations closed facilities and cancelled in-person programming because of public health concerns. Programs including in- and out-of-school arts education were included in these cancellations. 


  • Schools are urged to fulfill existing agreements with teaching artists and cultural organizations using virtual meeting technology.
  • Encourage schools to access learning opportunities offered by Massachusetts cultural organizations to support distance learning.
  • Disseminate a statewide repository and directory of arts education resources by cultural and arts organizations that teachers and parents can access.


Schools have converted to online and other distance learning for students. The inequities in access to equipment and internet connectivity will increase the achievement gap for students. Most teachers are inexperienced in distant learning procedures, use of technology, technological choices, other resources, and distance-learning protocols. Finally, some schools are not prioritizing arts education classes in virtual learning for students or developing appropriate innovative solutions for maintaining quality arts education. 


  • Use free-and-reduced lunch student identifications and rural regions without high-speed internet to prioritize distribution of equipment and access to high speed internet. This will help ensure that all students have equitable access to appropriate technology and wifi.
  • Develop a series of professional development resources sponsored by DESE to develop online-teaching techniques for arts education. 
  • Advocate to school districts to include arts education classes in students’ virtual learning.
  • Require districts to formulate a comprehensive emergency-distance learning plan that includes arts education.


Higher Education teacher education programs and practicums have been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak and quarantine. 


  • DESE and higher education partners should develop alternative ways of meeting practicum hours wherever possible.
  • Create a temporary licensure program for graduating college education majors who are unable to complete practicum hours, and have them complete their practicum on the job in the fall under university supervision, leading to full initial licensure.
  • DESE should develop different kind(s) of additional licensure for distance learning including for arts education, which requires vastly different skill sets from regular in-classroom teaching.

All COVID-19 related policy recommendations and advocacy opportunities can be found at As we continue to advocate together, our policy recommendations will evolve to meet this unprecedented crisis. Should you have an idea about how federal, state or local governments can help protect and support the creative sector, please feel free to reach out to Executive Director, Emily Ruddock: [email protected] Your feedback makes our advocacy stronger.



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What the CARES Act Means to the Creative Community


On March 27, Congress passed and President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act--the third phase of the federal government’s COVID-19 response. This $2 trillion emergency stimulus package includes $300 million in economic relief to support nonprofit cultural organizations, museums, libraries, public broadcasting, and state and local arts and humanities agencies, as well as substantial additional economic relief opportunities for independent contractors like "gig economy" workers such as actors, musicians, and artists and nonprofit organizations and small businesses, including those working in the creative economy.

There are a number of provisions within the CARES Act that artists, cultural workers, independent contractors, and both for-profit and nonprofit businesses can access, including:

Federal Arts and Cultural Funding

  • $75 million for the National Endowment for the Arts--40% will be allocated to State and Regional Arts Agencies.
  • $75 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities--40% will be allocated to State and Regional Humanities Agencies. 

Congress is waiving matching NEA and NEH grant requirements as well as the requirement for grants to be project specific. All these new fast-track grants will be for general operating support with no match.  

  • $75 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • $50 million for the Institute of Library and Museum Sciences
  • $25 million for the Kennedy Center
  • $7.5 million for the Smithsonian

These funds are a supplement to annual appropriations for each agency. 

The NEA announced CARES Act guidelines for the Grant Program here.

Economic Relief for Individual Artists, Culture Workers, and Independent Contractors

  • Expanded Unemployment Insurance (UI) that includes coverage for furloughed workers, freelancers, and "gig economy" workers. The bill also increases UI payments by $600/week for four months, in addition to what one claims under a state unemployment program .   
  • Check out this snapshot guide, Government Support for Creative Professionals Impacted by COVID-19, from The Arts, Entertainment, and Media Industry Coordinating Committee (AEMI).
  • Check out CARES Act Unemployment – Learn how the benefits apply to you from Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.
  • Read more about Unemployment and Coronavirus from the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, including when CARES Act benefits will be available to independent contractors. As of April 17, MA and other states are still awaiting federal guidance on how to distribute the funds. As such, Gov. Baker said the benefits are not available to be applied for as of today and he advised people seeking CARES ACT benefits NOT to apply for them through the current MA unemployment benefits portal, as unnecessary traffic on that website may delay benefits for qualified applicants. Read more on CARES Act unemployment implementation here.

Economic Relief for Arts and Cultural Organizations

  • $350 billion for Small Business Administration (SBA) 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. This new eligibility is a key element of the CARES Act.
  • $10 billion for Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) for loans up to $10,000 for small businesses and nonprofits to be used for providing paid sick leave for employees, maintaining payroll, mortgage/rent payments, and other operating costs.

As of Thursday April 16, 2020 the funds for both the PPP and EIDL programs were exhausted. Congress is working right now on proposals to add additional funds. 

  • $5 billion for Community Development Block Grants to cities and counties.
    • MASSCreative encourages nonprofit arts and cultural organizations to contact local government leadership including Mayors, Town Managers, and Select Boards to discuss applying for a Community Development Block Grant. 

We recognize that organizations with more than 500 employees will not qualify for the SBA loan programs. The Massachusetts Work Share Program is a possible resource to investigate.

  • Charitable Giving Tax Deduction Incentives An "above-the-line" or universal charitable giving incentive for contributions made in 2020 of up to $300. This provision will now allow all non-itemizer taxpayers (close to 90% of all taxpayers) to deduct charitable contributions from their tax return, an incentive previously unavailable to them. Additionally, the stimulus legislation lifts the existing cap on annual contributions for itemizers from 60 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 100 percent of AGI for contributions made in 2020.

Navigating these Provisions

The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance is holding a series of Virtual Town Hall presentations on applying for unemployment assistance. As of April 17, MA and other states are still awaiting federal guidance on how to distribute the funds. Gov. Baker advised people seeking CARES ACT benefits NOT to apply for them through the current MA unemployment benefits portal until the benefits are made available.

Our national arts advocacy partner, Americans for the Arts, hosted a series of webinars for artists and cultural organizations to help navigate through these new federal provisions during this challenging time. 

The National Nonprofit Council hosted a briefing for nonprofit organizations to understand the various provisions of the CARES Acts and what it means for nonprofits.

Federal Coronavirus Relief Bills: What Do They Mean for Nonprofits? (recording from March 31)


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